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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.

Jozy Altidore’s foundation funding Copa America watch parties in Haiti

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Jozy Altidore has never shied away from his Hatian decent, and while the 26-year-old will miss the Copa America, but his second home certainly won’t.

Altidore’s charity organization the St. Luke Foundation has set up watch parties across Haiti so the island nation can watch all the United States and Haiti matches, as well as the semifinals and finals.

In a phone interview with Sports Illustrated, Altidore cited that Haiti had not been invited to a major international tournament since 1974, and that the country should be able to watch. According to SI, the watch parties will allow those in the country to watch who otherwise would be unable to do so.

“I thought this would be something cool knowing how much Haitian people love their national team” Altidore told SI, “to have thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see the matches broadcast the group games and see them perform.”

Haiti plays in Brazil’s Group B along with Peru and Ecuador, with group stage games on June 4, 8, and 12.

[ MORE: Copa America Group B preview | USA in Group A ]

Altidore will miss the tournament due to a hamstring injury which will take 6-8 weeks to recover from.

The New Jersey product has been very active with charity work in Haiti in the past, mostly through his foundation. Altidore’s parents were both born in Haiti. He said he hopes that the Haitian team “can surprise some people” in the upcoming tournament.

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
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This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide