FIFA World Cup 2018: Team of the Tournament
And so the end of the road is near. After four weeks, and a lot of plotlines, the 2018 World Cup in Russia is about to close the book on its story. A tournament of expected thrills and unexpected spills, it also has its standout performers:
Hugo Lloris (France): It’s been a World Cup where a few goalkeepers have done their reputations no harm, Jordan Pickford has been subject of well-merited praise in between the sticks for England, Thibaut Courtois likewise for Belgium, Danijel Subasic has been brilliant for Croatia, Kasper Schmeichel was no different for Denmark, Guillermo Ochoa picked up where he left off four years ago with Mexico, while Iranian goalie Iranian Ali Beirenvand also caught the eye. Hugo Lloris, though, came into this tournament under a fair bit of pressure. The French skipper had an underwhelming season at club level with Tottenham, with a few errors, and was almost something of a liability at times. But he has rock-solid in Les Bleus’ run to the final, as despite conceding four times, those goals have come in only two games, and one of them was a penalty. He began the World Cup with a brilliant save against Australia, and hasn’t looked back, with three clean sheets in five.
Kieran Trippier (England): There was a reason why Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t chuffed about Kyle Walker leaving the club last summer. In Kieran Trippier, he had had a more than good enough replacement, who had already begun relegating Walker to the bench before he departed, and form last season was so good, English manager Gareth Southgate had to put Walker as part of his back-three to accommodate both. Trippier has been the best right-back in this tournament, complementing his defensive displays with his actions up front. His chance creation rate in this tournament is no mean figure, his ability to cross from set-pieces was one of England’s most potent weapons in their run to the semis, and he topped it with a brilliant free-kick against Croatia in the last four.
Diego Godin (Uruguay): Uruguay’s tournament may have ended in the last eight, but their defensive solidity will last long in the memory. La Celeste didn’t concede until the last 16, which was the first international goal they’d let in since October 2017. The centre-back pairing of Jose Maria Gimenez and skipper Diego Godin was at the heart of their defensive steel, the latter standing out in this tournament. His reading of the game is exemplary, his aerial prowess top-class, it’s no exaggeration to say he has been the world’s most underrated defender of the past five years.
Raphael Varane (France): Another vital cog in France’s defensive wheel, Varane has been rock-solid at this World Cup. His aerial ability was needed against teams like semi-final opponents Belgium and last-eight foes Uruguay, and he popped up with a goal at the other end in the latter. The French players speak of his leadership ability, they are likely need it in the final as well.
Jan Vertonghen (Belgium): So much has been made of Belgium’s attack firing them to a first semi-final in 32 years, the Red Devils being the competition’s top scorers with 15 goals. As such, it’s easy to forget the defensive contributions of Roberto Martinez’s side. Jan Vertonghen stands out in that regard, and has appeared at left-back, as well as left of the back-three. His reading of the game is as impressive as ever, and he bagged a crucial goal in the comeback win against Japan in the last 16.
Luka Modric (Croatia): The standout star of this World Cup without an iota of doubt. His grace and elegance on the ball has always been evident, in this tournament he stood out for those qualities as well as his work-rate off the ball– no one has run more in this tournament. Modric entered this tournament on the back of national displeasure as a result of his role in the Zdravko Mamic court issue, he has dominated it with his displays. Has always taken control of games in this tournament, and popped up with a superb goal against Argentina, without him Croatia would be nowhere near the final.
Ngolo Kante (France): You could lavish all the superlatives on Ngolo Kante, and he’d still be underrated. While a few other members of the French squad get the limelight and the attention, Kante continues to do his job in the middle, and basically everywhere, on the pitch. A continuously tireless worker, he’s almost worth three on the pitch.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia): Tipped to be a potential breakout star before the World Cup began, Golovin was the star of Russia’s surprise run to the quarter finals. Began with a bang, a goal and two assists on the opening day, he followed that with another outstanding display against Egypt in the second game. Has been linked with a few clubs already, reports of Chelsea in particular have been circling.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium): Began the tournament on fire, with four goals in the first two games. Hasn’t scored since Belgium’s second game against Tunisia, but his influence in the side was still great in their run to the semis, typified by his display against Brazil in the last eight.
Harry Kane (England): His influence and form in this tournament may have been overplayed- three of his six goals have been penalties, two from corners and the other an inadvertent deflection, but they have been vital. His double in England’s opener against Tunisia was the sole for three points, and without his penalty in the last 16 against Colombia, the Three Lions might well be home already. He’s on course for the golden boot, the first Englishman to do that since Gary Lineker in 1986.
Kylian Mbappe (France): The turbo-charged teenager took some time to get up to speed in this tournament, but hasn’t looked back since. He was the standout performer in France’s last 16 win over Argentina, with two and bursts of pace that has etched itself into the nightmares of Argentine defenders. His close control on the ball has also caught the eye in this tournament, and he has cemented his status as a world rising star.