Neymar may be the poster boy of this Brazilian World Cup but the reasons for the hosts’ presence in Friday’s quarter-final against Colombia can be found further back in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s lineup – and the latest Castrol Index ranking reflects this.
It was Tostao, the 1970 World Cup winner-turned-journalist, GCLUB, who wrote in his daily column after the tense penalty shoot-out triumph over Chile that “the stand-outs for Brazil were Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Julio Cesar” and Scolari’s two centre-halves both feature in the top ten along with Neymar. Indeed, Luiz sits in first place after a match where he scored Brazil’s goal – getting a touch to Thiago Silva’s flick-on – converted a penalty, and produced a notable block on a Charles Aranguiz close-range shot in the first half of the match, which helped to boost his score (9.79).
Brazil are the team with most tackles won in the competition (79) so it is not just their two centre-halves working hard on the defensive side and it will be intriguing to see how they handle the threat of a Colombia side whose leading light James Rodriguez is now second in the Index after the conclusion of the Round of 16.
Rodriguez’s personal highlights reel from Brazil 2014 will make spectacular viewing, not least the first of his two goals against Uruguay when he cushioned a dropping ball on his chest before executing a stunning long-range volley. He has become the first player to score in the first four games of a World Cup since Brazil’s Ronaldo and Rivaldo in 2002 and it should be explained he has slipped to second place largely because players receive small penalties if they feature for fewer minutes on the pitch than others – and he appeared only as a second-half substitute in Colombia’s meeting with Japan.
Two new players in the top ten are Belgium left-back Jan Vertonghen and Johan Djourou, the Switzerland centre-half. Anybody watching Belgium’s epic victory over USA last night cannot have failed to be impressed by Vertonghen’s swashbuckling full-back play, GCLUB, which featured a series of overlapping runs, dangerous crosses and passes into shooting positions. Factor in three shots on Tim Howard’s goal and it is not hard to see how he has climbed from 20th to fifth place.
Djourou is ninth after his efforts for a Swiss side who came within two minutes of taking Argentina to a penalty shoot-out in Sao Paulo yesterday. The Hamburg player’s contribution is highlighted by his defensive stats. His total of 21 attempted clearances has been surpassed only by Chile’s Gary Medel (22) while he has made most blocks in the tournament (7) along with USA’s Geoff Cameron and Vedran Corluka of Croatia.
Two more familiar faces in the latest top ten are third-placed Karim Benzema and fourth-placed Arjen Robben, who climbed one place each. Although Benzema did not score against Nigeria he had four more shots on target; 11th-placed Lionel Messi, by contrast, managed only one on target against Switzerland. Benzema is the player at this World Cup with the highest number of attempts on target (19) and it is a sign of his constant threat to defenders that all but one have been from inside the area. GCLUB As for Robben, he had a pivotal role once more for the Netherlands as they squeezed past Mexico and it will surprise nobody to hear that the Bayern Munich attacker ranks highest in Brazil for most solo runs into the box (10).