There were many contenders but the 2018 World Cup team of the tournament was decided on how the players impacted proceedings, especially at the business end. There were players who impressed in the group stages but couldn’t sustain the momentum they had built up.
It comes as little surprise that France and Belgium dominate the lineup. There are no Brazilians or Englishmen in the starting lineup, which can be a debatable call. There is no place for Neymar, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo either. Who would have thought we would say that at the start of the tournament?
The players line up in a 4-3-3 formation.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Chelsea’s goalkeeper was a dominant presence for Roberto Martinez’s team in Russia. He produced one of the saves of the tournament when he leapt to his left to tip over a Neymar curler in the dying seconds of the quarter-final against Brazil to keep the score at 2-1.
Hugo Lloris came close but his comical error in the final to gift Mario Mandzukic a goal cost him a starting place.
Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
England’s Kieran Trippier came close but it is the Paris Saint-Germain fullback who clinched the right-back spot. Meunier can seamlessly fit into a right-back or a wing-back position.
It is believed that his suspension for the semi-final match against France cost the Belgians dearly as Roberto Martinez’s tactical adjustments backfired against the eventual champions. Meunier came back in style, giving his side an early lead in the third-place match against England.
Raphael Varane (France)
Varane came to the World Cup having just won his fourth Champions League medal with Real Madrid. He and Samuel Umtiti enhanced their reputations during the tournament, giving France defensive solidity and helping the side keep clean sheets against Uruguay and Belgium.
At 25, Varane has won four Champions League, two league titles and now a World Cup. A reliable presence at the back for France when they needed it the most.
Diego Godin (Uruguay)
Widely regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, the Uruguay captain was in fine form, helping his side to three consecutive clean sheets in the group stages. However, Portugal and France found chinks in the two-time champions’ armour, which came from set plays.
Godin, though, continued to be a rock at the back and Uruguay’s legacy of producing world class centre-backs is expected to be carried forward through Jose Gimenez, Godin’s Atletico Madrid teammate.
Lucas Hernandez (France)
The French left-back made his mark in style during the Wold Cup, seamlessly fitting in when he should been making substitute appearances at best. One wonders if Hernandez would have still been in the starting lineup in all the games France played, had Benjamin Mendy recovered fully from an injury he suffered last season.
France coach Didier Deschamps could have just as easily opted for Lavyin Kurzawa. Hernandez should see big clubs queuing up for his signature. Uruguay’s Diego Laxalt came close but Hernandez just about edged it.
Paul Pogba (France)
Manchester United midfielder Pogba came to Russia after an underwhelming club season under Jose Mourinho, during which he was left out on a number of occasions. But under Deschamps, Pogba anchored the midfield alongside N’Golo Kante, giving players around him the licence to go forward.
Along with Kante, he held fort, curbing his natural instincts and went forward, sparking counters when the situation demanded it. A man of the match performance in the final and the question marks about his ability should be finally put to bed after Russia.
N’Golo Kante (France)
As always the unsung hero, Chelsea’s Kante is certainly not underestimated in his dressing room. The French players treat him as a lucky charm and he rarely lets them down, doing the dirty work in front of the defence while others are able to showcase their skills further forward.
From the ninth tier of French football to a World Cup winner nine years later, it has been a roller-coaster journey for the ex-Leicester City man.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
Croatia captain Modric was named player of the tournament after inspiring his side to reach the final in Moscow. The Real Madrid midfielder, who has a vast range of silky skills and an ability to control matches, had a superb match against Argentina and dominated the midfield in the semi-final against England.
Fell short in the final, but he was relentless in driving his team forward. Undoubtedly the talisman of his team and one of the finest midfielders to have ever graced the world stage.
Kylian Mbappe (France)
Mbappe, just 19, scored twice against Argentina to overshadow Lionel Messi and announce his arrival as a future superstar. His goal in the final was the cherry on the cake and the Paris Saint-Germain forward received the tournament’s young player of the year award.
He became only the third teenager to play in the final and only the second one to score in the summit clash after Pele himself. A special talent, only expected to get better at terrorising defences with his raw pace.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Hazard proved in Belgium’s thrilling last-16 win over Japan and then the coming-of-age quarter-final victory against Brazil that he can unlock defences. It says it all that his performances at the World Cup could well earn him a move to Real Madrid to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
Formed a fantastic trio up front with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne as they thrilled the neutrals in Russia. Only one of his team to come out with any credit after the loss against France.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Harry Kane might have got the golden boot but in terms of shots to goals ratio, Romelu Lukaku stole the show. His stand-out performances are surprisingly the ones that did not have him score. Who can forget his clever dummy in the dying seconds of the game to tee up Nacer Chadli to score the winner against Japan in the round of 16.
He followed that up by tormenting the Brazilians on the right flank, repeatedly bullying the Selecao backline with his size and strength. Lukaku finished with four goals but importantly, he came of age as a centre forward.
The Reader’s XI
Even before we sat down to pick our dream World Cup XI, we put the same question to our readers and here’s who you picked:
So many good players and someone had to be dropped. It was very, very close between Griezmann (47%) and Romelu Lukaka (44%). Benjamin Pavard was another player who came very close to making the final XI. Among the midfielders, Ngolo Kante was desperately unlucky to miss out – he garnered 55% of the votes as compared to Kevin de Bruyne (57%) and Paul Pgba (59%). Belgium goalkeeper Thibault Courtois was, surprisingly, a clear winner though.