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Jun 27, 2014

Best XI of the group stage

It's quite a strike force that has impressed so far this summer.

The group stages at the 2014 World Cup are done, so here are XI players who have impressed above all others in their respective positions. To show how good this year's opening stages have been, there's not even room for Germany's four-goal star, Thomas Muller!

GK. Guillermo Ochoa -- Mexico

The Mexican stopper put in one of the best performances by a goalkeeper at a World Cup as his side held Brazil to a 0-0 draw. Having waited eight years to play in another tournament after his first call-up in 2006, Ochoa conceded just one goal in the group stage and was a major reason Mexico were able to qualify.

LB. Daley Blind -- Netherlands

A gifted young left-back, Blind may have a famous father (Danny), but he has proven at this tournament that he has what it takes to succeed. Providing pinpoint crosses and long balls to his teammates, the versatile defender is a great outlet down the flanks and has shown maturity beyond his years.

CB. Gary Medel -- Chile

Every team needs someone like "The Pitbull" to win the ball and drive them on. Medel's passion and graft can usually be found in Cardiff's midfield, but Chile have made him the centrepiece of their solid defence. Clearly, it has worked as they knocked out Spain to qualify, and Medel's 93 percent passing accuracy ensured that they kept the ball at the back, too.

CB. Giancarlo Gonzalez -- Costa Rica

If you had said before the tournament that Costa Rica would concede only one goal against Italy, Uruguay and England combined, and finish top of Group D, you would have been laughed out of the building. However, Gonzalez's tackling and leadership from the back have helped the Ticos shock the world. The rock at the centre of a five-man defence, his organisational skills have been a key part in making his side tick.

RB. Serge Aurier -- Ivory Coast

Tipped for a fine showing before the tournament, Aurier delivered consistency even though his side could not seal progress to the knockout stage. Full of energy and drive down the flanks, he provided two assists during the group stages and impressed with his stamina, power and pace. After this performance, it is easy to see why Arsenal have been looking at him to replace Bacary Sagna.

DM. Paul Pogba -- France

France have had to dig deep to bury the ghosts of 2010 and a pretty dismal qualifying campaign, but Pogba is at the heart of everything that is good about Les Blues. Not afraid to put in a tackle in the middle of the pitch, his vision and excellent passing skills help to get the attacks going. At only 21, the Juventus midfielder has a bright future, and how Manchester United must be kicking themselves that they let him go.

DM. Jermaine Jones -- USA

In the group of death, the United States were not expected to do much, but the fight of Jones in the centre gave them a real boost. The 32-year-old has covered every blade of grass and thrown himself into tackles for the defence of his country, although his crowning moment was a wonderful, curling goal in the draw versus Portugal. Since goal difference sent the USA through, Jones can claim an important part of the credit.

AM. James Rodriguez -- Colombia

Undoubtedly the star of the tournament so far as Colombia have asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the competition with a scintillating display of attacking football. At home in any of the attacking areas, the No. 10 has spearheaded his team's ambitions and netted three goals and claimed two assists. The 22-year-old Monaco man is sure to attract attention once the dust has settled.

Arjen Robben was named man of the match against Australia.
Arjen Robben has been outstanding for the Netherlands so far.

FW. Arjen Robben -- Netherlands

The veteran of the side, Robben has only improved with age. His skills are well-known -- incredible speed, dribbling ability and a tendency to cut inside onto his left foot and shoot -- but the Bayern winger has overcome all opposition as the Dutch hammered 10 goals (he managed three) on their way to a hugely impressive group-stage showing.

FW. Neymar -- Brazil

The pretournament questions around the young star have been firmly answered. Can he deal with the pressure of playing a World Cup on home soil? Can he deliver when it matters most? Who cuts his hair? Four goals in three appearances have driven the Selecao into the next stage, and although the world is watching his every move, he has suggested he is well up to the task of leading Brazil onward.

FW. Lionel Messi -- Argentina

Another who has answered his critics in the best possible fashion, Messi's form has continued to improve throughout the tournament. Four goals in three games, including a late match winner against Iran and one of the best free kicks you'll see, against Nigeria, the Argentine looks like a man on a mission. The pressure is on him to match Diego Maradona's feats in 1986, but Messi looks more than ready to perform.

Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto -- Costa Rica

Quite simply a masterstroke in getting Costa Rica into the knockout stage when all expected them to be the weakest side in Group D. A focus on solid defence has of course played its part in one of the most surprising runs in any World Cup, but their attacking prowess (as displayed in the 3-1 win over Uruguay) set the tone and deserves credit for starting the ball rolling. How far can he take them to cement his legend?