The Group stage of the World Cup was a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. Hard to believe a little over 2 weeks ago the World Cup was just starting and all 32 teams had no idea how things would go from them. This has been the best World Cup in my lifetime filled with thrilling moments and surprises. What a better way to celebrate and reward the group stage by giving out awards to those who deserve them? I'm glad you agree!
Here are the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group Stage awards!
Best Team: Netherlands
Hard to argue here. In control of every moment during their world cup group stage matches, aside from their match against Australia, the Netherlands had a scintillating performance against the defending champions in their opening game. Three wins from three matches and the team many thought would bow out early in this group have found their way out and in stunning fashion.
Honorable Mention: Colombia
Most Disappointing Team: Spain
Winners of the last three major tournaments they've participated in, many predicting Spain would waltz their way to another final. Their tournament started off in typical Spanish tradition, a majority of possession and a one goal lead, but out of the spectacular the Spain we all know and love (or hate) collapsed in the most dramatic way. Things didn't stop there with another loss to Chile and Spain was eliminated with a game left to play.
Honorable Mention: England
Surprise Team: Costa Rica
Not only did Costa Rica have no business playing against the likes of Italy, Uruguay, and England, they certainly had no business winning the group involving those teams. Costa Rica cared little about their expectations and went on to shock Uruguay and dominate Italy before tying it all up with a draw against an eliminated England. Costa Rica did CONCACAF proud and have an excellent chance in reaching the quarterfinals as they play a less than impressive Greece in the Round of 16.
Honorable Mention: Algeria
Best Player: Arjen Robben
He certainly didn't let the memories of 2010 haunt him in this World Cup as he has dictated play for the Dutch in their stellar group stage play. Robben has 3 goals in the tournament and could still compete for that Golden Boot, but he's done so much more than just score. He's a threat whenever he touches the ball and his pace was put on display against a disappointing Spanish side.
Honorable Mention: James Rodriguez
Best Goal: Robin van Persie vs. Spain
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The Flying Dutchman goal against Spain to equalize the game late in the first half was simply spectacular. In the level of difficulty I think this one gets a ten and I don't think I've ever seen a diving header goal from basically the top of the 18. He not only made contact with the ball, RvP had the wherewithal to recognize keeper Iker Casillas was off his line and to crank his neck in a fashion that would ever so beautifully dip the ball over his head. Well done, Robin.
Honorable Mention: Tim Cahill vs. Netherlands
Best Game: Netherlands 3-2 Australia
Lots of love for the Dutch who I believe are the best team in this tournament right now and the teams around them didn't look up to the task, except Australia. The minnows in the group gave Chile everything they had but were just barely outclassed by pure emotion, but they didn't surrender that it was a fluke by coming out and almost shocking Netherlands. Cahill's rocket response to the opening goal was brilliant and they kept fighting even as they blew a 2-2 lead. A mistake by their young keeper was the only difference between these two.
Honorable Mention: USA 2-2 Portugal
Best Moment: Lionel Messi's goal vs. Iran
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I said the only thing stopping Brazil from winning this tournament was the superpowers of Lionel Messi. His 4 goals in this tournament have answered my questions about him on an international level. Iran, however, didn't care too much for Messi's prowess and halted Argentina's advances for 90 minutes. As the game was winding down, Argentina could not break Iran down and I asked out loud, "Why isn't Argentina giving Messi the ball every time they have possession?" My prayers were answered and out of who knows where Messi stunned Iran with a beauty of a finish. He's having his Maradona moments so Brazil better watch out.
Honorable Mention: Armero Goal vs Greece
(I feel I have to explain that this goal, where not spectacular, was an earth shattering moment for the fans of Colombia. With all the questions coming into this World Cup with Falcao and having missed the last 3 tournaments, this goal brought not only and ecstatic reaction but a relieved reaction from the pro-Colombia crowd.)
Heartbreaking Moment: Silvestre Varela's goal vs USA
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On the verge of qualifying for the Round of 16, the US had a 2-1 lead when Portugal won the ball back with about 30 seconds remaining in stoppage time. A cross from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo found the head of Silvestre Varela who punished a lacksidasical US backline to prevent the US from advancing. After dominating the game, the US felt disappointed to not beat Portugal and would have to do things the only way Americans seem to do it: the hard way.
Honorable Mention: Messi's goal vs Iran (from an Iranian perspective)
Best Save: Guillermo Ochoa vs Brazil
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Pick one in the game, any one you want and that's the best save of this tournament. His outstanding performance in that game is the only reason Mexico walked away from the group stage undefeated in 3 matches. He simply stood on his head and no real thanks to anyone else, Mexico walked away with a draw against the hosts.
Honorable Mention: Tim Howard vs. Portugal
Biggest Blunder: Igor Akinfeev vs. Korea Republic
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Lee Keun-ho's 68th minute shot on goal should never had gone in but Russian goalkeeper decided to make things interesting and turn his hands into wet noodles as the ball snuck by him into the net. The typically sure-handed Akinfeev was redeemed by Aleksandr Kerzhakov in the 74th minute, but Russia's tournament would be dictated by that moment as they would fail to qualify.
Honorable mention: Marcelo vs. Croatia
Biggest Bonehead: Luis Suarez
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Talk about someone who should be in an insane asylum and this is the first name that comes up. Whether it's that he is truly insane or that he just prefers the taste of human flesh, Suarez should really be banned from ever playing again. He will play again and in fact he'll play this year, but the man is an insane person. Enough said.
Honorable Mention: Pepe