Ranked! The 10 best players of World Cup 2014

James goal Uruguay

Germany went home with the trophy; Greg Lea remembers the 10 top performers from Brazil four years ago

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10. Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Pep Guardiola’s redeployment of Lahm in a midfield role at club level persuaded Joachim Low to follow suit with the national team. The plan didn’t really work, however, and the Germany captain was restored to his customary right-back role for the quarter-final triumph over France.

Suddenly, everything clicked for a team that had stuttered a little in meetings with Ghana, the United States and Algeria. Lahm was terrific from the last eight onwards, showcasing his fine blend of technical ability and tactical intelligence in his favoured position.

9. Mats Hummels (Germany)

The 2014 World Cup’s standout centre-back helped the champions keep four clean sheets en route to the trophy. Hummel was on the bench for the last-16 victory over Algeria, but his displays before and after – namely, Germany’s last three games in Brazil; the quarter-final against France, the semi against the hosts and final against Argentina – were exceptional. 

Hummels marshalled Die Mannschaft 's backline with characteristic assurance, and also popped up with a goal against Portugal and the winner against France. Low’s decision to restore the Borussia Dortmund stopper to his starting XI after the Algeria match was pivotal to his side’s eventual success.

8. Neymar (Brazil)

Even when he was absent from the matchday squad, Neymar defined the 2014 hosts: the symbolic raising of the injured star’s shirt before the astonishing semi-final demolition by Germany hinted at the emotional fragility of a team that would soon implode against clinical opposition.

This was, frankly, a thoroughly average Seleção side without the Barcelona forward. Neymar was excellent in his five outings despite being under enormous pressure to deliver, scoring four goals and providing one assist before Brazil fell apart without him.

7. Thomas Muller (Germany)

Muller’s tournament got off to a flying start, the Bayern Munich forward scoring a hat-trick in the 4-0 win against Portugal in Group G’s opener. He was also on the scoresheet in Germany's 1-0 defeat of the United States, taking advantage of his switch to centre-forward from the right wing. 

Muller returned to a wide berth in the knockout phase, although his typically evasive movement meant he often popped up in central areas anyway. He broke the deadlock in the 7-1 triumph over Brazil and ended the competition with five goals – for the second tournament running – and three assists.

6. Arjen Robben (Holland)

The Dutch side which reached the semi-finals in 2014 weren’t as brutish as the 2010 iteration, but Louis van Gaal’s team weren’t exactly practitioners of Total Football either. A nominal three-man defence frequently became five at the back, and Robben’s speed and direct dribbling made him the centrepiece of an unapologetically counter-attacking system.

The winger ran riot in the remarkable 5-1 group-stage thrashing of Spain, scoring twice to help humble the holders in Salvador. He only added one more goal to his tournament tally, but Robben was exhilarating throughout and was deservedly included on the shortlist for the Golden Ball.