The Ticos have been one of the true surprises of the World Cup. Did you think Costa Rica would win a group with Italy, England and Uruguay? No, no you didn’t. Keylor Navas has been a total stud between the sticks, keeping two clean sheets against England and Italy and limiting Uruguay to just a single goal. Joel Campbell has earned himself a gig at Arsenal. And Bryan Ruiz scored on of the biggest goals in the country’s history. Huge.
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Goal-line technology is nice -- it’s been used once -- but this World Cup has been an argument for video review if there ever was one. How many offside calls were blown? What about that penalty Fred won in the first game vs. Croatia? Isn’t it ironic that ref nicknamed “Dracula” missed Luis Suarez dining alfresco? The men in the middle have a tough job, but once again, FIFA’s pool looked mighty shallow in the biggest games.
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Lionel Messi (stud)
The little magician has shaken off the past, leading Argentina to a perfect group stage record and putting them in shouting distance of the trophy. His goals have been epic, and when he is on the field, Argentina look a very dangerous team indeed.
Getty ImagesPaul Gilham
The golden generation looked, well, overtired and undercooked. Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez had miserable tournaments and Iker Casillas played himself out of a goalkeeping job -- anywhere. Spain have won three of the past four major tournaments (not counting the Confederations Cup) but this time out, they didn’t have it.
AFP/Getty ImagesLLUIS GENE
Clint Dempsey (stud)
The American captain and striker has been inspirational for his side, shouldering the load in the absence of the injured Jozy Altidore and scoring two big goals to lead the Americans into the knockout round. Alongside Americans Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones, he’s been one of the players of the World Cup.
Getty ImagesMichael Steele
England went with youth and speed. Unfortunately, they also went with Steven Gerrard in the middle, and his slow and careless play cost them dearly. He inadvertently assisted on both of (Liverpool teammate) Luis Suarez’s goals for Uruguay and most of the team simply looked well off the pace. They aren’t good enough. The question now is: Will they ever be?
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Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie (studs)
The Netherlands have taken everyone by surprise, roaring out to a big win over Spain in their first game, and cruising to a perfect group stage record in the end. Sparked by a gluttony of goals from Robben and van Persie, the Dutch look like a team to go deep -- and perhaps to beat.
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Andrea Pirlo remains classy. Mario Balotelli is dangerous. And Giorgio Chiellini appears to be quite tasty. They still looked lumbering and open, poor in the back and weak in midfield, despite Pirlo's clinical passes. Who’s fault was it? It remains unclear. It's obvious that Italy wilted in the heat and were never able to get their silky passing game going.
Brazil may lack a great striker, but they do have this free-scoring playmaker. Neymar has been inspirational and clinical in equal measure for a Brazilian side that still looks to have quite a few cracks. If they make it to the final, this young man will have played a huge part.
Getty ImagesJean Catuffe
Luis Suarez (dud)
There are players that astonish you with their grace and power. And then there is Suarez, who appears to be somewhat insane. He’s now banned for four months, nine games and took a $122,000 fine for biting an opponent for the third time. This is beyond the pale even in a sport that has its share of naughtiness. Will the striker ever recover? A better question may be: Do we ever want to see him in the game again?
AFP/Getty ImagesJAVIER SORIANO
Thomas Muller (stud)
Muller may not be American fans’ favorite player, but the German marksman has been deadly as a false nine for Germany, scoring clutch goals to make the Germans a major favorite at this World Cup. Muller may not be flashy, but his knack for drifting right and popping up to poach goals have put him firmly in the running for the golden boot.
AFP/Getty ImagesPATRIK STOLLARZ
Ghana and Cameroon (duds)
One didn’t want to get on a plane (over bonuses); the other nearly boycotted their final game (over bonuses.) One is the target of a match-fixing sting, the other looked so hapless in a game that many openly wondered if the game was fixed. One sent two of its players home the night before a key…oh, you know what? Both these teams embarrassed themselves and African football. It’s a right shame.
AFP/Getty ImagesJAVIER SORIANO
El Tri may have struggled to get here, but once they got into the World Cup, they made sure everyone knew they were playing for keeps. Guillermo Ochoa was heroic against Brazil in that memorable 0-0 draw; Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernandez have been consistent scoring threats. And is Miguel Herrera the best manager in the game? The internet thinks so. Just check out all the memes his antic celebrations have earned.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina (duds)
Man, we had high hopes for Edin Dzeko and the lads. And after their first game – a thrilling 2-1 loss to Argentina – the Bosnians looked as if they could make a statement in their debut Cup. They did…by stinking out their next game against a woeful Nigerian side and crashing out. OK, they pummeled Iran, but so did everyone else. They lacked the experience at this level to be sure – but with the talent on hand, they should have done far more.
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Everyone wondered which South American team would make some waves -- people knew Argentina and Brazil were the real deal, but which others would rise above? Colombia looks the strongest of the teams left, with a devastating attack that is only just heating up. James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez have been brilliant up top, and now the question is: Can they get past Uruguay?
AFP/Getty ImagesEITAN ABRAMOVICH
Cristiano Ronaldo (dud)
USA fans will be thanking CR7, silly haircut and all; his goal against Ghana ensured the Americans’ passage into the next round. But it was a poor tournament for the obviously injured Real Madrid star. With a balky knee and frankly poor teammates as well, Cristiano Ronaldo never got going -- and as a result, Portugal went out.