Top performers of the World Cup group stage

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The group stage of the World Cup has come to an end, 16 teams move forward towards the trophy and 16 teams are heading back home. It was one of the most exciting opening rounds in World Cup history. Taking a look back, our soccer staff has tracked down the top performers and broken down their performances. Here’s to the top performers of the group stage! Did you favorite player make the cut? Served Fresh by Subway

<b>Clint Dempsey, USA:</b> In the very first minute of this grudge match, the U.S. captain made his presence felt right away when with pace and quick feet he bedazzled the Ghanian defense before scoring with a left-footed shot. In a tussle with a Ghanian defender, he was unfortunate to break his nose, which no doubt affected his breathing and overall performance, but without his moment of brilliance the game would have been drastically different for the Americans. He was again influential as the U.S. took the game to Portugal. His predatory goal in the 81st minute looked good enough to send them through to the round of 16, but Portugal&rsquo;s last-gasp equalizer changed the script.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Clint Dempsey, USA
Clint Dempsey, USA: In the very first minute of this grudge match, the U.S. captain made his presence felt right away when with pace and quick feet he bedazzled the Ghanian defense before scoring with a left-footed shot. In a tussle with a Ghanian defender, he was unfortunate to break his nose, which no doubt affected his breathing and overall performance, but without his moment of brilliance the game would have been drastically different for the Americans. He was again influential as the U.S. took the game to Portugal. His predatory goal in the 81st minute looked good enough to send them through to the round of 16, but Portugal’s last-gasp equalizer changed the script.
Eddie Malone
<b>Raheem Sterling, England:</b> Reminiscent of Michael Owen at the 1998 World Cup, the 19-year-old was fearless against Italy and made their defense look nervy with his willingness to challenge them on the dribble. He was less influential in the loss to Uruguay and was subbed out in the 64th minute. In the meaningless (from the England standpoint) final match with Costa Rica, Sterling came off the substitutes&rsquo; bench in the second half but couldn&rsquo;t help England break the deadlock. Still, during a World Cup to forget for England fans, Sterling was a bright spot and one for the future.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Raheem Sterling, England
Raheem Sterling, England: Reminiscent of Michael Owen at the 1998 World Cup, the 19-year-old was fearless against Italy and made their defense look nervy with his willingness to challenge them on the dribble. He was less influential in the loss to Uruguay and was subbed out in the 64th minute. In the meaningless (from the England standpoint) final match with Costa Rica, Sterling came off the substitutes’ bench in the second half but couldn’t help England break the deadlock. Still, during a World Cup to forget for England fans, Sterling was a bright spot and one for the future.
Eddie Malone
<b>Joel Campbell, Costa Rica:</b> The striker was a menace to Uruguay, scoring once and setting up the team&rsquo;s last goal in a 3-1 win. Campbell celebrated his goal &ndash; a bullet of a volley - with a memorable celebration: he tucked the ball underneath his shirt, pregnancy-style, then sucked his thumb like a baby. Quick and hard-working against England, he troubled their defense as Costa Rica earned a draw to become surprise winners of Group D. <br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Joel Campbell, Costa Rica
Joel Campbell, Costa Rica: The striker was a menace to Uruguay, scoring once and setting up the team’s last goal in a 3-1 win. Campbell celebrated his goal – a bullet of a volley - with a memorable celebration: he tucked the ball underneath his shirt, pregnancy-style, then sucked his thumb like a baby. Quick and hard-working against England, he troubled their defense as Costa Rica earned a draw to become surprise winners of Group D.
Eddie Malone
<b>Alexis Sanchez, Chile:</b> A vital component of the Chilean attack, he scored Chile&rsquo;s first goal of the World Cup and assisted on another in a 3-1 win. As an encore, he and teammates shocked the world by defeating champions Spain 2-0.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Alexis Sanchez, Chile
Alexis Sanchez, Chile: A vital component of the Chilean attack, he scored Chile’s first goal of the World Cup and assisted on another in a 3-1 win. As an encore, he and teammates shocked the world by defeating champions Spain 2-0.
Eddie Malone
<b>James Rodr&iacute;guez, Colombia:</b> For a while now, his career has been on the up and up. After three solid seasons at Porto, the twenty-two-year-old playmaker earned a big money move to Monaco. At the World Cup, his Man of the Match performance against Greece included two assists and a last-minute goal. He was no less influential in their second match with Ivory Coast. His 64th minute header opened the scoring in a 2-1 win, securing his country a second-round berth. In the game with Japan, he came on after halftime and scored in stoppage time. It was a wonderful individual effort noteworthy for its guile and confidence. He turned a Japanese defender inside and out, leaving the hapless guy on the grass, before sublimely chipping over the &lsquo;keeper.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
James Rodríguez, Colombia
James Rodríguez, Colombia: For a while now, his career has been on the up and up. After three solid seasons at Porto, the twenty-two-year-old playmaker earned a big money move to Monaco. At the World Cup, his Man of the Match performance against Greece included two assists and a last-minute goal. He was no less influential in their second match with Ivory Coast. His 64th minute header opened the scoring in a 2-1 win, securing his country a second-round berth. In the game with Japan, he came on after halftime and scored in stoppage time. It was a wonderful individual effort noteworthy for its guile and confidence. He turned a Japanese defender inside and out, leaving the hapless guy on the grass, before sublimely chipping over the ‘keeper.
Eddie Malone
<b>Lionel Messi, Argentina:</b> Entering the tournament, the pressure on the former World Player of the Year was immense. Despite delivering for Barcelona over the years, he&rsquo;d yet to impress for Argentina in the World Cup. Messi delivered in style in their opening match against Bosnia and Herzegovina: a trademark mazy dribbled led to a curling shot that nestled just inside the post. Argentina wasn&rsquo;t too impressive overall but still won the match 2-1. They continued to struggle in their second match but Messi rescued them with a late winner, sparing them blushes against lowly Iran. Messi grabbed two more goals against the Nigerians. One was an opportunistic volley in the penalty area; the other was an untouchable free kick. Tied with Neymar on goals scored (4) in the tournament.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Lionel Messi, Argentina: Entering the tournament, the pressure on the former World Player of the Year was immense. Despite delivering for Barcelona over the years, he’d yet to impress for Argentina in the World Cup. Messi delivered in style in their opening match against Bosnia and Herzegovina: a trademark mazy dribbled led to a curling shot that nestled just inside the post. Argentina wasn’t too impressive overall but still won the match 2-1. They continued to struggle in their second match but Messi rescued them with a late winner, sparing them blushes against lowly Iran. Messi grabbed two more goals against the Nigerians. One was an opportunistic volley in the penalty area; the other was an untouchable free kick. Tied with Neymar on goals scored (4) in the tournament.
Eddie Malone
<b>Neymar, Brazil:</b> Brazil&rsquo;s poster boy made good on pre-tournament expectations. He scored four goals in the group phase, to take the lead in the Golden Boot competition. In spite of all the pressure, he looked relaxed and played with the kind of flair and invention that could make him a World Cup legend if Brazil wins the whole thing.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Neymar, Brazil
Neymar, Brazil: Brazil’s poster boy made good on pre-tournament expectations. He scored four goals in the group phase, to take the lead in the Golden Boot competition. In spite of all the pressure, he looked relaxed and played with the kind of flair and invention that could make him a World Cup legend if Brazil wins the whole thing.
Eddie Malone
<b>Tim Cahill, Australia:</b> He scored what could prove the goal of the tournament &ndash; a stunning first-time volley to equalize Arjen Robben&rsquo;s opener &ndash; but then followed it up with a silly tackle that earned him a yellow card suspension for the Aussie&rsquo;s third group match. With Australia officially eliminated from the World Cup later in the day, the match was likely the 34-year-old&rsquo;s last World Cup appearance. If so, it was a fabulous ride. In three World Cups, he scored five goals, a national record (and three more than superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has scored for Portugal in three trips to the big tournament). Though Australia was awful in its 2014 opener with talented upstarts Chile, Cahill still managed a headed goal.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Tim Cahill, Australia
Tim Cahill, Australia: He scored what could prove the goal of the tournament – a stunning first-time volley to equalize Arjen Robben’s opener – but then followed it up with a silly tackle that earned him a yellow card suspension for the Aussie’s third group match. With Australia officially eliminated from the World Cup later in the day, the match was likely the 34-year-old’s last World Cup appearance. If so, it was a fabulous ride. In three World Cups, he scored five goals, a national record (and three more than superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has scored for Portugal in three trips to the big tournament). Though Australia was awful in its 2014 opener with talented upstarts Chile, Cahill still managed a headed goal.
Eddie Malone
<b>Divock Origi, Belgium:</b> The teenager has provided a spark off the bench for Belgium. In the match with Russia, he coolly converted a cross from Eden Hazard to finish off a sweeping move down the left in the 88th minute. The late winner earned Belgium three points.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Divock Origi, Belgium
Divock Origi, Belgium: The teenager has provided a spark off the bench for Belgium. In the match with Russia, he coolly converted a cross from Eden Hazard to finish off a sweeping move down the left in the 88th minute. The late winner earned Belgium three points.
Eddie Malone
<b>Robin van Persie, Netherlands:</b> An obvious choice for one of the best players in the group stage. He missed their final group match against Chile due to a yellow card suspension but by then he&rsquo;d done enough to advance the Dutch cause. His diving header began the now infamous rout against world champs Spain and even spurred an Internet craze. In the second match against Australia, his clinical finish at a pressurized moment &ndash; the Netherlands was losing 2-1 &ndash; inspired a Dutch fightback.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Robin van Persie, Netherlands
Robin van Persie, Netherlands: An obvious choice for one of the best players in the group stage. He missed their final group match against Chile due to a yellow card suspension but by then he’d done enough to advance the Dutch cause. His diving header began the now infamous rout against world champs Spain and even spurred an Internet craze. In the second match against Australia, his clinical finish at a pressurized moment – the Netherlands was losing 2-1 – inspired a Dutch fightback.
Eddie Malone
<b>Karim Benzema, France:</b> The striker was on-point for European champs Real Madrid last season and his excellent form has continued into the World Cup. He converted a penalty against Honduras at the end of the first half then scored from the run of play in the 72nd minute, pouncing opportunistically on a deflection in the penalty box, like any good striker should. His penalty was saved in their second match against Switzerland but it didn&rsquo;t much matter as the French scored five. Benzema even made up for his penalty miss with a 67th minute goal &ndash; an incisive diagonal run followed by a solid volley into the net.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Karim Benzema, France
Karim Benzema, France: The striker was on-point for European champs Real Madrid last season and his excellent form has continued into the World Cup. He converted a penalty against Honduras at the end of the first half then scored from the run of play in the 72nd minute, pouncing opportunistically on a deflection in the penalty box, like any good striker should. His penalty was saved in their second match against Switzerland but it didn’t much matter as the French scored five. Benzema even made up for his penalty miss with a 67th minute goal – an incisive diagonal run followed by a solid volley into the net.
Eddie Malone
<b>Thomas Mueller, Germany</b>: Mueller is a provocative figure. In Germany&rsquo;s opener versus Portugal, he was involved in nearly every important incident. After converting a penalty in the 12th minute, he was then part of an altercation that led to Pepe being sent off. In first half added time, Mueller added a second goal by being aggressive and predatory in the penalty area. He completed his hat-trick by following his instincts yet again. In the 78th minute, he pounced after the Portuguese goalkeeper palmed the ball into his path. Mueller didn&rsquo;t score against Ghana in their hard-fought draw but as always he worked hard for the German team, a fact underscored when he leapt to head a free kick with only seconds remaining in the match. His head collided with a Ghana player&rsquo;s shoulder. Blood commenced to pour down his face.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Thomas Mueller, Germany
Thomas Mueller, Germany: Mueller is a provocative figure. In Germany’s opener versus Portugal, he was involved in nearly every important incident. After converting a penalty in the 12th minute, he was then part of an altercation that led to Pepe being sent off. In first half added time, Mueller added a second goal by being aggressive and predatory in the penalty area. He completed his hat-trick by following his instincts yet again. In the 78th minute, he pounced after the Portuguese goalkeeper palmed the ball into his path. Mueller didn’t score against Ghana in their hard-fought draw but as always he worked hard for the German team, a fact underscored when he leapt to head a free kick with only seconds remaining in the match. His head collided with a Ghana player’s shoulder. Blood commenced to pour down his face.
Eddie Malone
<b>Jermaine Jones, USA:</b> He was vital to the American midfield both in attack and in defense. His long-distance blast to cancel out Portugal&rsquo;s opener will linger in the memories of American soccer fans for years to come.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Jermaine Jones, USA
Jermaine Jones, USA: He was vital to the American midfield both in attack and in defense. His long-distance blast to cancel out Portugal’s opener will linger in the memories of American soccer fans for years to come.
Eddie Malone
<b>Arjen Robben, Netherlands:</b> The Dutch wizard is known for unsettling defenders through pace and guile, and through the Netherlands&rsquo; first two matches he was dependably himself. No doubt looking to erase the memory of a catastrophic miss in the 2010 final &ndash; converting said chance would have won his country the World Cup &ndash; he played like a man possessed in the 5-1 thrashing of Spain, scoring twice in the second half with his patented left foot. Against Australia, he was no less involved. After streaking past the Aussie defense, he fired coolly past the goalkeeper to open the scoring. Ultimately, the Dutch squeezed past 3-2 to qualify for the second stage, with a game to spare. He helped them take the group with an assist against Chile in their 2-0 win.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Arjen Robben, Netherlands
Arjen Robben, Netherlands: The Dutch wizard is known for unsettling defenders through pace and guile, and through the Netherlands’ first two matches he was dependably himself. No doubt looking to erase the memory of a catastrophic miss in the 2010 final – converting said chance would have won his country the World Cup – he played like a man possessed in the 5-1 thrashing of Spain, scoring twice in the second half with his patented left foot. Against Australia, he was no less involved. After streaking past the Aussie defense, he fired coolly past the goalkeeper to open the scoring. Ultimately, the Dutch squeezed past 3-2 to qualify for the second stage, with a game to spare. He helped them take the group with an assist against Chile in their 2-0 win.
Eddie Malone
<b>Marouane Fellaini, Belgium:</b> The midfielder had a forgettable first season at Manchester United and started on the bench for Belgium in their opener against Algeria. His entrance in the second half sparked the Belgian comeback &ndash; his classy header in the 70th minute was sublime. After falling behind, Belgium won 2-1 against unheralded Algeria to preserve the dark horses&rsquo; World Cup dream.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Marouane Fellaini, Belgium
Marouane Fellaini, Belgium: The midfielder had a forgettable first season at Manchester United and started on the bench for Belgium in their opener against Algeria. His entrance in the second half sparked the Belgian comeback – his classy header in the 70th minute was sublime. After falling behind, Belgium won 2-1 against unheralded Algeria to preserve the dark horses’ World Cup dream.
Eddie Malone
<b>Oscar, Brazil:</b> Easy to overlook in the run-up to the World Cup because of Neymar&rsquo;s omnipresence, Oscar grabbed a few headlines himself against Croatia. The midfielder&rsquo;s injury time goal, both cheeky and stylish, capped off Brazil&rsquo;s 3-1 victory. To be fair, Oscar made the goal himself: his dribbling had the defense backpedaling before a toe-poke sent the ball past the &lsquo;keeper. Over the group phase, the Chelsea player has scored once and added two assists. He&rsquo;s been instrumental to the Brazilian attack while staying true to his defensive responsibilities.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Oscar, Brazil
Oscar, Brazil: Easy to overlook in the run-up to the World Cup because of Neymar’s omnipresence, Oscar grabbed a few headlines himself against Croatia. The midfielder’s injury time goal, both cheeky and stylish, capped off Brazil’s 3-1 victory. To be fair, Oscar made the goal himself: his dribbling had the defense backpedaling before a toe-poke sent the ball past the ‘keeper. Over the group phase, the Chelsea player has scored once and added two assists. He’s been instrumental to the Brazilian attack while staying true to his defensive responsibilities.
Eddie Malone
<b>Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland:</b> Shaqiri was Switzerland's hat-trick hero in their final group match with Honduras. With his country needing a result to go through to the next round, Shaqiri was deadly and clinical, scoring from distance and up close.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland: Shaqiri was Switzerland's hat-trick hero in their final group match with Honduras. With his country needing a result to go through to the next round, Shaqiri was deadly and clinical, scoring from distance and up close.
Eddie Malone
<b>Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico:</b> Ochoa was simply spectacular during the group phase. He kept clean sheets versus Cameroon and Brazil. Against the hosts, he made one phenomenal save after another to keep the Mexicans in the game. He was on his way to a third consecutive clean sheet when Croatia spoiled the party with a goal in the 87th minute.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico
Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico: Ochoa was simply spectacular during the group phase. He kept clean sheets versus Cameroon and Brazil. Against the hosts, he made one phenomenal save after another to keep the Mexicans in the game. He was on his way to a third consecutive clean sheet when Croatia spoiled the party with a goal in the 87th minute.
Eddie Malone
<b>Ivan Perisic, Croatia: </b>In the 4-0 romp over Cameroon, the left-sided midfielder took advantage of a poor goal kick, galloping down the left wing to finish with aplomb. In the match with Mexico, another hard-charging run into the penalty box resulted in a goal, but by then it was too late for Croatia. In a soccer world where both pace and a left foot are hot properties, Perisic showed his worth in Brazil.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Ivan Perisic, Croatia
Ivan Perisic, Croatia: In the 4-0 romp over Cameroon, the left-sided midfielder took advantage of a poor goal kick, galloping down the left wing to finish with aplomb. In the match with Mexico, another hard-charging run into the penalty box resulted in a goal, but by then it was too late for Croatia. In a soccer world where both pace and a left foot are hot properties, Perisic showed his worth in Brazil.
Eddie Malone
<b>Luis Suarez, Uruguay</b>: Suarez showed why he&rsquo;s regarded as the most talented but frustrating player on the planet. After missing the first match because of injury, he returned with a vengeance against England, scoring his country&rsquo;s two goals in an impressive display of what attacking soccer has to offer. But against Italy, with passage to the next stage on the line, soccer&rsquo;s bad boy couldn&rsquo;t resist taking a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini&rsquo;s shoulder. The moment - the third time in his career that Suarez has bitten an opposing player &ndash; overshadowed Uruguay&rsquo;s victory and advancement to the round of 16.<br>&mdash; <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/author/eddie-malone/" data-ylk="slk:Eddie Malone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eddie Malone</a>
Luis Suarez, Uruguay
Luis Suarez, Uruguay: Suarez showed why he’s regarded as the most talented but frustrating player on the planet. After missing the first match because of injury, he returned with a vengeance against England, scoring his country’s two goals in an impressive display of what attacking soccer has to offer. But against Italy, with passage to the next stage on the line, soccer’s bad boy couldn’t resist taking a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder. The moment - the third time in his career that Suarez has bitten an opposing player – overshadowed Uruguay’s victory and advancement to the round of 16.
Eddie Malone

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