5. Guillermo Ochoa
A year ago the Mexican national team was in absolute shambles. They were going through new coaches seemingly every week, and they barely qualified for the World Cup, needing the United States to help them out by beating Panama to get them a play-in game with New Zealand to qualify for Brazil. But now that they’re here…
Mexico has been a revelation, and their best player has been goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Ochoa grabbed headlines when he stonewalled an explosive Brazilian team, making several point blank saves to deny Neymar and the rest of Brazil. Ochoa is out of a contract soon — a lot of teams will be offering him big bucks to come join them.
4. James Rodriguez
James Rodriguez flew a bit under the radar heading in to this tournament. All anyone could talk about in regards to Colombia was the absence of star Radamel Falcao and how much the team would miss him.
Forget that. Colombia has been arguably the most exciting team so far this tournament, led by the playmaking brilliance of Rodriguez. He plays his club football for AS Monaco in France, so it’s rare to catch him on TV in the States. (I’d only see YouTube clips of him before this World Cup.) It’s time to get to know him. He’s been colombia best player, and easily one of the five best players so far this World Cup, logging 3 goals and 2 assists in the first three games.
Oh yeah, he’s also 22 years old.
All the pressure was on Neymar heading into this World Cup. The star player on Brazil’s most promising team in years, Neymar had to deal with the weight of an excited host nation demanding a deep run.
So far, he’s been totally brilliant, scoring 4 goals and carrying a sometimes shaky Brazil team to the top spot in Group A. Plus that hair. Oh, the hair.
2. Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben has one move. He starts out on the right, and then he cuts inside to the left. Anyone who’s ever watched Robben knows that it is his move. Every player on the field knows that it is Robben’s move. When you watch him, you scream out at the TV, “HE’S GOING TO CUT INSIDE TO HIS LEFT.”
You know he’s going to do it, the defender knows he’s going to do it, and everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to do it.
And then he does it. No one knows how. But he does it. He’s got three goals and an assist for a Dutch team that looks primed for a deep run. Fear the inside cut. It’s coming.
1. Lionel Messi
Argentina has never *really* warmed up to Lionel Messi. He left at a young age for Spain because his club team in Argentina wouldn’t help him with medical issues and the Spanish club would. He under-performed at last World Cup. Argentina has always been a Maradona nation — think of Maradona as Michael Jordan, and Messi as LeBron James, and you might get an idea what his relationship is like with his country.
Argentina needs to get over themselves. Messi has lived up to any and all hype this World Cup, scoring 4 goals in the group stage, including a stoppage time laser that catapulted them to a 1-0 victory over Iran. He’s scored big goals when he’s needed to, and the best player in the world looks to be at the top of his game.