One telling remark made by the France coach, Didier Deschamps, in recent days is that there is something inspirational about this Brazilian FIFA World Cup™ – something that is inspiring fast, open, attacking football. Deschamps passed that comment in the press room after France’s impressive 5-2 victory over Switzerland and happily for him, his leading forward, Karim Benzema, has certainly caught the bug.
Benzema’s eye-catching performance at the Arena Fonte Nova on Friday evening ensured he has ended the second round of 2014 FIFA World Cup group fixtures at the top of the Castrol Index statistical ranking with 9.77 points, just ahead of the Netherlands duo of Robin van Persie (9.72) and Arjen Robben (9.67). With a goal average of 2.9 per match – by comparison, the figure for South Africa 2010 was 2.3 – it is no surprise to see three forwards up there, with Benzema leading the way.
Switching to the left side of France’s three-man attack, he gave the Switzerland defence nightmares with his clever movement, pace and sheer appetite for goals throughout the Group E fixture in Salvador and besides scoring once – a volley on the turn from close range – also set up another two for Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko. He was a split-second from having a second goal too, scoring with a spectacular long-range strike just as the final whistle sounded. France have now had 42 goal attempts over two games – more than any other side in Brazil – and Benzema’s hunger is underlined by the fact he has contributed 15 of them, with 11 on target.
The Real Madrid player is one of five men with three goals in this tournament and Van Persie and Robben are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Frenchman in pursuit of the adidas Golden Boot. Each found the net in their country’s hard-fought 3-2 victory over Australia, each in trademark fashion, Van Persie with a vicious left-foot shot and Robben with a burst of acceleration and precise finish. Indeed such was Robben’s accuracy on the day, he was on target with all five of his goal attempts.
While the Netherlands pair have climbed from sixth and seventh respectively, Brazil defender David Luiz remains in fourth place after helped the hosts earn a clean sheet in the Group A goalless draw with Mexico, limiting their opponents to three shots on target. That same game featured a save by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa from Neymar that “was almost a Gordon Banks” in the words of the great Pele, evoking the then England goalkeeper’s famous stop from his seemingly goal-bound header at the 1970 finals.
Ochoa has climbed into the Index top ten with his efforts, which earned him a second clean sheet. Nigeria are the only other side whose goal remains unbreached and their goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is fifth in the ranking after making several close-range saves during Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two games in, both men have made eight saves each.
Three other players have entered the top ten, starting with sixth-placed Croatia midfielder Ivan Perisic, who set up his side’s opening goal and struck the second himself in the eventual 4-0 dismantling of Cameroon. Ecuador forward Enner Valencia is seventh after his two goals earned his country victory over Honduras, and took his tally to the tournament for three.
And last but not least, Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez is ninth after producing a second Man of the Match performance already in the 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast. He has shone with his passing and vision, and it is also worth noting he has actually covered more distance – running 21km in two games – than any other Colombia player. To top it all he even scored a rare goal with his head and is unlikely to disagree with Deschamps’ suggestion that this Brazilian setting is bringing the best out of players.
The top ten also includes England defender Phil Jagielka and the list runs as follows:
Karim Benzema, France (9.77); Robin van Persie, Netherlands (9.72); Arjen Robben, Netherlands (9.67); David Luiz, Brazil (9.63); Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria (9.59); Ivan Perisic, Croatia (9.56); Enner Valencia, Ecuador (9.53); Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico (9.49); James Rodriguez, Colombia (9.46); Phil Jagielka, England (9.44).
FIFA.com will be publishing the latest Castrol Index after every round of matches at this FIFA World Cup and in the meantime you can read more statistical analysis and delve deeper into this unique ranking system by following the relevant links.