The field has been cut in half, and everyone’s (rightfully) looking ahead to the elimination games that begin tomorrow. But before we relegate this memorable group stage to the history books, let’s reflect on the players who performed the best over the last two weeks.
Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria
It’d be a lot easier to pick a keeper like Uruguay’s Muslera, who racked up clean sheets and advanced, over a guy who coughed up 5 goals (including one off his own mistake) and went home early. But think about how he made save after save under relentless assault first from Argentina, then Greece when down a man, then South Korea. He kept Nigeria in every game in the worst conditions, and isn’t that exactly when you need a goalie the most?
Maximiliano Pereira, Uruguay
Played every minute, conceded nothing, and was a feisty, physical dispossessing machine.
John Terry, England
Always thought Terry was overrated, still feel sure that he’ll get torched before this tournament is over, but darn if he didn’t produce an imperious performance against Slovenia to help push England through. Maybe his failed coup even managed to take the pressure of his mates, who knows. I thought that last match was the most dominant performance from a CB in a must-win game so far.
Philip Lahm, Germany
Of all the offensive-minded fullbacks out there, Lahm may be the most well-rounded despite his size. He set the tone for his young squad with those rampaging runs into the opponents’ box.
Keisuke Honda, Japan
A nasty scoring threat, including his outstanding free kick to sink the Danes, Honda unsettled both Cameroon and Denmark, two teams expected to finish over his squad.
Cristian Riveros, Paraguay
Defensive midfielders are hard to quantify, but Riveros’ physical play is the tone-setter for Paraguay. He also had a sweet goal to finish off Slovakia in the second game.
Wesley Sneijder, Holland
The Netherlands didn’t really have to try too hard this round, but when they did, Wesley was in the thick of it.
Landon Donovan, USA
Only the player of the tournament so far.
Leo Messi, Argentina
No goals, but approximately 4,655 sweet passes, slaloming runs, posts hit, defenders drawn out of position, and chances created for others (like Higuain). Doesn’t need to play any better for them to win it all.
Robert Vittek, Slovakia
Inconsistent, yes, but he salvaged the tie against New Zealand and punched Italy in the solar plexus twice to send Slovakia on and the Azzurri home. Not afraid of big moments, and seems to have the short memory strikers need to keep punching.
David Villa, Spain
Scored one of the best World Cup goals of his generation against Honduras and added another. Sure, he missed a PK, but despite being asked to play out wide the last two games, he’s been Spain’s primary offensive weapon with Torres’s ghost haunting the ball. And how about that long ranger against Chile? Empty net, yeah, but that was a looooong way out. Along with becoming Spain’s all-time scorer at the World Cup today, Villa even showed his assist game on that pass to set up Iniesta.
Some honorable mentions to Alexis Sanchez for his first game and Tim Howard for his, as well. Who else did I miss?