The World Cup is already more than a week old, and in that space of time there have already been many shocks and surprises. Indeed, the recent news that Costa Rica have advanced out of their group, when they were statistically the twenty-seventh most likely team to do so, shows what kind of tournament it’s been. Spain have been on the other end of the shock scale, out of the competition after 180 minutes of football. With that in mind let’s take a look at five players who have performed above expectation so far.
The Ivory Coast right back has been a stand out performer for his side as they won their opening game against Japan and lost to Columbia. In fact, he provided the assist for both goals in his country’s come from behind win against the Japanese. Against Columbia, he was still at his best, even if his team were not. In fact, his Ronaldo like trickery in Columbia’s box that almost led to a goal was one of the stand out moments of an entertaining affair. Strongly linked with Arsenal already, the London club would want to secure his services quickly as each passing game sees his price tag and interest from other teams increase. Comfortable going forward and a terrier defensively, the athletic twenty-one year old has many similarities to departing Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna, and so would be a perfect fit. For now though, just enjoy him owning the right side of the pitch both with the ball and without.
There are a few Columbia players who could be mentioned here, but for now Cuadrado gets the nod. You could argue he has been the surprise talent of the World Cup, with a goal against the Ivory Coast to his name as well. Add to that the fact that he gave Serge Aurier, also on this list, a tough time when their sides met, and it shows that the twenty-six year old has set the stage alight. If further proof was needed, only hours ago Fiorentina secured his rights from Udinese on a full time basis. Just as well, as his performances on the wing have brought rave reviews. Capable of playing in Columbia’s up tempo attacking system or beating multiple players with his dribbling skills, there is so much to like about his game. He also gets back to cover his full back as well, something not all attack minded players do. The further Columbia go the better, so we can see more of this guy.
Perhaps an odd choice, given that England lost their opening two matches and are out of the tournament already. But if you
watched Sterling during that time, you would see a nineteen year old unafraid to take on anybody on the biggest stage of all. England have been criticized in the past for bringing young stars to this tournament too soon, but in Sterling’s case it has worked so well. Coming off a great year with Liverpool, he possesses the skills that cannot necessarily be taught. Against Italy he buzzed and looked to create for hi teammates. The Uruguay game was more difficult for him with their regimental defending and game plan, yet he still had his moments in the game. He may be leaving early, but he left an impression and is undoubtedly one of his country’s stars for the future.
With Costa Rica into the last sixteen of the competition, they are the feel good football story of the moment. Joel Campbell, the Arsenal striker who spent last season on loan at Greek outfit Olympiakos, has been integral to this success. At just twenty-one and in his first World Cup appearance, his goal against Uruguay was a superb and composed take. Spearheading a team’s attack at that age and doing so in such commanding fashion makes this guy one of the true surprises of the tournament so far. Yes he scored a fantastic goal against Manchester United in this season’s Champions League. But being so level headed and athletic, not to mention strong, means that this guy has probably already overachieved at this tournament. When he comes up against an unsure English defense next, don’t be surprised if he bags a goal.
A surprise choice perhaps, but his goal and general play against Honduras was very promising for a France team that really needs to have a good tournament. Familiar to even casual fans, the hitman won the Champions League with Real Madrid this season. Without Samir Nasri however, this French outfit lack a little bit of creativity, but Benzema will help ensure that even half chances are put away. Yes he might shoot too much, but he is at least taking on the responsibility of trying to restore his country to former glories. Again Honduras was a poor gauge of how he was playing, but you can only beat what is put in front of you and Benzema looked up for it. His quieter demeanor also mean that this team can build around him, and change people’s perception of how the entire country is viewed in footballing circles after a disastrous campaign in 2010. That’s all pretty big and important stuff, and Benzema is at the front of that, also making sure you remember that he is a star in his own right.