So, after one of the most memorable World Cups in history, the extravaganza in Russia finally came to an end with France emerging as victors over Croatia in the final, getting their hands on the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus were the best collective unit but who shone overall to form the best 11 players at the tournament?
Danijel Subasic: The veteran Croatian keeper was pivotal in his country’s progress to the final. He became only the third man in history to make four or more saves in World Cup penalty shoot-outs when he was the hero against both Denmark and Russia in the knockout stages. Subasic’s shining moment came against England in the semi-final. With the Three Lions already ahead and dominating the first half, Harry Kane looked destined to find the net with a virtual open goal in front of him but was miraculously denied by Subasic’s outstretched foot. In fact, so good was the save that some have erroneously blamed Kane for wasting the chance but slow-motion replays show Subasic’s crucial touch, in what has to go down as the Save of the Tournament.
Honourable Mentions: Thibaut Courtois, Jordan Pickford, Hugo Lloris.
Yerry Mina: It’s astonishing to think that Mina didn’t start Colombia’s opening game against Japan – a decision which seemingly backfired as his country fell to defeat. The powerful defender unsurprisingly played every further minute of the tournament for his team and was their standout performer. He scored three goals in three games – all headers from corners – and equalled the record for most goals by a defender in single World Cup. The last gasp equaliser against England in the last sixteen to take the game into extra-time was his most memorable moment.
Raphael Varane : The only man to have won both the Champions League and the World Cup this year, Varane joins an elite list of only 10 other players to have achieved that feat in history. The classy defender played every minute of France’s triumph in Russia and was the lynchpin of a backline that kept clean sheets in half of their games. The Real Madrid defender also headed in the crucial opening goal in the quarter-final victory over Uruguay and firmly established himself as one of the best on the planet in his position.
Domagoj Vida: Perhaps the most surprising and controversial name on the list, Vida caused a stir with his post-match comments but that failed to overshadow his imperious performances on the pitch. The tenacious defender was at the heart of Croatia’s master class victory over Argentina in the group stage, where he marshalled Lionel Messi & co out of the game. He scored in extra-time in the quarter-finals against Russia and also kept his cool in the resultant penalty shoot-out. The Besiktas defender was then magnificent in the semi-final against England and was arguably Croatia’s best player in their losing effort to France in the final.
Honourable Mentions: Diego Godin, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, Sime Vrsaljko, Andreas Granqvist, Samuel Umtiti, Thomas Meunier.
Paul Pogba: Much maligned for his inconsistent form since returning to Manchester United, Pogba was able to silence his critics with a World Cup winner’s medal and a sensational goal in the final to boot. He looked a rejuvenated player in a system which suited his strengths and that will certainly give Jose Mourinho something to think about for next season. Pogba has always been known as a flamboyant character and has often drawn criticism for it but he also showed in Russia that he was a leader. His rousing speech in the French dressing room before the final against Croatia showed that he has what it takes to one day captain his country.
Luka Modric: Much like Lionel Messi at the 2014 World Cup, Modric was officially named as the Player of the Tournament but looked like he would have rather been anywhere else than on the pitch receiving the award after his team had just lost the most important game in football. The Golden Ball was scant consolation for the midfield maestro whose performances throughout the tournament warranted a winner’s medal. Always composed and assured in possession, the Real Madrid midfielder was the heartbeat of Zlatko Dalic’s side. He has also added a greater attacking threat to his game in recent years and his fine strike against Argentina was one of the goals of the tournament.
Philippe Coutinho: Much of Brazil’s hopes at this World Cup again rested on the shoulders of Neymar but the Paris Saint Germain forward had a slightly disappointing tournament and was clearly overshadowed by the man who has, in many ways, replaced him at Barcelona. Coutinho was the one player in Tite’s team who looked as though he could always make something happen. He scored his country’s opening goal of the competition with a trademark curler against Switzerland and was the best player on the pitch in their next match with Costa Rica. The Seleção were eventually sent packing by a brilliant Belgian side but even in defeat, Coutinho managed to produce a moment of inspiration with his stunning pass for Renato Augusto’s consolation goal.
Honourable Mentions: Denis Cheryshev, N’Golo Kante, Ivan Rakitic, Victor Claesson.
Eden Hazard: After a slightly inconsistent season for Chelsea, it seemed as though Hazard had saved his best for the grandest stage of them all. He was the captain and standout player for Belgium who achieved their best ever World Cup finish of third place. Hazard finished the tournament with three goals and two assists, earning him the Silver Ball but that didn’t begin to tell the whole story of the majestic overall displays he put in. His shining moment was in the quarter-final with Brazil where, in a game filled with other potential superstars, Hazard shone the brightest. His skill and dribbling ability were unmatched in Russia.
Kevin De Bruyne: Arguably the best player in the English Premier League last season, De Bruyne carried his form into the World Cup. He was originally deployed in a deeper midfield role where he was certainly more than capable but it wasn’t until Roberto Martinez moved him further up the field that we saw the best of the Man City man. His combination play with Eden Hazard was a joy to watch, especially in the quarter-final against Brazil where De Bruyne scored the decisive goal of the match after finishing off a blistering Belgian break.
Ivan Perisic: One of the last of a seemingly dying breed, Perisic is the quintessential old-fashioned winger who likes to hug the touchline and take full-backs on. He displayed these skills to great effect in Russia and proved himself capable of producing when it mattered most. He was the Man of the Match in the semi-final as Croatia came from behind to beat England in extra-time. The Inter Milan man scored a crucial equaliser before setting up Mario Mandzukic’s decisive goal. Perisic produced another brilliant strike in the final to bring his country level with France but was then very harshly adjudged to have deliberately handled the ball in the box for Antoine Griezmann’s penalty. That didn’t take away from a superb overall tournament for the wide-man who won’t be short of suitors this summer.
Kylian Mbappe: Perhaps the star of the show in Russia, it’s hard to argue that anyone left a more indelible impression on the tournament than Mbappe. He became France’s youngest ever goal scorer in a World Cup at 19 years of age and outshone the likes of Lionel Messi with two goals in France’s last sixteen triumph over Argentina. He then put his name in the annals of football with a superb finish against Croatia to become only the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup Final. The other was a certain Pele who was forthcoming in personally congratulating Mbappe for “joining the club”. The youngster could even surpass the great Brazilian in the future if he continues to follow his current trajectory.
Honourable mentions: Mario Mandzukic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane.
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