The FIFA World Cup group stage is complete with 16 teams advancing to the Round of 16.  But before we move on to the elimination rounds, 365 wants to take a moment and look back at some of the stories behind the 136 goals that were scored by 102 players in the opening 48 matches and how the race for the FIFA Golden Boot is lining up.

Streaking Through the Group

A fast start is huge but consistency is critical in a tournament that requires 6 games to make it to the final.  Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world but has been criticized for not showing up at the World Cup.  Those critics should sit down and be quiet as the Argentina forward scored with his adidas F50 adizero Battle Pack colorway in each group stage game and sits with 4 goals, including 2 game winners.

Messi got a special present from adidas ahead of La Albiceleste’s final group match in a special colorway of his adizero.  The cleat only made it to the training ground but you know you are special when you get your own cleats to wear once on your birthday.  Check out how you can win a pair of this limited edition cleat from the WorldSoccerShop.com.

Colombia’s James Rodriquez has made fans quickly forget that Los Cafeteros is missing their prolific goalscorer, one Radamel Falcao.  James quietly knocked in 1 goal in each of the group matches in his adidas F50 adizero cleats and pushed the South American side to the top of Group C.  The streak is great but more important is how the AS Monaco midfielder has made the team tick.

Hat Trick Hero

Thomas Muller and Xherdan Shaqiri will be taking home game balls after hitting hat-tricks.  The German midfielder/forward gave Die Mannschaft the perfect start with his 3 goals in the Group of Death opener against Portugal.  The Bayern player stayed true to his heritage pulling a pair of adidas, and like Messi and James, it was the F50 adizero.

Switzerland’s Shaqiri was moved to the center of the field and it was easy to see he was more comfortable in his preferred position.  It took the Bayern Munich player only 6 minutes to open the scoring in his Nike Mercurial Superfly cleats and then rounded it out with goals in the 31st and 71st minutes.

Change, Change, Change

Change your cleats!  Players can be superstitious so no telling what is going on in their heads after making a switch.  Most likely the brand sent out a memo reminding them of the first choice pair but let’s take a look at some changes.

Arjen Robben has been a key in the Netherlands great start.  The left-footed hit-man opened with a brace and added another goal in their second match wearing his adidas F50 adizero in the Solar Slime, Black, Vivid Berry colorway but changed over to the Battle Pack color for the final group game.  The result 0 goals for Robben.

The Ivory Coast’s Wilfried Bony must have brought more cleats than clothes with the number of changes he made over the course of the first 3 games.  The striker opened the tournament in the Nike Mercurial Vapor IX in Vibrant Yellow but finished the first game, and scored the equalizer, in the Nike Mercurial Vapor X.

Bony went back to the Vapor IX for the second game.

In the final game, the Swansea City player opted to pull on the Nike Vapor IX in the Neo Lime/Metallic Silver/Polarized Blue colorway and once again found the net.  If only the Africa side had advanced, fans may have been treated to another cleat of the day.

Jackson Martinez was unsure of which cleats he should use in Brazil.  The Colombia forward started wearing the Nike Mercurial Vapor X but decided to change to the Mercurial Superfly after the first match.  It appears he took a liking to his new cleats hitting for a brace in the final group game.

But the biggest change is still to come. Nike has made Neymar his own special gold pair of the Hypervenom.  The cleat pays tribute to his tendency of a youth player to spray paint his cleats gold.  They will make their debut in the Round of 16 match against Chile.

Classic Goalkeeping

Iran's goalkeeper Alizera Haghighi in his blacked-out adidas World Cup cleats.

Iran’s goalkeeper Alizera Haghighi in his blacked-out adidas World Cup cleats.

The goalkeepers stand out from the rest of the team.  The #1 is able to use his hands, has a special jersey, and some hint that they are a little crazy but that is not why Iran’s Alireza Haqiqi or Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon stood out.  The 2 keepers both opted to wear a pair of the classic adidas World Cup cleats.

Haqiqi gave his a personal touch by blacking them out.

Colombia's Faryd Mondragon became oldest player to play in World Cup on Tuesday.

Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon became oldest player to play in World Cup on Tuesday.

Mondragon could have been making a statement about a classic.  The 43-year-old was spotted training in the adidas Predator Instinct Battle Pack in Brazil but pulled on the World Cup’s for match action.  The reserve goalkeeper was called on to make a cameo against Japan in the 85th minute and in doing so became the oldest player to every play in a World Cup.  A true classic.

What’s That

It must be good to be the reigning FIFA Ballon d’Or winner. Cristiano Ronaldo is the face of the Nike Mercurial Superfly but he is not wearing the cleat…or is he.  It appears that Nike has made a custom Superfly that does not have the ankle collar.  Many players probably want that cleat but only Ronaldo has it.  Check Ronaldo’s Superflys compared to those of USA defender Fabian Johnson.

Own Goal Misery

The dreaded moment for any player is when they ball hits the back of their own net.  The group stage saw 4 players have to shake their heads in anguish.  The tournament had an ominous beginning as the first goal was scored by Marcelo of Brazil, the host and pre-tournament favorites.  Defenders Sead Kolasinac of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ghana’s John Boye scored past their own goalkeeper and Honduran keeper had the misfortune of knocking the ball into his own net while trying to find the ball.

Battle of the Brands

The competition in Brazil is not just between the 32 teams from around the world.  The battle continues off the field between the cleat and apparel brands, most notably adidas and Nike.

adidas primary focus is soccer and has been the major sponsor of the World Cup since the 1970 with an extension through 2030.  But Nike is making in roads and for the first time ever is the jersey sponsor for more teams 10 (compared to adidas 9) in Brazil.

The real battle, however, is on the players feet as both brands look to steal the show with players knocking in goals with their cleats.

And 2014 is heating up to be a great competition.  After the group stage Nike holds a narrow 63 to 59 lead in goals scored (the lead is narrower if own goals are not included as 3 own goals have been scored in Nike to 1 from adidas).

Of the 9 players with 3 or 4 goals this tournament, 6 wear adidas and 3 wear Nike.  But that battle many players were hoping for is lining up.  Messi’s vs Neymar.  Argentina v Brazil. adidas vs Nike.  The 2 superstars are tied with 4 goals each after the first 3 games.

Check out who is winning the race for the Golden Boot.