As well as showcasing some of the best footballers of this generation, the World Cup in Brazil also served as a stage for some of more unknown players to shine. With the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico, and Algeria doing better than expected in the tournament, as well as many players shining in Brazil, we have selected a World Cup ‘Breakthrough’ XI.
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa
Guillermo ‘Memo’ Ochoa has always been recognised in his home nation as a world class shot stopper, but received little recognition outside of home. When his spell at boyhood club América ended, rumours of a move to the likes of Manchester United, Fulham, Sevilla and Roma soon followed. Ochoa eventually signed for Ajaccio in France where he spent three seasons. The Mexican entered the World Cup knowing that he would be a Free Agent by the time his campaign finished, and put in a string of supreme performances in a tournament where Mexico exceeded expectations. After showing such stunning World Cup form, Ochoa will not be short of options this summer, especially now that a free transfer is on the cards.
Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin
Despite not starting a game in the World Cup, 21 Year Old Right Back DeAndre Yedlin makes the team after some electric performances off the bench. Eyebrows were raised initially upon Yedlin’s inclusion in the 23 man squad, but he impressed immensely in the three substitute appearances he made in Brazil. Despite defeat, Yedlin’s incredible stamina coupled with his blistering pace caused Belgium a world of problems in the Round of 16 match. Since that game, and in turn USA’s tournament exit, rumours of interest from the likes of Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich have flooded in. While it may be a risk moving to Europe with such little experience under his belt, many teams would happily pay the £3m fee that Seattle Sounders are rumoured to be waiting for.
Centre Back: Daley Blind
As far as young Dutch talent goes, Daley Blind may be seen as a late bloomer despite still only being 24 years of age. Blind caught the eye in Brazil from the Left Back and Centre Back position, with accomplished performances throughout the tournament. While he has shown defensive quality in Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 formation, with a goal and 3 assists to his name, including the stunning pass to Robin Van Persie that set up the striker’s header against Spain, Blind has shown plenty of ability going forward too. For Ajax this season, Blind played in a multitude of positions, namely Centre Midfield, Left Back and Centre Back, and had a pass success rate of 87% in all competitions last season.
Centre Back: Giancarlo Gonzalez
26 year old Centre Back Giancarlo Gonzalez was a rock in the impressive Costa Rica defence at the World Cup. The expected whipping boys of the group surprised everyone by winning the tough Group D ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England. Gonzalez was a crucial part of the hard working Defensive system that conceded only 2 goals from open play in the tournament where they reached the Quarter Final stage. QPR Defender and World Cup pundit Rio Ferdinand was very impressed with Gonzalez, and said he would be shocked if Gonzalez wasn’t signed by a European team. After dealing with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Edinson Cavani, Arjen Robben and Mario Balotelli in the tournament, who is to say Gonzalez isn’t good enough for a top Champions League side?
Left Back: Miguel Layun
The #TodoesculpadeLayun (Everything is Layun’s fault) hashtag on social networks took off in May 2011 and was used to cruelly focus the attention of Club America’s struggles at that time onto Layun. The Defender’s career was on the slide back then, enduring poor form with America after already struggling in a two-year stint with Atalanta in Italy. The turning point in Layun’s career however, came when current Mexico coach Miguel Herrera took over at Club America ahead of the 2012 Clausura. Layun developed alongside Herrera at club level and then internationally too with Herrera taking over in October 2013. Layun became one of Mexico’s biggest weapons in Brazil as the left wing-back in the 5-3-2 system. Layun has a European passport which opens the door to a move to a European team – something which could come in handy after the impressive tournament he endured.
Centre Midfield: Valon Behrami
While most of us know Valon Behrami from his time in the Premier League with West Ham, and now with Rafa Benitez at Napoli, few knew he was capable of such accomplished Centre Midfield performances as he showed with Switzerland out in Brazil. Playing in a deep role alongside Captain Gokan Inler, Behrami got about the pitch like few others can, showing his great stamina and tactical nous. Behrami finished the World Cup with an impressive 84% pass accuracy from the 4 games he played, and made an average of almost 4 tackles per game. Behrami will be hoping to guide Napoli through the Champions League playoff round next month.
Centre Midfield: Hector Herrera
Hector Herrera, I believe, is one of the most underrated Midfielders playing in Europe. Herrera had a huge part to play in Mexico’s impressive showing in the tournament, with his well rounded game causing Brazil, for one, many problems in the group stage. Herrera averaged 3 key passes per game in the World Cup, with his 82% pass success providing an assist too. Manchester United were rumoured to be interested in the Midfielder when he left Pachuca, and they could do a lot worse than go in for the Mexican this summer. Herrera’s Porto is another team who will need to win a playoff game to make the Champions League for next season – should be still be a Porto player by then that is.
Attacking Midfield: James Rodriguez
By no means was James Rodriguez unknown before the World Cup, but the extent of his performances has since propelled him to become one of the most expensive footballers of all time. 6 Goals in 5 World Cup Games earned Rodriguez the highly prestigious Golden Boot award, and since then a £63million 6 Year Deal with Real Madrid too. As well as his 6 goals (including the goal of the tournament against Uruguay), Rodriguez also made 2 assists for his teammates and averaged 2 key passes during the tournament. It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid can fit Rodriguez into an already star studded lineup next season.
Right Wing: Ahmed Musa
Nigerian Forward Ahmed Musa looks to be a real talent aged only 21. Musa became the first Nigerian to score twice in a single World Cup game against Argentina, in a piece of brilliance only surpassed in the same game by one Lionel Messi. The youngster has already represented his nation 40 times, after making his debut aged 17, and scored 7 International goals. While he has had Champions League experience with CSKA Moscow already in his short career, don’t rule out a summer move on the back of such an impressive World Cup.
Striker: Joel Campbell
Arsenal’s Costa Rican Forward Joel Campbell had a World Cup to remember in a Costa Rican side which more than exceeded expectations in the tournament. We got a glimpse of Campbell’s ability last season in Olympiakos’ Round of 16 Champions League meeting with Manchester United, with Campbell scoring a fantastic long distance curling effort to put the Greek side 2-0 up in the first leg. Campbell scored 8 League goals last season, and earned a starting place in Brazil as a result. A goal and an assist in the tournament have furthered Campbell’s claims to be a first teamer next season with Arsenal.
Left Wing: Memphis Depay
PSV’s Memphis Depay could be Holland’s next big thing. The 20 year old had a breakthrough season in the Eredivisie this season, scoring 14 goals and getting 10 assists in all competitions for his club. His rise to prominence has resulted in a host of top clubs reportedly chasing the Winger, including Tottenham, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United. Depay came on for the Dutch for his 7th international cap against Australia in Brazil, and scored a superb match winning goal from 25 yards out to make it 3-2, and in turn guarantee Netherlands progression out of the group stages a match early. Depay then scored again against Chile to double his tally. As a Left Winger, his electric pace and skilled dribbling (averaging over 3 successful take ons per game) has already seen him compared to a young Cristiano Ronaldo in his native Holland.