The 2018 FIFA World Cup ended on Sunday and we are already feeling the void. In a classic final that took place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Didier Deschamps’ France overwhelmingly beat Croatia 4-2 to lift their second FIFA World Cup trophy. Strikes from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and an unfortunate own goal from Mario Mandzukic sealed the game for Les Bleus. Croatia gave their all in the tournament but faltered at the final hurdle.
As is always the case at the FIFA World Cup, few players displayed their exceptional talent on the big stage and ensured that their performances are talked about for some time. Here, we list the tournament’s best starting XI who made a name for themselves and also the top manager in the World Cup. The players who have been picked will line-up in a 4-3-3 formation. Some obvious names and some not so obvious choices, so there’s plenty of scope for arguments!
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
The most obvious one here is the inclusion of Belgium goalkeeper Courtois. The Chelsea shot-stopper made few stunning saves against Brazil in the quarter-final which ultimately helped his team’s progression into the semis. In a team full of stars, Courtois’ name is not taken much but this World Cup proved that why he’s currently among the world’s best goalkeepers. He also pocketed the Golden Glove award; well-deserved, we’d say.
Defender: Kieran Trippier
Captain Harry Kane might have scored most goals in the World Cup, but it’s Trippier who deserves to be picked in the best XI. Playing at the right wing-back position, Trippier excelled with his surging runs and pinpoint crosses. He also created 24 chances for England at the World Cup, a record for an English player. But Trippier was in his finest elements when it came to handling the dead ball situations. Throughout the tournament, there was hardly any bad deliveries from set-pieces by Trippier. His free-kick in the semi-final against Croatia certainly jogged the memory back to a certain David Beckham and his specialty.
Defender: Yerry Mina
The Colombian center-back scored three goals in the tournament, showing his aerial superiority when it came to set-pieces. The goals are just one part of his game as Mina’s positioning skills and tackles proved vital in Colombia’s campaign. The team didn’t go far, losing to England in the Round of 16, but Mina made sure his performance doesn’t go unnoticed. Currently, in Barcelona, Mina also hinted that he wants more game time and might move to the Premier League.
Defender: Samuel Umtiti
It was difficult to choose between Umtiti and Raphael Varane, but the former makes the cut because of his fighting ability. Umtiti also scored the crucial goal in the semi-final against Belgium that proved to be the difference at the end. Deschamps’ organized defensive setup got the best out of Umtiti, and he hardly fluttered when put under pressure. Also, he is just 24, so his best days are still ahead of him.
Defender: Diego Laxalt
The 25-year-old Uruguayan left-back was largely away from the spotlight in Russia thanks to the exploits of his more popular teammates Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani but his showings were top-notch. Hardly displaying any weaknesses, Laxalt was at top of his game both at defending and attacking. His energy and blistering runs from the wing benefited Suarez and Cavani to a great extent. He showed plenty of promise at the World Cup and looks like he’ll move to a bigger club soon.
Midfielder: N’Golo Kante
It might sound little preposterous but despite the presence of genuine attacking talent in their ranks, France couldn’t have won the title without Kante. The defensive midfielder was so influential in his team’s run to the final that he was among the top contenders for the Golden Ball award. Strangely, he did not have a good final with reports indicating he played through a stomach bug. Still, he deserves all the plaudits. It’s not surprising that he is a joint leader when it comes to the number of interceptions made by a player – 20.
Midfielder: Luka Modric
The best player in the tournament. The latest addition to the list of Golden Ball awardees. When Modric plays well, Croatia plays well too. The midfield maestro was the heart and soul of the Croatian team. He scored goals, created chances, converted penalties, tackled opponent’s attackers and lead the team to a World Cup final for the first time. Croatia eventually fell short but this World Cup will be remembered for Modric’s brilliance.
Midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne had a stellar season with Premier League champions Manchester City and he carried that form to Russia also. Roberto Martinez changed his positions more than once but it did not impact De Bruyne’s performance. He created 15 chances from open play, the most from any player in the World Cup. His passes were a delight to watch and he also showed his goal-scoring prowess.
Forward: Kylian Mbappe
The rise of a new star, a player who has the potential to become the best in the world. What’s more freaking is Mbappe is only 19 and is yet to hit his peak. The France forward’s greatest asset is his speed. Throughout the tournament, defenders found it tough to mark him. He also scored goals — four in this World Cup including one in the final. Unlike Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he has achieved the dream of winning a World Cup early in his career. There no more World Cup pressure on him and so now he can concentrate on achieving greatness.
Forward: Romelu Lukaku
It’s a pity that Lukaku missed out on Golden Boot award to Kane. He scored four goals but could’ve added few more to his name. In the semi-final against France, Lukaku enjoyed quite a few chances but his first touches were very disappointing. Nevertheless, it was a good World Cup for the striker as he showed his class in terms of scoring goals and creating chances. His speed and intelligence were also on display when Belgium opted for the counter-attacking game. Remember that third goal against Japan? Lukaku pulled the defenders away with his run, leaving Nacer Chadli to score the winner.
Forward: Eden Hazard
The Belgian talisman is the most fouled player in the tournament. That’s not really surprising because Hazard’s attacking instincts are second to none. When Hazard gets going, it becomes impossible to stop him. He might not score goals, but he can have a psychological impact on the opposition. His quick turn, dribbling skills and propensity to put delightful passes humiliates his opponents. He scored three goals, gave two assists and created 12 chances from open play.
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Deschamps became only the second person after Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo to win the World Cup both as a player and manager. Deschamps’ pragmatic approach in Russia prompted few questions about his philosophy but at the end, he silenced his critics with the World Cup trophy. Deschamps didn’t care much about style and adherence to a particular brand of football. He ensured France play the way he wanted — not flashy and attractive, but doing just enough to win matches. Many tried to outclass him in Russia but ultimately it was Deschamps who had the last laugh.