So the excitement of the group stage is over and now the fun of knockout football can begin. The World Cup group stage lived up to the billing and has provided excited viewers with the most outstanding exhibition of international football.
It’s now time to assess some of those Premier League stars who have appeared in Brazil. Blessed with a host of the world’s best footballers, the contribution of talent from English shores has been relatively minimal, if compared to the likes of the Bundesliga and La Liga.
Nevertheless, the Premier League has had its share of success and failure this summer. From the rip-roaring Dutch, to the dismal English, we run the rule over the FIVE winners and FIVE losers of the World Cup group stage so far.
NB – we decided to go easy on England. There’s no need to go over old ground too many times.
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Costa Rica have been one of the biggest surprises of the World Cup so far, with their rigorously organised five-man defence, and their counter-attacking style having won a fair few admirers. There have been no members of the squad receiving more praise than Arsenal’s Joel Campbell.
The 22-year-old could currently be in the running for the best young player of the tournament, with his match-winning display against Uruguay being his highlight of the tournament so far. Off the back of a good Champions League campaign with Olympiakos, and a successful World Cup with his underdog nation, Campbell will head to Arsenal for his first pre-season campaign with them since being signed in 2011. His reputation has rapidly risen.
A fairly miserable domestic campaign blighted by injury, lack of form, and the general presence of David Moyes at Old Trafford didn’t set van Persie up for a great World Cup. But three goals in two games, including an outstanding brace against Spain in their World Cup opener, and van Persie has begun to look like the player most know him to be.
There are few more accomplished strikers in the game than van Persie. His touch, vision, and supreme ability in front of goal have been in evidence under van Gaal this summer. Working in tandem with Arjen Robben, the Dutchman has formed one half of the most lethal strikeforce of the tournament so far. With van Gaal headed to Old Trafford, van Persie looks like he’ll be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Dutch boss’s arrival.
Another player who really didn’t have the best of it in 2013-14 was Marouane Fellaini. A £27 million move to United gave him the chance to display his skills at one of the world’s biggest clubs, but he had a minimal positive impact. Filling a deeper midfield role than he was used to at Everton saw him struggle, but his more advanced role in the Belgium side has worked wonders.
His substitute appearance against Algeria in Belgium’s opener changed the game as Fellaini netted the equaliser. His height and strength make him a difficult proposition for defenders, and his presence in and around the area caused havoc in the Algerian defence. In a more attacking position, Fellaini has shown the kind of form which got him his big-money move to Manchester United.
One of the biggest losers of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was undoubtedly Patrice Evra. France’s ex-captain led a revolt against Raymond Domenech as the French national side shamed the nation, and had much to account for in the aftermath.
This time around Evra has played his part in a united team. His tenacity at left-back for France, and his ability to dispossess the opposition high up the field, helped launch countless attacks in France’s swashbuckling 5-2 victory over Switzerland. He may not be one of the stars of the team, but considering how far his star had fallen four years ago, France’s success this time around is increasingly poignant for the United man.
The USA simply weren’t meant to qualify from the group stage this year. In a group consisting of Germany, Portugal (i.e Ronaldo), and Ghana, the American’s looked set to struggle for a point. Instead, an incredible team ethic has made their success one of the stories of the tournament. And there have been few better players for them than goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The victory over Ghana in their opening group match was as spirited a performance as you will see, as with their backs to the ropes, the USA came up trumps. Howard valiantly guarded his goal, as he has done in each of the following matches against Portugal and Germany. The Everton stopper is one of Europe’s most consistent keepers, and was at his very best in a tough group.
A knee operation in May put Suarez’s participation in doubt this summer, but his bite on Giorgio Chiellini brought it to an actual conclusion. After his brace against England, Suarez looked set to be one of the great success stories of the summer, leading his small nation to progression from one of the World Cup’s most formidable groups. Instead, his story is one of shame.
Suarez now faces a four-month ban from all football, with an additional nine-match international ban and a further 100,000 Swiss Francs fine. After an astonishing season with Liverpool, almost leading them to their first Premier League title, Suarez now looks set to leave Anfield, with Barcelona circling. So while his ban will be of great annoyance to him, has the situation inadvertently worked in his favour? Either way, it’s arguable whether his reputation can ever be salvaged following this latest debacle.
Bosnia’s World Cup dream came to an abrupt halt after just their second World Cup match as they fell foul of some suspect refereeing in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria. Manchester City striker, Edin Dzeko had a goal controversially chalked off, falsely given for offside, as the Bosnians struggled to break through a resolute African defence.
Bosnia’s attacking style looked likely to work in Dzeko’s favour, and off the back of a good campaign with City, Dzeko was ready to guide his team through to the last 16. Instead, poor finishing and poor refereeing denied him his chance of glory. Despite netting a nice goal in Bosnia’s final group game against Iran, his contribution wasn’t enough.
We love a good scapegoat in England, and Steven Gerrard appears to have been the main target following England’s abject display in Brazil. The worst World Cup in the country’s history, and a tournament to forget specifically for the Liverpool skipper, has led to questions over his suitability to international football.
Everything was shaping up so well for Gerrard as he looked set to win his first Premier League title before leading a youthful and exciting England side to Brazil. Instead, his slip against Chelsea was the smoking gun for Liverpool’s collapse, and his misplaced header and tackle against Uruguay saw him receive a significant portion of the blame for England’s 2-1 defeat. The past two months have been ones that will likely haunt Gerrard forever.
Despite Belgium progressing with a 100 per cent record from their group, Romelu Lukaku hasn’t managed to transfer his good form for Everton into the World Cup. He has looked laboured, his physical presence has been virtually non-existent, and he has lacked the willingness to do the work for his side when they have been up against it.
The cameo appearances of Lille youngster, Divock Origi, have further magnified his poor performances. Belgium now face the USA in the second round, and Origi’s impressive displays could well win him a starting role ahead of the Chelsea man. If he is looking to impress Mourinho ahead of pre-season, currently he is doing himself few favours.
Luis Felipe Scolari has received wide praise for his loyalty to his players, with poor form at club level not being considered enough to damage his trust in his men. There were few surprises in his squad selection before the tournament, and even fewer in his starting 11. But following three unimpressive displays, Tottenham’s Paulinho could well be set to lose his starting role in La Selecao.
He struggled in his first season as a Spurs player, and has carried these problems over to Brazil. He has lacked the creative drive he provided in the Confederations’ Cup last summer, and Fernandinho’s substitute appearance against Cameroon showed everything that the Man City man can give ahead of Paulinho. It takes something fairly radical to lose the paternal trust of ‘Felipao’, but Paulinho’s lifeless displays may just have done so.