David Luiz's stunning free kick sends Brazil to the semi-finals

David Luiz’s stunning free kick sends Brazil to the semi-finals

1. Germany- I have been convinced from the start of the tournament that Germany were the most complete and all-around talented team in the tournament but were handed a difficult draw. The “group of death” did battle-test them and they were better prepared for a French team that did not have that same experience. What is even more amazing is that they beat France without losing any key players through injury or suspension. Mats Hummels returned from sickness to become the hero of the day and set up a dream match between the two most historically significant football powers in the world. One of them will go onto their record setting 8th World Cup Final, Germany look like the favorites to be that team. (Previous Rank: 5)

2. Argentina- Reliance on Lionel Messi? Not so much. Gonzalo Higuain did everything that was asked for him and helped lead Argentina past a tricky Belgium team. Whether or not Belgium were at their best doesn’t matter, Argentina finally looked like a team playing with confidence in defense. The truth is, they probably would have won the game even if they didn’t snag an early goal, they always looked more likely to score. Their biggest concern is the huge loss of Angel Di Maria. Messi has been great but he has played more of a setup role to Di Maria because he doesn’t have players creating enough for him. This makes things a lot more difficult, but they should be more confident. A 1990 rematch with Germany could well be in the stars. (Previous Rank: 6)

3. Brazil- I have never been a fan of manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, but he did come out with the right strategy for beating Colombia and he deserves some major credit for their victory. The plan to take out wonderkid James Rodriguez was just the start. The real masterstroke was shackling Juan Cuadrado and forcing Teo Gutierrez to carry much of the workload for Brazil. Had Brazil never earned a second goal then Colombia probably were never going to score. Of course the only reason they aren’t ranked #1 is their loss of Neymar to injury and suspension of Thiago Silva. Felipe Scolari’s biggest managerial test will be deciding whether Bernard or Willian is his man. Regardless of which player he chooses, Neymar’s loss is massive. (Previous Rank: 7)

4. Netherlands- The Dutch made life difficult for themselves by going all the way to penalties but it seems as though Louis van Gaal was the first manager that had a strategy for penalties from the start. People questioned the substitution of Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul but it paid off. Cillessen has looked shaky at times but it is almost as if Krul was brought to Brazil only specifically for this scenario. Having 5 tremendous penalty takers was also a bonus. Wesley Sneijder rattled the woodwork twice and could have ended this earlier. I would not call them huge underdogs against Argentina but they did not look like a team that can compete for the title. Then again, Arjen Robben is on a redemption tour. (Previous Rank: 2)

Eliminated in the Quarterfinals

5. Colombia- They almost did it, but it was only because of the errors of Brazil. A lot of people are crying foul over Juan Zuniga’s challenge on Neymar but the reality of the situation was that Brazil turned it into a physical affair. Rodriguez and Cuadrado were brutalized and effectively taken out of the game due to its physical nature. Neymar suffered the consequences as well, but Zuniga still has a bit of blame on his shoulders. Simply put, it will take a miracle for a player to overthrow Rodriguez as the best player of this tournament. The only trouble I have is with the poor Colombian tactics. Teo was ineffective and the worst player on the pitch by a mile. He had been for the entire tournament. They might look back at this tournament with a “what if” mindset but at least this is not the last time we’ll see Rodriguez at the World Cup. (Previous Rank: 1)

6. Costa Rica- It might have been their strategy to go into the game and hope for penalties. They were not as overmatched as many people expected but they also did not put up the same sort of fight that they had against Uruguay and Italy. You had a feeling that they were not prepared for a long run in the tournament but did well without Oscar Duarte. While it’s true that the penalties could have gone either way, they were a bit lucky to survive that long in the game. It’s a heroic showing from the small Latin American country and they were by far the biggest surprise of the tournament. Respect to them. (Previous Rank: 8)

7. France- I’d probably argue that they would be World Cup Finalists if they were on the other side of the draw but that is not the case. They are still the second most complete and talented group at this tournament but they had no solution for going down to Germany early. Mathieu Valbuena was a key man in this game but fell flat and turned in a subpar performance. Their strategy to win the offside game with the German backline was also another failure. I think the bottom line is, they were not built to play from a goal down. Had they somehow managed to snag an early goal then they could very well be at the top of the power rankings. They have a wonderful crop of players coming through though, they will be one to watch in Russia. (Previous Rank: 4)

8. Belgium- So I guess it turned out that they really weren’t playing their game but had kinda been scraping past weaker opposition. Argentina were going to win that game no matter what, Belgium had no real chance on the counter. Eden Hazard is not a “free-spirit,” he just never puts in the same effort for his country as he does for his club. If there is one player to blame for Belgium going down in flames, it is him. At the same time, Wilmots should have had a spine and sat Hazard down earlier in the tournament. They looked uninterested in this game. It does not matter how much talent or potential this group has, they need a motivator. They should have been in the final based off their ability but they never deserved it. (Previous Rank: 3)

Eliminated Before the Quarterfinals

9. Chile
10. Algeria
11. United States
12. Mexico
13. Switzerland
14. Nigeria
15. Uruguay
16. Greece
17. Italy
18. Ecuador
19. Ivory Coast
20. Portugal
21. Croatia
22. Ghana
23. Russia
24. Iran
25. Japan
26. South Korea
27. Australia
28. Bosnia and Herzegovina
29. England
30. Honduras
31. Cameroon
32. Spain

Keylor Navas earns player of the round honors with a terrific performance against the Netherlands

Keylor Navas earns player of the round honors with a terrific performance against the Netherlands

GK: Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)- For the second round in a row, the best player was a goalkeeper that did well to keep his team in a game longer than they deserved. 8 saves during the game before falling to Krul in penalties.

RB: Stefan de Vrij (Netherlands)- Technically played on the right side of a three man defense, de Vrij was phenomenal with 5 tackles, 5 interceptions, 13 clearances and 1 last man tackle.

CB: Mats Hummels (Germany)- Hummels earned the winning goal for Germany in the 12′ but also added 7 clearances and 3 blocks while completing 85% of his passes.

CB: Thiago Silva (Brazil)- A backpost tap-in gave Brazil an early lead that allowed them to dictate the way the game was played. Also won 5 aerial duels, had 14 clearances and 3 shots blocked.

LB: Benedikt Howedes (Germany)- Howedes was a defensive rock with a round leading 9 tackles. He also added 4 clearances and 2 interceptions.

Mid: Neymar (Brazil)- Neymar created 4 scoring chances while also assisting on the first Brazil goal. He also had 3 successful dribbles and won 4 fouls.

Mid: Fernandinho (Brazil)- The defensive midfielder helped dictate the midfield play with 5 tackles and 4 clearances. He also won 3 fouls and had 3 successful dribbles.

Mid: James Rodriguez (Colombia)- Rodriguez added his sixth goal in 5 games, this one from the spot. He also created 3 scoring chances, had 5 successful dribbles and won 6 fouls.

Mid: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)- Sneijder hit the woodwork twice and also created two scoring opportunities. Finished the round with the second most touches (108) and scored his penalty in the shootout

Fwd: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)- Robben created a match high 4 scoring opportunities while winning 8 fouls and completing 8 dribbles. He also slotted home a penalty int he shootout.

Fwd: Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)- Higuain’s strike early in the game helped Argentina relax and control the tempo throughout. He also rattled the woodwork once and helped out defensively at times.

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