Jul 14, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
In case you couldn’t tell, we’re taking Monday to pause, collect our thoughts, and commit them for posterity in the wake of the 2014 World Cup. In the next series of posts, we’ll go position-by-position, considering which players stood out during the last four weeks in Brazil.
Letting the alphabet set our order, here are our top 10 forwards:
[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]
Karim Benzema, France – Benzema had so many chances during France’s often dominant group stage, he should have been the tournament’s leading scorer. Even with some high-profile misses, the Real Madrid striker finished the tournament with three goals and two assists, with his team reaching the quarterfinals.
Miroslav Klose, Germany – The 36-year-old only had two goals, but they were two of the more important goals in World Cup history. His group stage equalizer against Ghana moved him even with Ronaldo for most goals in competition history (15), a record he claimed for his own with Germany’s second against Brazil in the semifinals.
Lionel Messi, Argentina – His choice as 2014 player of the tournament was debatable. His inclusion on this list is not. Whether he was the best player or not, Messi was one of the best forwards in Brazil, scoring four times and playing a part in five of Argentina’s seven goals.
Thomas Müller, Germany (pictured) – He was one goal away from a second Golden Boot, scoring five times for the second straight World Cup. Only 24 years old, Müller may one day break the record he helped Klose set against Brazil.
Neymar, Brazil – The premature end of his tournament will leave Selecao fans with eternal what ifs, but before injury sent him to the sidelines, Neymar had four goals and one assist in five games, serving as the focal point of the team that make the semifinals.
Arjen Robben, Netherlands – When you have a player like Arjen Robben, you can afford to play five defenders, set up deep and compact, and play long. With three goals and one assist, Robben helped Louis van Gaal’s plan pay off. While his numbers don’t quite match those of Messi or Müller, he was arguably more important.
Alexis Sánchez, Chile – One of the worst things about Chile’s Round of 16 exit was losing Sánchez four games into the tournament. In those games, the new Arsenal attacker scored twice, set up a third, and was sometimes his team’s only source of attack. Though his numbers weren’t dominant, Sánchez reminded people he can be one of the world’s best attackers.
Islam Slimani, Algeria – Slimani’s group stage goals against South Korea and Russia helped the Fennec Foxes reach their first knockout round, where he nearly delivered an upset against a Germany defense that was missing Mats Hummels. With two goals, one assist, the 26-year-old matched the production of some of his more famous peers, making the case for more time at Sporting in Portugal.
Enner Valencia, Ecuador – The one player on this list whose team didn’t reach the knockout stage, Valencia is also the only player to score at least three goals without reaching the tournament’s fourth game. If Slimani made the case for more time in Portugal, Valencia’s performance was a plea to move out of Mexico. Yesterday, West Ham United answered that plea, paying $20.5 million to get the Ecuadorian out of Liga MX.
Robin van Persie, Netherlands – Six games, four goals … but this, nothing but this:
After this goal, van Persie could have walked out of Arena Fonte Nova, boarded the first plane to Amsterdam, and announced his immediate retirement. We would have still put him on this list. When you make “dolphin header” a thing, there’s only so much more you can accomplish.
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