Gonzalez is Costa Rica's rock

Brazil 2014 has not, it would be fair to say, been a World Cup for defenders so far. With the highest goals per game to date of all tournaments since Mexico 1970 (Spain 1982, like this tournament, averaged 2.8, too), it's been hard to pick out any truly outstanding performers from the group stage, and already it seems clear we're going to have a few contenders for the team of the finals who we wouldn't have expected at the start.

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One of those, surely, is Costa Rica defender Giancarlo Gonzalez. To say he was unheralded before the World Cup began would be an understatement; as recently as February this year, Norwegian top-flight side Valerenga released him after a one-and-a-half-year spell. Snapped up by the Columbus Crew of MLS, Gonzalez was able to keep his place in the Costa Rica squad.

Costa Rica had almost no pressure on them, of course. Drawn into a group alongside three previous World Cup winners --- Uruguay, Italy and England -- they were very much the minnows in football terms, even if their population actually outstrips that of Uruguay. It was, for many, the Group of Death, but by the end of the first phase, manager Jorge Luis Pinto was declaring, "it looks like it's the others who are the dead ones."

That was in no small part down to the back line -- of which Gonzalez has been the star. Sitting in the middle of Costa Rica's back five, Gonzalez has marshalled the defence well; so well that it emerged from the group having conceded just one goal: Edinson Cavani's penalty which put Uruguay in front in the first game.

Gonzalez was key to the Costa Rica revival after that goal, his positioning and reading of the opposition giving his teammates further forward the confidence to turn the game on its head. His passing was actually the weakest of any of the three centre-backs that day, but against Italy in the second match he improved in that respect without any drop off from his already impressive off-the-ball play.

Having impressed against Cavani and 2010 World Cup player of the tournament Diego Forlán, he came up against Mario Balotelli -- a difficult player to read at the best of times, if admittedly not the most consistent striker in world football -- and effectively shackled him.

When a central back three mark a lone front man, it can result in a shortage of players further forward for the team, but although Costa Rica ceded possession to Italy in that match, Gonzalez's organisation and distribution ensured they didn't look second best; a 1-0 win qualified them for the round of 16 with a game to spare.

Although they couldn't claim maximum points by winning their final game against a largely second-string England side desperate to go out on a high, Gonzalez and his defensive partners got another clean sheet and a point to ensure they topped the group.

Following the win over Italy that sealed qualification, Gonzalez had his feet on the ground and wasn't taking any individual plaudits. "No one was expecting us to get through the first round," he told Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion. "But with a lot of hard work and a good team spirit, we've shown that we can achieve great things."

If Costa Rica are to continue to dream, they'll have to get the better of a Greece side boasting another of this World Cup's defensive revelations: 23-year-old Kostas Manolas. The two are unlikely to go toe-to-toe except perhaps during set pieces, but in some ways this could be seen as an early tiebreaker for the best centre-back of the World Cup.