Wednesday 28 June 2017

10 surprise packages from the World Cup Group Stage

Colombia's Juan Cuadrado has been making waves
Colombia's Juan Cuadrado has been making waves

Darragh Collins

The Group Stages are over, 16 are gone and 16 remain but who were the lesser-known players who have shone so far.

(1) Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)

The Arsenal player who was loaned out to Olympiacos last season first caught the eye when he scored a wonder goal against Man United in this year’s Champions League. He did so yet again this summer with some stellar displays for Costa Rica.

His performance in his sides opening game against Uruguay was outstanding as he scored one and assisted another. He maintained his form against Italy and England and at 22, he is already the star for his national side.

Arsenal were forced to send him out on loan as he was unable to gain a work permit but with him now available to play in the Premier League next season, Gunners fans must be looking forward to seeing this man at the Emirates.

Key player: Joel Campbell, Costa Rica.

(2) Mario Yepes (Colombia)

Colombia have received much acclaim for their excellent defensive unit and the man responsible for much of this is 38 year old Mario Yepes.

The left footed centre back has been the rock at the heart of the Colombian back four with his performances with his display against Ivory Coast, where he kept out Bony and Drogba on a consistent basis, his best yet.

Yepes has 100 caps for Colombia and is an iconic figure in the country.

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Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast competes for the ball with Colombia captain Mario Yepes during their World Cup Group C match in Brasilia. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

(3) Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)

One of the biggest performances in this year’s World Cup was that of the Mexican keeper against Brazil. Ochoa managed to keep out Neymar for the entire 90 minutes.

He was faced with shot after shot while pulling off one of the great saves which had shades of Peter Shilton’s heroics at the hands of Pelé.

Ochoa, who also kept a clean sheet against Cameroon, must now take on the Robin van Perise and Arjen Robben in the knockout stages.

He  is currently a free agent with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Athletico Madrid reportedly interested it won’t be long before he is snapped up.

Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa

(4) Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)

Algeria and Valencia midfielder Sofiane Feghouli has been essential in Algeria’s qualification for the knockout stages.

The 24-year-old scored a penalty against Belgium in Algeria’s opening World Cup 2014 match, and has been his sides main attacking force.

Feghouli has created the most chances among his Algerian team mates (3), and notched 8 assists with Valencia in the 2013/2014 season.

He was a former target for Liverpool and his performances may certainly reignite their interest.

Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli celebrates running past Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois

(5) Jackson Martinez (Colombia)

Jackson Martinez has simply taken the World Cup in his stride.

The striker scored twice for Colombia in their three-nil win over Japan and has been sensational in his side’s three victories.

He is no stranger to goal having scored 69 goals in 80 starts for his Porto side since 2012.

Even though he has a reported release clause of £32m in his contract, Porto may have to fight to keep their Colombian star with Arsenal seemingly monitoring the situation.

Key player: Jackson Martinez (Porto)

(6) Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

Fiorentina wide man Cuadrado has been another part of the Colombian revolution.

The 26 year old has been excellent in his side’s group stage games, and even managed to get on the score sheet against Japan with a well taken goal.

His direct running and eye catching dribbling skills have been a nightmare for defences so far and with Luis Saurez out for four months his side will be looking to capitalize on Uruguay’s demise tomorrow in their last sixteen clash.

Colombia's Juan Cuadrado has been making waves

 

(7) Fabian Johnson (USA)

The USA were dealt a difficult hand of cards when they had to face Portugal, Ghana and Germany but despite that they have made it through to the last 16.

As a team they have been exceptional, but as far as individual performances one man has certainly stood out.

Fabian Johnson, the right back has been terrific for the US, as his pacy, dazzling runs down the right flank have surprised many spectators

Johnson is on his way to Borussia Mönchengladbach this summer having agreed a transfer back in February which will disappoint many suitors.

He could have played for Germany but instead he terrorised them in last night’s encounter. He is lethal on the counter attack and plays like an American Dani Alves. His performances will be crucial for the USA when they play Belgium on Tuesday.

Fabian Johnson of the US is challenged by Ghana's Andre Ayew (R) . Reuters

(8) Antoine Griezmann (France)

Despite the star studded line up they possess, the French were never mentioned as contenders prior to the World Cup.

But after their group stage performances, particularly the 5-2 demolition of Switzerland, they have emerged as one of the favourites, with the likes of Didi Hamann claiming they will win the competition.

An injury to Frank Ribery has opened the door for Griezmann to show the world what he can do.

Despite being used as a wide man in Deschampes 4-3-3 system, Frances latest game with Ecuador saw him move into a more central position.

The 23 year old scored 16 goals in the La Liga last season, and his growing importance in the French side will certainly stand to his development as he looks like a player who could develop into becoming a world beater.

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France's Antoine Griezmann (R) looks at his shot after it was deflected off the post from a save by Ecuador's goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez (L) past Jorge Guagua during their 2014 World Cup Group E soccer match at the Maracana stadium

(9) Eduardo Vargas (Chile)

The Napoli striker who spent the season on loan at Valencia has been exceptional at this year’s World Cup.

Vargas caught the eye with a brilliant goal against holders Spain and has maintained this level of consistency in all three games for Chile.

His pace, flair and finishing have looked top class and with Napoli apparently ready to let the hit man go this summer, many clubs will certainly be interested in taking the talented striker their way.

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Chile's Eduardo Vargas celebrates scoring his team's first goal against Spain in their World Cup Brazil Group B match in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

(10) Daley Blind (Netherlands)

The Dutch wing back first caught the eye with a brilliant performance in the Netherlands historic demolition of Spain. Blind has endless stamina levels, brilliant work-rate and made more tackles than any other player in the Eredivisie last season while playing for Ajax.

His creativity going forward is also exceptional as he ties with Cuadrado and Aurier as the highest assist creator at this year’s World Cup.

Van Gaal is apparently interested in taking the player with him to Old Trafford, but the signing of Luke Shaw and a new one year deal for Patrice Evra look to have scuppered that.

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Daley Blind of the Netherlands fights for the ball with Chile's Alexis Sanchez during their 2014 World Cup Group B soccer match at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo

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