The best from 2014
The World Cup in 2014 returned to South America for the first time since 1978 and remains fresh in the collective memory. Who can forget Germany's 7-1 battering of Brazil in the semi-finals or James Rodriguez’s sensational goal against Uruguay?
In this slideshow, we pick out the 10 best players from the 20th edition of the World Cup.
10. Philipp Lahm (Germany)
German captain Lahm would probably be much further up the list if it wasn't for a failed experiment by Joachim Low. Inspired by Pep Guardiola’s use of the full-back in midfield for Bayern Munich, the Germany boss initially followed suit - but the move wasn't a success.
Everything clicked for Germany once Lahm moved back into his natural right-back role for the quarter-final victory over France, with the captain leading by example as he combined defensive strength with an attacking threat down the flank to help die Mannschaft win the World Cup for the fourth time.
9. Mats Hummels (Germany)
The best centre-back at the 2014 World Cup, Hummels was a colossus as Germany kept four clean sheets on their way to lifting the trophy at the Maracana. The then-Borussia Dortmund stopper started the group matches against Portugal and Ghana, before being benched ahead of the final group encounter against the United States.
He remained there for the round of 16 meeting with Algeria, before reclaiming his place in the starting XI for the victories over France (quarter-finals) and Brazil (semi-finals). Hummels scored the winner in the former match and was superb in the final, helping Germany defeat Argentina in extra time.
8. Neymar (Brazil)
Neymar’s World Cup was cut short at the quarter-final stage after a challenge from Juan Zuniga fractured one his vertebra. Up to that point he had thrived on the pressure of being the host nation's star man, scoring four goals and creating another in the five matches he took part in.
His importance to the Brazilian cause was demonstrated by the team's collapse without him in the semi-finals, when they were thrashed 7-1 by eventual champions Germany. History could have been very different had Neymar been available for that game.
7. Thomas Muller (Germany)
After winning the Golden Boot in 2010, Muller once again looked at home on the World Cup stage in Brazil. The forward opened the scoring in the astonishing 7-1 demolition of the hosts in the last four, having previously netted a hat-trick against Portugal and the winner against the United States in Germany's final group game.
The Bayern Munich man played on the right-hand side and as a central striker at different stages of the competition, but he was a constant threat regardless of his starting position. Muller's intelligence and ability to find space made him a key component of the champions' setup.
6. Toni Kroos (Germany)
The slender margins of victory in many of Germany's games in the knockout phase of the 2014 World Cup don't tell the whole story of the champions' tournament. Joachim Low's men were able to control games like no other team in Brazil, and midfield metronome Kroos was at the heart of those efforts.
Alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, the then-Bayern Munich man set the tempo of die Mannschaft's passing and kept things ticking over nicely in the centre of the park. Kroos played virtually every minute of every game (he was taken off in stoppage time against France), while he also grabbed a quick-fire double in the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil.
5. Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
The 2014 version of the Netherlands weren’t as unapologetically brutish as the 2010 side, but they were hardly proponents of Total Football either. Louis Van Gaal deployed a back five and instructed his team to sit deep, with Robben their key attacking outlet on the break.
The Bayern Munich man ran riot in the remarkable 5-1 thrashing of Spain in the group stage, scoring twice to help humble the holders in Salvador. He only added one more goal to his tournament tally thereafter, but Robben was exhilarating throughout and was deservedly included on the shortlist for the Golden Ball.
4. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Messi won the Player of the Tournament award at the 2014 World Cup, but his reaction to receiving the trophy spoke volumes – not even the Argentinian himself felt he deserved it despite making a considerable contribution to an otherwise fairly mediocre side.
Messi may not have been at his brilliant best in Brazil, but he was still one of the tournament’s leading performers. While clearly rationing himself after a gruelling club campaign, the forward popped up with several moments of magic, scoring decisive group-stage goals in victories over Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria.
3. Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Mascherano was every bit as important to Argentina as Messi in 2014, with the tough-tackling midfielder pivotal to his country's run to the final. The Barcelona man relentlessly put out fires in front of a ropey back four, as well as helping to build the two-time champions' attacks from deep.
His display in the semi-final against the Netherlands was magnificent, with Mascherano hell-bent on denying his opponents as much as a chance, let alone a goal. His last-ditch tackle on Arjen Robben in stoppage-time of that clash was emblematic of his contributions throughout.
2. Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Germany glovesman Neuer may have felt a little unlucky not to be named the Player of the Tournament in Brazil, a feat which would have seen him emulate fellow shot-stopper - and Bayern legend - Oliver Kahn, who scooped the prize in 2002.
Neuer was instrumental to die Mannschaft's success in 2014, making crucial saves and claiming crosses throughout the competition. As well as those more traditional skills, the German took sweeper-keeping to a whole new level, particularly in a remarkable performance against Algeria in the last 16.
1. James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Colombia were eliminated from the World Cup at the quarter-final stage by hosts Brazil, going down 2-1 in Fortaleza. Yet James still deserves to be recognised as the tournament's standout performer for his sensational displays in the five games he played.
The then-Monaco man scored six goals in those five appearances, including a stunning chest-and-volley against Uruguay which brought him the Goal of the Tournament prize. James also won the Golden Boot and earned himself a big-money move to Real Madrid later that summer.
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