CAPE TOWN – Now that the dust has settled on what was one of the most enthralling World Cups to date, it’s time to choose the best of the best.
Yes, Croatian captain Luka Modric won the Golden Ball award, but who were the stand-out players throughout the tournament? Here’s my team, using a 4-5-1 formation…
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
He was a giant in the box in Belgium’s run to the semi-finals, often coming out and claiming crosses. He was a mean shot-stopper too.
Right back: Benjamin Pavard (France)
What a revelation the youngster proved to be! From being a virtual unknown even in France, as he made his name in Germany – where he plays for Vfb Stuttgart – Pavard impressed with his strong defensive work, and rampaging runs down the right-hand side. Also scored one of the goals of the World Cup in the last-16 against Argentina.
Centre back: Raphael Varane (France)
Such a cool customer, Varane proved why he is at the heart of the Real Madrid and French defence. He reads play brilliantly, and scored the opener against Uruguay.
Centre Back: Harry Maguire (England)
What a sensation! Also not a household name before the tournament, Leicester City’s Maguire did so well in Russia that it is believed Manchester United are chasing his signature. An imposing physical presence, Maguire is as solid as a rock at the back.
Left back: Lucas Hernandez (France)
The speedy left-footer reminded me of Bixente Lizarazu with the manner in which he flew down the left flank. He didn’t shirk his defensive duties either.
Defensive midfielder: N’Golo Kante (France)
Under-rated by many, the Chelsea strong man ensured that the French defence had another barrier before the box, cutting out any danger.
Had to be taken off in the final after 55 minutes due to a stomach bug, but the mere fact that he stuck it out for so long shows the character of the man.
Right wing: Kylian Mbappe (France)
Arguably the biggest star of the tournament. Electrifying bursts down the right, four goals and the Fifa Young Player of the Tournament award. But I think he was unlucky to lose out to Luka Modric for the Golden Ball…
Right central midfielder: Luka Modric (Croatia)
The mastermind of the Croatian attack, Modric spread the ball wide and through the middle, plotting and probing to help his team all the way to the final.
Recovered from missing a penalty against Russia to score in the penalty shout-out, and produced a terrific strike against Argentina – dummying to the right, then to the left and swinging it from outside the box.
Left central midfielder: Paul Pogba (France)
One of the most criticised players in the world – partly due to the more defensive role under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United – Pogba was back to his best in Russia.
The driving force in the French team, he was allowed to play a traditional midfield role by Didier Deschamps, and it paid off as he sparked their attack.
And what a lovely swing of the left boot to score in the final.
Left wing: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
The Inter Milan star showed why Jose Mourinho is trying to bring him to Old Trafford. Perisic has tremendous pace and quick feet, and shoots on goal almost at will. He gets stuck in physically too, and mixes things up between going wide and cutting in.
Three from three for Croatia— SuperSport ⚽️🏆 (@SuperSportTV) June 26, 2018
This goal from Ivan Perisic earned them a 2-1 win over Iceland to top Group D.
Watch all the #ISLCRO goals here >> https://t.co/Ortmv3vHzS#WorldCup pic.twitter.com/Sy193qwvRK
Striker: Antoine Griezmann (France)
After a difficult build-up, with doubts about whether he will stay at Atletico Madrid, Griezmann seemed to flourish after announcing that he was staying in the Spanish capital. His movement off the ball creates opportunities for his teammates and himself, while he also slotted a few penalties in style.