Guillermo Ochoa , Mario Mandzukic

Top Ten Players of the 2014 World Cup’s Group Stage

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It’s quite a task selecting the best 10 performances from 32 teams playing three games each, but in the hard world of being employed to rank world footballers, I stand ready.

It’s especially hard not to just latch onto incredible moments and insert a player on the list. Robin van Persie’s headed goal against Spain still amazes me, but was he the driving force behind the Netherlands’ surprising group stage? Certain teams got by on defending, so does that mean one defender can rise above the rest?

[ RELATED: Complete bracket for Round of 16, more ]

Oh, shoot. Let’s just do this thing. The Top Ten players from the 2014 group stage were:

10. Gervinho, Ivory Coast – No, Les Elephants were not able to charge out of their group stage funk, but that was no fault of the electric Gervinho, who challenged back lines and midfields alike.

9. Arjen Robben, Netherlands – He’s a menace, and his motor never stops going (even during his full-energy dives). Robben drove the Dutch into the knockout rounds.

8. Enner Valencia, Ecuador – The bright spot in a disappointing tournament for La Tri, the ‘other’ Valencia has been linked with a number of Premier League sides including Newcastle United.

7. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico – You watched the Brazil/Mexico match, right? Can you believe El Tri had coaches who didn’t suit this guy up?

source: AP6. James Rodriguez, Colombia – Absurdly-gifted and just as productive, James is one of the main reasons Colombia could emerge from the loaded CONMEBOL quadrant and into the semifinals.

5. Karim Benzema, France – If this guy played in England, he would be one of the most popular players for American audiences. He’s big, talented and hard-charging.

4. David Luiz, Brazil – So PSG is going to team Luiz up with Thiago Silva? Champions League, beware.

3. Neymar, Brazil – If there’s been more stress placed on a younger player by a host nation, we’ve yet to find him. Coming into his own during this tournament.

2. Thomas Muller, Germany – All he does is score goals, and that bullet against the United States was bordering on impossibly well-placed.

1. Lionel Messi, Argentina – Any more questions about the Atomic Ant on the international stage? He was Argentina in the group stage.

Honorable mention: Wayne Rooney, England; Yeltsin Tejeda and Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica; Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard, United States; Daley Blind, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay, Netherlands; Blaise Matuidi, France; Xherdan Shaqiri and Diego Benaglio, Switzerland; Andre Ayew, Ghana; Juan Cuadrado, Colombia; Merhdad Pooladi, Iran; Serey Die, Ivory Coast; David Ospina and Jackson Martinez, Colombia; Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, Belgium; Ivan Perisic, Croatia; Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez, Chile; Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria; Oribe Peralta, Mexico; Diego Godin and Luis Suarez, Uruguay; Islam Slimani, Algeria; Keisuke Honda, Japan; Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels, Germany.

Tens of thousands welcomed Real Madrid home after Champions League final

Real Madrid bus (Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid)
Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid
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MADRID (AP) Tens of thousands of fans endured the rain to greet Real Madrid players as they returned home early Sunday from their triumph in the Champions League final.

[ MORE: Real top Atleti on penalty kicks — Ronaldo the hero again ]

Many waited all night after celebrating the team’s win over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in a penalty shootout on Saturday in Milan.

The players arrived in Madrid at about 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and traveled on an open bus to the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where an estimated 30,000 supporters welcomed the team.

Players carried the Champions League trophy atop the bus, constantly showing it to the cheering fans. The word “Campeones” and “11” were displayed prominently on the bus, in reference to the club’s 11th European title.

[ MORE: Ronaldo — “Our team showed more experience” ]

Team captain Sergio Ramos, who scored Madrid’s goal in regulation time at the San Siro, took the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cybele with the club’s scarf and flag, then lifted the trophy high above the famous figure.

A huge video screen was set up at the plaza to allow fans to watch the final, and the party began right after Cristiano Ronaldo converted the final penalty kick in the shootout to give the club its second European title in three seasons. Light shows and music entertained the fans through the night.

Atletico Madrid supporters, who again were denied the opportunity to celebrate the title, had gathered at a different viewing spot to watch the final.

[ MORE: Bale — “We deserve it” ]

There were no reports of major incidents between fans of the rival clubs.

Real Madrid said “almost 80,000” fans watched Saturday’s final at the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where four huge screens were placed at midfield. The title celebration at the stadium included confetti thrown into the air as “We are the champions” played through loudspeakers.

The team will meet with the mayor of Madrid later on Sunday and again will parade through city streets.

The title celebrations will culminate at night at the Bernabeu.

Marek Hamsik absolutely smashes goal in Slovakia’s upset of Germany (video)

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 25:  Marek Hamsik of Slovakia runs with the ball during the international friendly match between Slovakia and Latvia held at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho on March 25, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
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Marek Hamsik hit a ball with such momentous force that we’re not sure it rotated more than three full turns on its 20-yard flight into the goal.

The Slovakia star’s goal equalized a friendly with Germany at 1, and Repre went on to hammer the reigning World Cup champs by a 3-1 score.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

I mean, really, what a hit. Bernd Leno had little hope of touching it.

Carrick praises Mourinho, reportedly will sign Manchester United extension

MONACO - MAY 27:  Michael Carrick attends the Red Bull Racing Energy Station at Monte Carlo on May 27, 2016 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)
Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
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Longtime Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick spoke glowingly of new boss Jose Mourinho amidst rumors he’ll sign a one-year extension with the Old Trafford set.

Carrick, 34, joined United from Tottenham in 2006, and has won major trophy after major trophy with the club. He wants more, and he doesn’t care how.

[ MORE: United hires Mourinho | Things he must do ]

The 34-times capped English midfielder has 421 appearances for United, and could fit neatly into a Mourinho system.

From The Mirror:

“You have to be number one and winning trophies and if you can do that with a bit of style and a bit of flair then that is the perfect match but first and foremost it is about winning and getting back on top.

“There is going to be change without a doubt because he is coming in and he is his own man.

“He has got an unbelievable track record and everyone is looking for quick results and that’s how it is.”

We have to wonder how the United fans who booed Louis Van Gaal after every turn will react to these comments, although wins cure everything, right?

Kante, James among players happy to stay put with champions

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04: A dejected Simon Mignolet of LiverpSimon Mignolet of Liverpool (L) looks on as Karim Benzema of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mates during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 4, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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There were many rumors than N'Golo Kante had a deal that would allow him to leave Leicester City, but the midfielder doesn’t sound like the leaving type.

According to L’Equipe, Kante isn’t looking to leave the Premier League champions, and is content to play in the UEFA Champions League with the Foxes next season.

[ UCL: Real Madrid wins | CR7 reacts | Bale, too ]

He’s been tipped to move to Real Madrid and Manchester City amongst other potential stops.

“For now, I am happy at Leicester,” he said. “I do not pay too much attention to everything that is said.”

That vibe is running through the headlines today, as UEFA Champions League winners Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez say they want to stay at Real Madrid, and Isco is also happy to come back to the Bernabeu to make a run at a first La Liga title since the 2011-12 season.