Picking up where we left off with the forwards, here are PST’s 10 best midfielders from the 2014 World Cup (in alphabetical order):
[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]
Juan Cuadrado, Colombia – At club-level, Cuadrado’s wide play often flatters to deceive, his clearly prodigious talent productive in flashes for Fiorentina. For three or four games in Brazil, however, Cuadrado put it all together, recording one goal and four assists. The 26-year-old was the best attacker player at this year’s World Cup.
Kevin de Bruyne, Belgium – An inconsistent but promising group stage gave way to a decisive performance in the Round of 16 against the U.S., with a goal and assist highlighting the role de Bruyne played in Belgium’s ever-dangerous counter. With a goal and two assists, de Bruyne helped pick up where some of his more famous teammates left off.
Ángel Di María, Argentina – Di María’s absence was keenly felt in Argentina’s final, where the Albiceleste failed to offer the extra attacker that could have made some of Lionel Messi’s work pay off. Before the final game, however, Di María was that guy, combining his typical high energy game with an attacking sense that left him in position to score the winner against Switzerland in the Round of 16 .
Héctor Herrera, Mexico – Had Mexico held on against the Netherlands, Herrera would have been celebrated as one of the tournament’s breakout stars, with the spotlight of the tournament final eight settling on the 24-year-old as one of the main reasons for El Tri’s success. Of course, Mexico didn’t make it that far, but that shouldn’t diminish what we saw from Herrera, whose single assist understates the value he brought to the team’s three-man middle.
Jermaine Jones, United States – Jones is normally one of the most scrutinized members of the U.S. national team, but in Brazil, he never gave those doubts a chance to surface. Seemingly leveraging the experience he’s garnered in Germany and the Champions League, Jones rose to the occasion for the U.S., providing vital solidity for a midfield that was asked to spend much of its time focusing on positioning over possession. With Jozy Altidore injured, Jones picked his spots to surge forward and provide an outlet out of the back, and with this second half goal against Portugal, the German-born American provided one of the best finishes of the tournament:
Toni Kroos, Germany – Kroos’s two goals and three assists would be impressive in their own right, but the 24-year-old also completed 89.9 percent of his passes. The key man linking Germany’s deep midfield with its forwards, Kroos may have been the most important in a series of vital cogs.
Javier Mascherano, Argentina (pictured) – The competition’s best defensive midfielder earned consideration for player of the tournament, a just reward for protecting a defense that only allowed three goals in seven games. Though he plays mostly as a defender with Barcelona, the former Liverpool destroyer reminded the world that he’s still one of the game’s best anchors in midfield.
Paul Pogba, France – Voted the tournament’s best young player, Pogba combined with Blaise Matuidi to lock down France’s midfield, a hold only Germany managed to solve. Scoring once and setting up another, the 21-year-old Juventus star showed why he is one of the most covered young players in the world, on track to be a regular in Les Bleus midfield for a decade to come.
James Rodríguez, Colombia – Arguably the tournament’s best player, Rodríguez gets grouped with the midfielders even though he did all of his damage going forward. Scoring at least once in each of his team’s games, James eventually claimed the tournament’s Golden Boot, even though he played two fewer games than the likes of Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, and Lionel Messi.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany – Not completely healthy at the beginning of the tournament, Schweinsteiger’s improvement as the tournament progressed allow Joachim Löw to move Philipp Lahm back to fullback, a change that helped balance the eventual champions. In Lahm’s place, Schweinsteiger offered a more robust option in the middle, one that liberated Kroos and Sami Khedira in Germany’s historic route of Brazil.