Vazquez, Depay and the surprise stars of the World Cup group stages

The traditional elite have not had it all their own way at the 2014 World Cup with a number of impressive talents making themselves know in Brazil
The old order has certainly been toppled at the 2014 World Cup. Defending champions Spain, as well as illustrious European counterparts England, Italy and Portugal are all on their way home after the group stages.

The opening phase of the tournament has been characterised by positive, attacking football with the emphasis very much on exploiting other teams' weaknesses. As Xavi, Wayne Rooney, Mario Balotelli and Cristiano Ronaldo failed to turn up it was left to an exciting new generation of players to impress the watching world.

While household names like Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have been irrepressible, there has also been space for some less-heralded players to find their way into the spotlight.


This is Algeria's best-ever showing at a World Cup finals and one which looked unlikely in the extreme after les Fennecs lost their opening match to Belgium. Nonetheless, Vahid Halilhodzic's side recovered with a spectacular 4-2 win over South Korea on matchday two before sealing their place in the last 16 for the first time with a 1-1 draw against Russia.

Key to their displays in their last two group stage games has been Islam Slimani. The Sporting CP forward has scored big goals at vital times for the north Africans, including the equaliser against the Russians, as well as providing the opener against Korea. For his contributions, he has been named man-of-the-match in each of those games. He may not win the Golden Boot at this World Cup but not many other strikers will prove as integral to their side's system of play.

Algeria have a daunting task in playing Germany in the next round but there have been signs of vulnerability in their defence. A striker on form like Slimani will relish the opportunity to cause another upset.


Netherlands may not be playing Total Football this year but the new 5-3-2 system has tested opponents in a range of other ways. First-choice attacking duo Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben have rightly taken the plaudits for their ability to create and take chances but Memphis Depay has been Holland's impact substitute extraordinaire at these finals.

After Van Persie and Robben soften up defences, Louis van Gaal has taken to introducing the PSV man from the bench to wreak havoc. It has paid dividends twice. In just over an hour of action, he has racked up two goals and an assist. The 20-year-old decided the pulsating game against Australia with a thundering finish - making him the youngest Dutchman ever to score at a World Cup finals - before finally seeing off Chile's challenge with a composed finish in injury time.

Van Persie and Robben occupy defenders and run them ragged and Memphis is well-equipped to come on and finish the job. Expect that to continue against Mexico.


The Leon midfielder is counting the cost of a second yellow card picked up in the group stages against Croatia and Mexico now prepare for the second round without their midfield lynchpin.

That Vazquez has become such an integral part of the Mexico set-up so quickly is evidence of his rapid growth. Two years ago, he had yet to kick a ball in Liga MX.

He was a beneficiary of coach Miguel Herrera's decision to concentrate his efforts on examining domestic talent and only made his international debut in January despite looking like he has spent all his life in the Mexico midfield.

A starting berth only materialised on the eve of the tournament as el Tri were hit with a spate of injuries across the midfield area. The 26-year-old was undaunted.

He dictated the play against Cameroon before going on to impress with his range of passing and tigerish tackling capabilities against Brazil in that historic 0-0 draw and the 3-1 win against Croatia. Without him, Mexico's traditional trip to the last 16 might be as far as they get.


Arguably the standout individual talent of this World Cup so far, the man on loan at Olympiakos last season has his eyes firmly fixed on winning a place in Arsenal's squad after these finals. His form at this tournament suggests that he is ready for the step up.

Campbell and his Costa Rica team-mates delivered a huge shock on their opening matchday against Uruguay when the 21-year-old provided a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win. No one player across Uruguay's three matches has done so much to leave them looking ponderous and over the hill.

Against Italy, he was again outstanding and should have earned a penalty from Giorgio Chiellini. Bryan Ruiz's goal made that immaterial. Costa Rica have made history by becoming one of three Concacaf sides to storm to the World Cup last 16 and it is no exaggeration to say they have been the best story so far.

It is their first appearance at this stage since 1990. There are a number of fine talents present in the squad, finely tuned by coach Jorge Luis Pinto. At the heart of it all, however, remains the captain Ruiz and Campbell. With them fit and firing, los Ticos even have a chance of beating Greece.


The Santos man is playing on familiar terrain at this World Cup and can claim to be among the best-performing left-backs on show in Brazil. The 25-year-old lacks a little on the defensive side but has more than made up for it with his efforts going the other way.

He is as much a key part of Chile's system as Alexis Sanchez or Arturo Vidal. His energy allows him to run up and down the left flank throughout the 90 minutes and he is usually the man overlapping when Chile need to play it wide on the left. He is tactically astute too and has no trouble adapting when Sampaoli calls for 3-5-2.

La Roja made history by eliminating Spain to end their title challenge at the first hurdle and in that win, Mena was integral. He was also impressive in the opening-day win over Australia.

The Chileans are going to have to raise their collective game from the level they demonstrated against Netherlands when they face Brazil in the second round.

Nonetheless, Hulk won't track him and Dani Alves looks increasingly flustered in the defensive aspect. Chile are equipped with the system and personnel to end their World Cup hoodoo against the Brazilians and go to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1962.