So the World Cup is over and France are the 2018 World Cup champions, for the second time in their history – exactly 20 years after their first ever triumph, and as the French will say, Allez Les Blues.
Many fans, players, and pundits will agree this was the best World Cup in recent history. The quality of play, the competition between teams and the amount of goals – it brought drama and excitement for all football lovers worldwide. Russia, the host nation did a great job and set a precedent that subsequent host nations will hope to follow. And how can we forget the VAR moments.
However, this World Cup will not have been a success if the players did not grace the pitch with quality, style and panache. Therefore, YNaija has come up with its team of the tournament – a sequel to the group stages team of the tournament that was compiled before the knockout stages. As usual, this team is not just a selection of individuals that performed well in the tournament, but the team’s ability to function well as a unit – a practical side.
Thibaut Courtois – Goalkeeper (Belgium)
Tournament Golden glove winner led Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup with a series of outstanding games in the tournament. His performance against Brazil was definitely amongst the best individual goalkeeping performances of the mundial. His ability also shone through even in defeat against France, and he rightly has been included in the YNaija team of the tournament.
Kieran Trippier – Defender right (England)
Trippier was an absolute revelation for England in this tournament, and he has proven himself to be a real quality wingback/right back. The quality of his deliveries into the box was an absolute thorn in the sight of opposition defenders and he was a key ingredient in England’s domination of set-piece situations. He capped it all with and amazing direct free kick in the semi-final tie against Croatia.
Raphael Varane – Centreback (France)
Varane is only 25?! Wow! The accomplished defender was a class act all through the tournament for France alongside his defensive partner – Samuel Umtiti. His quality really came through in the knockout stages and his semi-final performance against Belgium was a defensive classic. He also got on his score sheet himself with a crucial header against Uruguay in the quarter-final.
Yerry Mina – Centreback (Colombia)
The 6’5 Colombian defender only played three games at the World Cup but it was enough to leave a lasting impression. Mina was arguably Colombia’s most important player in the three games he played as he scored three goals in three consecutive games to power Colombia to the knockout stage and to extra-time against England – a game they eventually lost on penalties. Mina proved his class and retains his position as a defender in YNaija’s team despite a short World Cup.
Lucas Hernandez – Defender Left (France)
22-year-old Atletico Madrid left back was a recurring figure for France in the World Cup and he ensured highly rated Benjamin Mendy did not feature for more than 45 minutes throughout the World Cup. Hernandez was defensively solid and his measured attacking runs were always effective. He was a revelation for Didier Deschamps side and he no doubt has been well groomed under the tutelage of Atletico’s manager Diego Simeone. Hernandez was instrumental in France’s World Cup glory with his assist for Kylian Mbappe in the final.
Ngolo Kante – Midfielder (France)
Kante was everywhere on the pitch in the World Cup for France and he is one of heroes of Les Blues’ World Cup triumph. I believe he was good enough to win player of the tournament – for his seemingly underappreciated efforts. Alongside Paul Pogba, Kante covered every inch of grass and was instrumental in breaking plays and interceptions. Kante’s story is truly a marvellous one after his breakout season for Leicester in 2016 – he has really reason to world stardom. No wonder everybody in France his singing his name.
Kevin De Bruyne – Midfielder (Belgium)
De Bruyne had a quiet World Cup in the early stages because of the deep role he was asked to play by Roberto Martinez. However, from the game against Japan till their last game against England – he was their best player. He dictated tempo and created fabulous chances for the players ahead of him. De Bruyne was possibly the best player on the pitch in Belgium’s quarterfinal victory over Brazil. One could argue that if Romelu Lukaku’s finishing and first touch was slightly better Belgium might have been the ones lifting the trophy.
Luka Modric – Midfielder (Croatia)
Luka Modric was voted the Golden Ball winner – deservedly so. Modric was a step above everybody in the tournament and he engraved his name as a true midfield general, a maestro. His ability to dictate tempo and control the midfield against more physical dominant players like Paul Pogba even in the final showed his class; he is of the same ilk as Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. Modric’s “La Pausa” shone like the rising sun over the world. It was a beauty – he was beautiful to watch all through the tournament. He finished the tournament with two goals for Croatia and one assist.
Kylian Mbappe – Forward (France)
Kylian Mbappe finished the tournament with four goals and was the best young player in the tournament, winning the Golden Boy award. Mbappe, proved himself as the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in football. He also became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since, wait for it – the great Pele in 1958. The sky seems like just the beginning for Mbappe with the talent and poise he possesses. His electric pace, balance and poise only means he will dominate World football for years to come.
Antoine Griezmann – Forward (France)
People who know me, know Antoine Griezmann is my favourite attacking player in the world. He is a bag of technique and intelligence; I cannot stop talking about him. He did not have an electric World Cup however, but he scored four very crucial goals. He gets the nod over Harry Kane because he is a better player – simple. His ability to always (more than not) make the right decisions at the right time when he touches the ball was amazing to watch. He also has a beautiful reading of the game that many players do not have. Passes at the right time, holds on to the ball a few seconds longer, and touches into space – he was immense and one of the key ingredients to France’s World Cup success.
Ivan Perisic – Forward (Croatia)
Perisic was pure class in the critical moments for Croatia in the World Cup, the right balance of aggression and skill is what he has in his game. Perisic scored three goals in the tournament, most notably an acrobatic kick in the box against England in the semi-final. Perisic scored another beauty in the final against a resolute French defence and I believe he has proved his worth to Manchester United fans that were far from impressed with Jose Mourinho’s supposed interest in him at the beginning of the 2017/18 season – he is a quality player.
Croatia’s coach Zlatko Dalic is no doubt the coach of the World Cup for YNaija. Relatively unknown Internationally yet he guided a troubled Croatian camp to the World Cup and the World Cup final after he was snapped up in the UAE by the Croatian federation.