The World Cup XI
The 2018 World Cup will go down as one of the best tournaments ever and may be the very best. There might not have been a team that was an A+++ or a 10/10 team but it felt like there were quite a few teams between 6/10 and 8/10 and that made for a competitive cup and a final that was possibly the best major tournament finale of the modern age.
Picking the team of the tournament was really hard but here are the efforts of some of our experts:
Formation – 4-4-2
Kylian Mbappe – The player who has seen his star shine the brightest in this World Cup. It’s been some empty calories here and there but he’s shown people what he can do. The next best player alive?
Romelu Lukaku – France certainly shut him down, but that’s what France do. By and large, Lukaku has been the most effective striker at this tournament and has shown off his varied skillset.
Luka Modric – An absolute engine in midfield for Croatia. He’s an unsung hero for his club, but a true legend for his country. None can dispute the massive impact he had in his team’s magical run.
Paul Pogba – The numbers won’t jump out at you, but Pogba has been at his best in this world cup. He’s bossed the midfield against every team he’s played. Don’t doubt this man’s ability again.
N’golo Kante – This man takes all of your attacking hopes and dreams, gathers them together in a bag, ties that bag up, and throws it in the river. His play allowed his midfield partner to run wild.
Denis Cheryshev – The home team gets a star! Cheryshev was electric, scoring 4 goals in 5 matches to serve as one of the catalysts in an improbable Russian Quarterfinal run!
Kieran Trippier – In an England squad bereft of midfield creativity, Trippier was a key part of the attacks England mustered. He’s also a national hero after his excellent free kick goal.
Harry Maguire – Any time you looked up during an England attack, chances are it started with Harry marauding up the pitch with the ball at his feet. Oh, he also scored twice and became a meme.
Diego Godin – Uruguay did not play appealing soccer. But they were such a tough out because of Godin’s presence. The best player on the staunchest defense in the tournament for my money.
Sime Vrsaljko – Croatia has depended on their wide players to send in crosses as part of their strategy. He’s done that and defended well, including clearing a ball off the line in ET against England.
Jordan Pickford – This was the hardest spot for me. I think Hugo Lloris has been the best keeper in the tournament (besides the going brain neutral in the final). But I’m a sucker for narrative, and England asked the world of Pickford not just as a shot stopper, but as a passer as well. He delivered, and broke England’s PK taboo in the process.
– Selected by James Wilkinson
Formation – 3-4-3
Romelu Lukaku – This tourney showed the importance of a good/great player leading the line. Giroud, Cavani, Diego Costa, Artem Dzyuba and the Golden Boot winner Harry Kane all had great tournaments but my vote goes to Romelu Lukaku who put on an absolute clinic on how to play the #9 position in several games. He’ll rue the game v France but guys, he’s only 25, he will be back!
Eden Hazard – Eden Hazard pulled out his full repertoire of moves for this cup and captained a brave Belgian team to the max of their abilities, he may not be long for Chelsea. Others considered include Cheryshev, Inui, Neymar, and Mandzukic.
Kylian Mbappe – The teenager is one of the best players in the world and while he showed some rough edges to his game during this tournament, he was still a major reason the French won, because teams had to respect his pace and defend France a certain way that largely restricted those teams going forward, and when the opponent failed to accord him the adequate respect out of inability (Argentina) or desperation (Croatia), he punished those sides. He’s 19. I think if he maintains good health and a level head, he will finish his career as the greatest French attacker of all time…move over Thierry Henry.
N’Golo Kante – What a player, I have him co-anchoring my midfield with Paul Pogba and really he is the single most important reason Pogba blossomed at this tournament. Nothing more to add that hasn’t been said several times about Kante.
Paul Pogba – I was tempted to give this place to Lucas Torreira but while the Uruguayan was good, Pogba looked like a man among boys in practically every game of the cup including the finale, this is was a man in his prime.
Ivan Rakitic – In two games in the knockout round, he had to hold his nerve to score the winning penalty to advance his team. In every game, he was exceptional in central midfield. Croatia gave this tournament the complete midfield performances they’ve been threatening to give for several years. A joy to watch.
Luka Modric – He won the Golden Ball for ‘player of the tournament’ and there’s no doubt in my mind he deserved it. He was brilliant from the deep midfield he’s mastered at Real Madrid but I think the more impressive bit was when Zlatko Dalic was forced to move him forward into the more traditional #10 role, Modric reminded the footballing world of what a spectacular player he is in that role.
Raphael Varane – He was the best defender at this tournament. Partnerships matter in central defense but this man just made no mistakes where Umtiti was guilty of a few errors. Real Madrid have a proper gem in their books and France’s defense is in good hands.
Yerry Mina – I went with the three man back because I think this tournament lacked exceptional wingback play while several CB’s gave the world a show. Yerry Mina was one of them. There’ve been many questions about why he has not adapted at FC Barcelona but this World Cup showed us why they bought him in the first place. Strong, a good reader of the game, intimidating, chipping in goals (top scorer in a Colombian team with Falcao, James, Cuadrado, etc), and showing unique pace to recover from mistakes. When his pace goes, he may have some issues but it’s still there and he was brilliant in Russia ’18.
Dejan Lovren – This was a toss-up between Lovren and Diego Godin but I went with Lovren because his team’s defensive philosophy is nowhere near what Uruguay’s is, and Lovren had to put out many more fires. Both men deserve this final spot.
Thibaut Courtois – There were many more heralded players heading into this tournament. Manuel Neuer, David De Gea, maybe even Kasper Schmeichel too. Courtois reminded everyone of what he is to the position, a titan. He gave Belgium a superb showing and deservedly won the Golden Gloves in my opinion.
– Selected by Tise Okuo