This is one that always provokes plenty of debate as a big tournament comes to a close. Who have been the shining lights of the tournament? And which have been the best in their respective positions? We’ve had a bash at putting a team together made up of who we think have been the standout players in Russia so far. It’s been a gruelling process and some positions are much more competitive than others, but we think we’ve picked a team that would give anyone a run for their money! This article was originally published on Kitlocker.com.
Thibault Courtois, Belgium
The Chelsea stopper has been in unbelievable form this summer. After a somewhat iffy season with Chelsea, some questioned whether the 6ft6in giant was really all that. He seems to have put all that to bed, having been incredibly reliable and consistent during Belgium’s run to the Semi-final. Courtois secured his place in our team with his performance in the 2-1 win over Brazil, helping secure the Red Devils’ place in the last four. He narrowly edges out England’s Jordan Pickford, who performed heroics in the Three Lions’ quarter final win over Sweden.
Harry Maguire, England
What more can we say about this man that hasn’t already been said? After being affectionately dubbed “Slabhead” by his teammates, Maguire has become a cult hero back home but he is so much more than that. His place in the England team was far from assured going into the tournament but he is now one of the first names on the team sheet and vital to his country’s hopes of bringing it home. Maguire is as classy as they come when playing the ball out from the back but also a warrior in both penalty areas, winning more aerial duals than any other player in Russia with 33. The cherry on the cake for Slabhead came when he headed in the opener in England’s 2-0 win over Sweden, putting that impressive bonce to very good use.
Raphael Varane, France
The Real Madrid defender seems to have finally come of age this summer after years of talking about his potential. Strong, fast and confident on the ball, Varane has been nothing short of a monster alongside the equally impressive Samuel Umtiti for France. This was showcased during his team’s Semi-final win over Belgium, in which the pair successfully kept the likes of Hazard, Fellaini and an in-form Lukaku relatively quiet. It’s to the credit of them that a Belgium side that has looked so dangerous throughout the tournament, never really looked like scoring, despite dominating the ball during the latter stages of the match.
Yerry Mina, Colombia
Even though he was one of the big villains during England’s heated last 16 clash against Colombia, it’s difficult to ignore a centre back who has scored 3 goals in 3 games at the World Cup. An absolute tower of a defender at 6ft5in, Mina was crucial in securing the South American side’s progress out of what turned out to be a very tight group. He then went on to keep his side in the game at both ends of the pitch against England. The defender has struggled for game time at Barcelona after moving to the Camp Nou in January this year and is rumoured to be looking for a move elsewhere in the search for first team football. A move to the Premier League, where he would fit in perfectly, could be on the cards.
Kieran Trippier, England
The Tottenham wing-back has blossomed since Kyle Walker’s departure to Man City. Big shoes to fill, but the Bury lad has exceeded all expectations. His performances this season earned himself a starting spot in Russia and he has gone on to become one of the standout players of the tournament. Trippier’s intelligence on the ball coupled with his excellent deliveries into the box has seen him become England’s key attacking outlet down the right flank. One of his main highlights came in the penalty shootout against Colombia. Trippier effortlessly stroked the ball into the top corner with the confidence of a player who has been playing at this level his whole career. In reality, like many in this England team, it has been a long journey for a player who has gone from the fringes at Spurs to England hero in a little over a year.
Luka Modric, Croatia
It’s not exactly news that Luka Modric is a class act. Despite being small in stature and mildly resembling Gail Platt, the Real Madrid man has been dominating midfields across Europe for years. Modric has been a joy to watch this summer alongside Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic and Rebic, a midfield which has been described by many as the best in the tournament. It also comes as no surprise that the little magician has carved out an impressive 14 chances for his teammates. Modric was yet again the main man for Croatia in the Semi-final. He ran the midfield for 120 minutes as his team edged past England to reach their first ever World Cup final.
N’Golo Kante, France
Following France’s Semi-final win over Belgium, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described the Chelsea midfielder as “an example to all young players who want to become a professional”. Kante was rejected by a host of clubs as a youngster due to his small stature, meaning he was forced to work his way up through France’s lower leagues before making his career-making move to Leicester City in 2015. Kante’s unrivalled work ethic and sheer determination are what have turned him into one of Europe’s best midfielders against the odds. Against Belgium he was the key factor in keeping the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard quiet and never gave them a moment’s rest on the ball.
Denis Cheryshev, Russia
Most of the names in this team wouldn’t have come as a surprise to many before the start of the World Cup. Not many will have even heard of Cheryshev, let alone predicted him to storm his way into the team of the tournament. The industrious Villarreal winger struggled for minutes in Spain this season, meaning he was on the bench for Russia’s opener. An early injury to Alan Dzagoev gave Cheryshev his chance, and boy did he take it. Two stunning goals later, by 90 minutes in that first game he was the name on everyone’s lips and the first on Russia’s team sheet for the next match. Cheryshev was a key catalyst during the host’s unlikely run to the quarter finals, finishing with 4 goals, including another worldy vs Croatia.
Harry Kane, England
With 6 goals, and Lukaku and Cheryshev now out of the running, the England captain looks certain to win the Golden Boot barring a World Cup final hattrick from Kylian Mbappe (don’t put it past him). Kane is yet another player who has had to work incredibly hard to get to this point. In 2013 Kane completed the last of what had been a series of unremarkable loan spells, turning out for the likes of Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester (when they were rubbish). A couple of years later he was the Premier League’s top scorer and England’s golden boy. Now leading his country, his doubters will highlight the fact that his goals have come from 3 penalties, 2 tap-ins and a flukey ricochet off his heel but at the end of the day, 6 goals is 6 goals. And he isn’t even finished yet…
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
There aren’t many who split opinion quite like Romelu Lukaku. He is a player who can be frustrating and sublime in equal measure. With the jury still out on his Manchester United career, this was always going to be a big summer for the Belgian as he looked to put some of the critics to bed on the biggest stage possible. The big man just about delivered, with 4 goals in Russia. He was eventually stopped by France but his tournament will be remembered for his at times unstoppable performances in the group stages.
Kylian Mbappe, France
This was certainly the summer Mbappe transitioned from wonderkid to world class. After at times flattering to deceive following his big move to PSG, Didier Deschamps showed faith in the 19 year old and he was not let down. Mbappe’s sheer pace and direct running has helped fire France into the Final in Moscow. The way he keeps the ball under such close control whilst running with unparalleled pace and power has been one of the sights of the summer. He has been vital in creating chances for others while also weighing in with 3 goals of his own, including 2 as they knocked out Argentina. Whoever plays France in the final will have one hell of a job on trying to stop Mbappe. His summer may not be over yet either. Following Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid, rumours are growing that the Frenchman may be set to replace his childhood idol at the Bernabeu.