The 2018 FIFA World Cup final will signal the end of a quite fantastic feast of football and hopefully the better side on the night between Croatia and France would be crowned the World Champions.
I was privileged to be amongst the press horde to cover the tournament and I have watched quite a number of matches on the screen so I will try and choose my team of the tournament.
Team will play in 4-2-3-1 formation.
Thibault Courtois will be the goalkeeper. The giant Belgium and Chelsea keeper has had a fantastic tournament, one save from Neymar against Brazil was absolutely sensational and ensured the Red Devils made it to the semi-final. A lot of people blamed him for the goals Japan scored in the Round of 16 clash but that is being churlish and taking away from the wondrous strikes that flew past him.
Raphael Varane – the Real Madrid man has been exceptional. He has shown to the world that he possesses it all and every young defender growing up should just watch him in this tournament. He is ridiculously quick, reads the game effortlessly and when he needs to tackle he has a firm and strong tackle on him. One brilliant tackle in the semi-final, late in the second half to deny Eden Hazard was as good as goal.
There were many options to partner Varane including Dejan Lovren, Harry Maguire, Miranda and Diego Godin but I will go for Yerry Mina of Colombia. Watched him closely in the match against England and I was amazed at how good he really was. Excellent at reading the game, very strong in the tackle, big, extremely mobile and a very good footballer. He scores goals too. At 23 he needs to be playing regular club football so that this world cup will not be a flash in the pan moment for him.
RB: Kieran Trippier of England. Good tournament. Up and down the flank with ease and delivers great balls. He is one England player whose reputation has gone up on account of his performance out in Russia.
However I will go for the Croatian Sime Vrsajlko who plays for Atletico Madrid. He has had an excellent tournament. Saw him up close against Nigeria in their opening group game and he gave the Super Eagles a chasing. He has to summon up the strength for one last push in Sunday’s final.
LB: There have not been many outstanding players in the left back role in this tournament. Marcelo of Brazil and Real Madrid has been way ahead of the rest. The man did remarkably well to rise from the ruins of the 7-1 home battering 4 years ago to play even better football than he did for club and country. Even as Brazil laboured against Belgium he still shone and was a constant attacking threat, did not deserve to finish on the losing side that night.
Midfield: I have always maintained that in all my years of watching football I have never seen a footballer like N’Golo Kante. There have been natural, simple defensive midfielders, there have been deep lying playmakers but there has been none quite like Kante. I am not even going to try to pick out his great moments. Kante does not do great things on the pitch, he is just unfussy excellent.
Axel Witsel. The greatest example of the power of money was Witsel’s move from Zenit St Petersburg to go play in China. Fortunately for football it has not dulled his abilities at all. He was very good in the Belgian midfield all tournament. I enjoyed watching him.
Luka Modric. Won’t even waste time trying to describe Modric. By far and away the best player at this tournament. Modric conducts a football match with the way very few footballers can. He seems able to – with a swing at the ball with the outside of his right boot – bend the shape of a match to his desire. He missed a penalty – Kasper Schmeichel saved it – against Denmark late in the round of 16 but strode up minutes later to strike home in the ensuing shoot-out. Nothing is daunting to him in a game that he usually is one of the smallest men on the pitch.
Kevin de Bruyne had a great game against Brazil and capped it with a fine goal that turned out to be the winner. He led the tremendous counter attack that led to Belgium’s late, late winner against Japan. His range of passing and all round play was of his usual high standards all through the tournament. His versatility is what has him ahead of Hazard in my team.
Kylian Mbappe is living the dream but in truth he has not even started. Prodigiously gifted and so ridiculously tactically aware at his age, the PSG forward has the post Messi/Ronaldo football world ahead of him to conquer. Rio Ferdinand, the former England defender was asked how he would have dealt with Mbappe “look up to heaven and pray”.
It has not been a great World Cup for strikers too. Harry Kane of England might have won the Golden Boot but he had a poor tournament. France might well have any one up front for the use Olivier Giroud has been in this tournament. Gabriel Jesus wasted a valuable no 9 jersey for Brazil while the two goals Sergio Aguero scored for Argentina meant little in the end.
So, I will go for Romelu Lukaku to lead the line as the lone striker. The role Lukaku played in Belgium’s winning goal against Japan is such that he should be credited with the assist. Two brilliant runs all off the ball allowed Nacer Chadli to eventually slide home the winner. Probably my highlight of the whole tournament.
To recap: Courtois; Vrsajlko, Varane, Minna, Marcelo; Kante, Witsel; Modric, de Bruyne, Mbappe; Lukaku.
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