My team of the World Cup …….
GK – Livakovic – Croatia / Dinamo Zagreb
He and Martinez both won two penalty shoot outs, but I give Livakovic the edge, as he had to be the busiest keeper in the group stage.
Against Belgium and Brazil, Croatia allowed their opponents to have the ball meaning the 27-year-old had to show superb focus and tactical understanding. At times played almost like a sweeper, timing runs to perfection and closing down angles.
Every World Cup there is an unknown talent who’s reputation rises.
At an age where he’s not considered in his peak in the position he plays, is only going to get better
RB – Hakimi – Morocco / PSG
Unlike some of his teammates we already knew about the right back.
Like a lot of fullbacks, he is crucial to his side’s attack, producing the assist of the tournament against Canada.
So good going forward he even had Mbappe having to track back when it was supposed to be the other way around.
When Morocco had to defend though, they threw bodies on the line, got their head to everything and timed tackles to perfection.
Got to the semi-final with the only goal they had conceded being an own goal.
Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal all failed to break them down.
Pace, can pass, can take a cheeky penalty …nothing Hakimi can’t do.
CB- Gvardiol – Croatia / RB Leipzig
The man in the Iron mask!
Helped by the knowledge and experience around him, played with maturity beyond his years.
Defensive display against Belgium and Brazil contender for individual performances of the tournament.
Both games he had to watch the ball being played in front of him, not able to lose concentration for a second. Timing blocks, tackles, headers, when to step up, etc.
Rewatch his tackle on Lukaku, who thought he had a tap in.
There’s an art to defending and he showcased that this month.
With the margin between success and failure so small, that challenge was as good as a goal.
He was embarrassed by Messi, but can be forgiven for that.
Chelsea were already linked with him, and his transfer value probably just doubled the last few weeks.
They say centre backs don’t reach their best till their thirties.
CB -Maguire – England / Man United
I strongly believe that if you’re talking about everything a player is doing wrong, it’s only correct that you do the same when they play well?
If Maguire made a lot of mistakes this month it would get mentioned, so it’s only right we highlight the defender who contributed to 3 clean sheets and 1 assist.
Hit the woodwork twice with his headers as he dominated set pieces in both boxes.
I remember noticing against the USA he seemed to get his head to everything.
Also, not afraid to drive forward.
Some will ignore all of that and focus on Giroud’s goal deflecting in off his shoulder.
Sometimes you have to accept when you see a world class delivery (Griezmann).
Also, it was Stones who lost the striker, Maguire doing great to get anywhere near him.
Given the criticism he’s had, he deserves credit for his mental strength to play how he did.
LB- Theo Hernandez – France / AC Milan
I put him in partly as a reminder in general how well France have coped with injuries to some senior players who would have started in Qatar.
The Conveyor belt in France is scary, Deschamps able to replace injured talent with the next youngster who fits into the system with little fuss.
Already without Kante, Pogba, Benzema and (at the time) Varane, Lucas Hernandez got hurt in the French opener in the build up to an Australia goal.
He would be replaced by his sibling. A mixed day for the Brother’s parents?
Gutted for the son who is ruled out of a World Cup, delighted for the son who gets an opportunity.
Theo is possibly better going forward, earning 2 assists in the group stages and goal in the knockout stages.
Couldn’t replicate what his big brother did though in Russia.
CM – Amrabat – Morocco / Florentina
Technically he’s a midfielder but you could just as much call him a defender this tournament.
When Morocco needed to defend, he essentially dropped back as a third centreback.
In an era where we can over complicate tactics and systems, Amrabat was old school against Spain and Portugal.
He simply threw his body into everything, putting his body on the line when he had too, heading everything, clearing the ball.
The perfect example of there being an art to defending.
There were times where he bandaged himself up and battled through the pain barrier.
Cemented his legacy as a national hero.
CM – Fernandez – Argentina / Benfica
Rightfully so, this will be remembered as Messi’s World Cup but make no mistake there were players crucial in allowing a system where the number 10 could play in a free role.
Having lost their opener to Saudi Arabia and being held by Mexico, Scolari made the tactical switch of bringing on Fernandez and Argentina never looked back.
Fernandez gave the team legs and energy they didn’t have when Rodriguez was playing the role.
Given that he had 3 caps (all as sub) before the tournament, this has been some rise.
FIFA noticed how crucial he’s been to the World Champions by rewarding him with the Young Player of The Tournament Award.
I bet Benfica have a big release clause inserted in the midfielder’s contract?
AM (left side) – Mbappe – France / PSG
I used to say the funniest debate I ever had on JustArsenal was a fan who tried to argue that Maitland Niles was better than Kante!
That was topped during this World Cup when a group of my peers commented that Mbappe’s attitude meant he wouldn’t get in our team!
When I stressed, he’s better than our current attack this was the response …… ‘you write like that’s a matter of fact when in fact it’s an opinion, one for which I do not agree with.’
Where to begin?
I know I’m meant to say everyone is entitled to their opinion – but seriously….
It’s an example of Gooners thinking the definition of a supporter is you can’t say anything is negative.
Like it’s a disgrace to say Mbappe is better then you.
I feel it’s an insult to even compare but here goes.
Eddie Nketiah (same age) failed to get in the worst Arsenal team in two decades and is nowhere near international recognition.
Martinelli (who I rate) isn’t a starter for Brazil.
Mbappe has just won the Golden Boot, only the 2nd ever player to score a hat trick in a WC Final, goals with his left foot, right foot and header as well as three assists.
At 23 he’s been the talisman for a nation missing serious experience.
I haven’t seen this ‘poor attitude’, have you?
Even the Argentines gave him standing ovation at Sunday’s full-time whistle. Acted with grace and class.
AM (Right side) – Griezmann – France / Atletico Madrid
Going into the weekend many were suggesting the Frenchman could win the Golden Ball if France had won the Final.
Like 4 years okay in Russia, Griezmann has become so unselfish, no longer concerned about being a goal scorer himself.
Instead, he focuses on world class delivery from set pieces, and an incredible work ethic to win the ball back when possession has been lost.
He’s got a footballing brain and is smart enough to know he can’t replace Benzema or Mbappe in the team, but can do the yards they won’t.
It’s not always obvious what the 31-year-old does or how crucial he is to the team, unless you truly understand the sport.
3 assists, his 2 crosses for winners against Denmark and England were stunning.
AM (Central) – Messi – Argentina / PSG
Okay he officially starts as a striker, but he spends more time dropping deep.
Didn’t need to lift the World Cup to be one of the greatest to ever live, but it’s a fairy tale ending to the perfect career.
It’s like Shakespeare has written the finale.
For over a decade many debated who was the GOAT between Messi and Ronaldo.
The irony won’t be lost on many with the contrast of fortunes of their tournaments.
Messi always has been the better team player, and here he was while Ronaldo was being dropped, having sulked after being subbed, here was Messi taking his team by the palm of his hands, the scruff of the neck and carrying them through in the face of adversity.
Of course, his manager found the system where others would do the ugly stuff for him, and helped by Argentines making every fixture feel like an away tie for the opponents.
I see Messi though struggle with the expectation of a nation on his back before.
Almost crippled by the fear of failure, the scrutiny was too much.
He’s retired before remember, due to fan/media backlash, both being clever enough this time to realise it would be counterproductive to criticise him (and his team) too much after they lost their opener.
Since moving to PSG, he’s been written off.
I watch Arsenal, where over the years our lack of mental strength has been obvious.
Playing in must-win conditions since their 2nd group match, Messi’s strength of mind is my highlight of the World Cup.
Twice in the knockout stages (knowing each could be his last WC game), Argentina threw away 2-0 leads and he didn’t flinch.
Please enjoy Messi while you can, he won’t be around to much longer, and there will never be another like him.
Striker – Alvarez – Argentina / Man City
Having not started the first two group games, 4 goals is quite credible for Alvarez.
Yet it’s not really his goals why he edges out Giroud.
I can’t remember too often where a striker has been so crucial tactically for a team?
Like Fernandez, once Alvarez was brought on against Mexico, Argentina never looked back.
To allow Messi to drop deep, expand energy, sometimes even walk …you need someone to do the extra running and graft.
Lautaro Martinez isn’t going to do that.
A young 22-year-old, who’s icon happens to be Messi, is going to.
Make no mistake, Alvarez and Fernandez’s legs allowed Messi to play how he has.
For that, Scolari deserves credit.
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