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10 players with rising stock after World Cup group stage

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Earlier, we ran through our Top 10 players who have taken the 2014 World Cup by storm.

However, many of those players are already thought of as world-class or otherwise well-known throughout the sport of soccer.

There are plenty of players throughout the group stage that have taken advantage of the global stage to send their stock skyrocketing, many of whom were already playing well for clubs but didn’t have the exposure they deserved.

1. Daley Blind, Netherlands

Ajax winger and son of Dutch great Danny Blind, 24-year-old Daley has been a force in the Netherlands attack. In the demolition of Spain, he burst onto the scene, assisting goals twice with brilliant crosses into the box and completed 36/41 passes (88%).

As many thought he’d played the game of his life, he followed that up with a 42-of-44 passing performance, picking up another assist and two chances created,

source: AP
Young Divock Origi is rumored to be on Liverpool’s wish list after impressing for Belgium.

He’s a solid defender as well, completing 16 of his 19 attempted tackles in this tournament.  He can play at either left-back or in the midfield, Blind has been the Dutch’s best option on their deadly counter-attack, and is sure to get interest from clubs in bigger leagues.

2. Divock Origi, Belgium

With Romelu Lukaku struggling to prove his worth at the head of Belgium’s attack, a young kid has filled the void.

19-year-old Divock Origi – only in the squad because of the injury to Christian Benteke – bagged the winner against Russia as the Belgians looked otherwise listless in front of goal.

All three matches, Marc Wilmots has brought Origi in soon after halftime (15 minutes at most), twice for Lukaku, and all three he’s had an impact.  He’s won take-ons in the box, completed plenty of attacking-third passes, and oh yea, a winning goal.

Thanks to his performance so far, the English papers are already ablaze with rumors linking him with a move to Liverpool.

[ MORE: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly.com]

3. Matt Besler, United States

The USMNT central defender has been one of the best and most unheralded at the 2014 World Cup. His man-marking has been near-perfect, all more important as those around him such as Geoff Cameron fail to impress in that department.

Besler has also been a clearance machine, including a 12-for-12 performance against Portugal when nobody on the US had more than five.  He threw his body on the line in that match as well, making a last-gasp interception that nearly knocked him out with yet another hamstring injury, but he fought on instead.

Word now has it that the Sporting KC defender’s performances against some quality World Cup teams have put him on the map for a job in Europe.

4. Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast

The old guard of Ivory Coast is headed home after they couldn’t put themselves past Greece in its final group stage match. But just because a team is eliminated doesn’t mean everyone played poorly.

21-year-old Toulouse wing-back Serge Aurier stood out for Côte d’Ivoire, producing a beautiful combination of solid defense, creative passing, and pinpoint crossing.  He was especially bright in their opening 2-1 win over Japan, bombing down the right all match, assisting both Ivory Coast goals as well as intercepting a game-high six Japanese pass attempts.

If there’s any knock on his play in Brazil, it’s that he could do with some decaf, occasionally letting adrenaline get the best of him after a bright attack and blasting a cross well over the head of its intended target.  But it’s safe to say Aurier has put himself on the map, and rumor has it Arsene Wenger was impressed by the young defender.

Also interesting, Aurier is fast. Like, really, really fast. As in, fastest player at the World Cup fast.

5. Jose Gimenez, Uruguay

When captain Diego Lugano went down, some lamented his loss, but 19-year-old Jose Maria Gimenez has made people forget the injury and remember the kid’s name.  He’s the latest to excel in a three-at-the-back system, which has burst onto the scene in Brazil.

His passing numbers are less than impressive, which is a red flag for many central defenders, but his defensive tallies have been superb.  He was outstanding in the clean sheet against Italy, and he will be absolutely necessary if Uruguay is to advance now without the presence of Luis Suarez in its attack.

source: AP
Enner Valencia was a menace to opposition defenses, and with better service he could do damage at the club level.

6. Enner Valencia, Ecuador

Few outside the Americas knew who Enner Valencia was or what he could bring to the table.  After scoring bags of goals for Pachuca in Liga MX, Valencia has translated his form straight to Brazil and while his country is going home without a knockout stage berth, Valencia will be sure to have a busy summer.

Three World Cup goals in three games is a great number for a relative unknown, and while links to Arsenal might be quite a stretch, there’s no doubt the bright and energetic 25-year-old will get looks going forward.

7. Ahmed Musa, Nigeria

Nigeria surprised many as they progressed into the knockout stage over favorites Bosnia & Herzegovina and a bright Iran side.  At the heart of their advancement was 21-year-old winger Ahmed Musa.

After looking listless against the United States in their final warmup before the World Cup, Musa has turned on the jets, outplaying Victor Moses so much that coach Stephen Keshi benched the Liverpool winger for their group stage finale against Argentina – Musa responded by scoring twice and nearly securing a shock result against the South American favorites.

In an attack that relies on multiple players taking turns finding openings in the attacking third, Musa has been Nigeria’s most consistent performer up front and will likely find himself in more dangerous openings come the knockout round.  He may be 21, but he’s got 40 caps already, a staggering amount of experience for someone so young.

8. Memphis Depay, Netherlands

We first got a glimpse of Depay as a halftime substitute in the Netherlands’ second match against Australia. Defender Bruno Martins Indi went down under a challenge from Tim Cahill, and on came the 20-year-old PSV midfielder.  All he did was assist a goal and score another – the winner.

Depay was dangerous both centrally and out wide, and when he also got 20 minutes at the end of the Dutch victory over Chile, he found time to complete a trio of take-ons that led to a pair of chances on net, and he scored again.

source: Getty Images
Costa Rica’s Celso Borges (right) is a key component to the CONCACAF side’s midfield structure.

For having only logged 65 minutes across two matches so far, he is a valuable asset off the bench for the Dutch and will be a key part of their team going forward.  He may even find himself on the right end of a phone call or two from a coach in a top-four league.

9. Celso Borges, Costa Rica

“Why would anyone in the world of football consider playing the best teams on the planet to be a bad thing?” Those were the words of Borges after Costa Rica shocked the world and not just escaped but won arguably the most difficult group in the World Cup.

The 26-year-old midfielder has been a steady yet important presence in the midfield of Los Ticos.  In their statement 1-0 win over Italy, it’s arguable that Borges out-Pirlo’d Andrea Pirlo himself.  A maestro in the midfield, Borges was 45-of-50 passing, leading Costa Rica’s build from the back.

It was the same story five days earlier against Uruguay, as Borges completed 41-of-49 passes in the midfield and created a pair of chances for Costa Rica.  He’s also a force in the air, as any good holding midfielder is.

Joel Campbell might get much of the praise for Costa Rica as they look to take the 2014 World Cup by storm, but Borges is the man pulling the strings, and many more are sure to take note.

10. Mathew Leckie, Australia

source: Getty Images
Daley Blind (left) and Mathew Leckie are two youngsters who could make moves following an impressive group stage.

Australia impressed in their very difficult Group B draw. Although they failed to secure a single point, they put the pressure on all three of their opponents, and the 23-year-old winger Mathew Leckie was at the heart of that pressure.

Having risen meteorically onto the Australian international scene thanks to the appointment of new coach Ange Postecoglou, Leckie was a hard-worker all over the pitch not afraid to take opponents on when he had the ball.

He failed with just three of 26 passes and created a pair of chances as the Socceroos nearly shocked the Netherlands, and was equally as effective a few days earlier against Chile.  He finished in the top two in take-ons in both those matches.

Currently playing in the 2. Bundesliga (Germany’s second division), Leckie will surely get some hard looks from teams above thanks to his performance in the World Cup.

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk