Here is my best 11 of the group stages by Dan Smith
Szczesny (GK) – Poland
The best individual performances would have been Courtois against Canada or Navas Vs Japan.
Yet I didn’t feel comfortable including a keeper who made mistakes against Morocco or one who conceded 7 against Spain.
I went for Szczesny as he got two clean sheets and kept the Argentina score line down to 2 when the Polish tactics seemed to be play for not a heavy defeat.
As they qualified at the expense of Mexico thanks to Goal Difference, his two penalty saves were as crucial as goals.
Either of those spot kicks go in, you could argue Poland go out at the group stages.
Plus, he’s proudly a former Gunner!
Hakimi (RB) – Morocco
I did predict Morocco would qualify from their group while highlighting Hakimi as one of their best talents.
Like a lot of teams, full back has become such a crucial attacking element.
Not just has he been in a defence which have kept two clean sheets (the only goal they have conceded was an own goal) but he also has an assist with arguably the pass of the tournament.
If you haven’t see how he sets up his nations second against Canada, go and find it.
Maguire (CB) – England
I’m one of these fans that if I see someone constantly knocked for what they are doing wrong it’s only correct we give the same attention when they are doing something right.
Many English fans didn’t want Maguire in the starting eleven or in the squad period.
Knowing that, it must take great mental strength to perform how he has been so far in Qatar, contributing to two clean sheets.
He’s a threat in the air in both boxes, unlucky not have scored with a header, although has got an assist.
England Vs USA were so dull it’s easy to ignore how dominant he was. There was a spell where America had 4 corners in a row and every time he got his head to the ball first.
Gvardiol (CB) – Croatia
The man in the iron mask!
Deserves a place in this team just for his tackle on Lukaku. The striker had a tap in until the defender arrived out of nowhere with a perfect block.
Sums up his warrior attitude.
He played in two goalless draws where his attention to detail / focus has to be world class.
Only 20, he plays like he’s more experienced. At an age where he should only get better.
With a rumoured 50 million release clause that can be triggered next summer, Europe’s finest are watching.
Alba (LB) – Spain
At 33, one of Spain’s more senior players.
Has played a major part in giving the Spanish a plan B, assisting twice.
A team famous for wanting possession and happy to be patient, when they can’t break down an opponent Alba will get on the overlap and deliver into the box.
Playing with a false number 9, there is not always a natural striker in the middle to finish the defenders cross.
This has led to a debate in his country about wherever Spain should start Morientes, which gives the Spaniard’s another option and the chance to go more direct.
Enzo Fernandez (CM) – Argentina
Argentina’s group stage coincides with Fernandez’s own involvement.
That’s not a coincidence.
At half time in their second game, Argentina had lost to Saudi Arabia, were drawing 0-0 with Mexico and seemed crippled by the fear of failure.
Their manager then made a tactical switch which saw Fernandez come on.
He’s more comfortable at receiving a ball from defence and passing quickly to build attacks (his goal a bonus). That takes the pressure off Messi to have to come too deep.
Since the Argentinians haven’t looked back.
Bellingham (CM) – England
England’s most consistent player.
At the age of 19 became the youngest English scorer at a World Cup.
The biggest compliment I can give him is that he makes hard things look simple.
Plays in a 2 for his country, but against Wales, Southgate played two DM’s so the teenager could play with more freedom, further forward.
That might be the managers tactic in the knockout stages.
Some acknowledgment when you consider the attacking midfielders he’s keeping on the bench.
Fernandes (CM) – Portugal
2 assists and 2 goals (although his own Federation have done everything to give his goal to Ronaldo).
His body language, how play goes through him, how vocal he is, etc.
You sense he’s preparing to be the main leader after Ronaldo?
Mbappe (Left side Forward) – France
While other star names have had mixed results in this tournament, Mbappe has simply looked like the best player.
It’s not simply his stats (3 goals and 1 assist in 2 starts), he’s involved in everything, even tracking back.
I read an article earlier last week saying some Gooners wouldn’t swap him with Martinelli due to his poor attitude!
A classic example of some Gooners thinking the definition of a supporter is to never admit another player Is better.
Trust me, any Arsenal fan who wakes up hearing Mbappe has signed …. they are not complaining!
Messi (sticker) – Argentina
Anyone who watches Argentina will know Messi is essentially a false number 9, coming deep to get the ball and essentially having a free role to do what he wants.
It’s a position which means you can a luxury player who doesn’t have to worry about the defensive aspect of the game.
Scolari has done well to. as much as possible. build a team not over reliant on their number 10.
That seemed to evaporate the moment they conceded against Saudi Arabia, where players seemed crippled by fear of failing and suddenly couldn’t do the most basic things.
Both manager and player deserve huge credit for not letting the pressure impact them.
The mentality it takes for Messi to play how he has for two weeks under this scrutiny blows my mind.
Messi has stayed calm and took Argentina by the scruff of the neck and carried them over the line.
He’s like the composure just calming the tempo.
Gakpo (right side Forward)- Holland
Okay he has played more centrally for his country, but my formation allows him to come in the middle when Messi goes deep.
Only player to score in all of his group games with his left foot, right foot and his head.
Credit to Van Gaal for putting his trust in youth.
Although easier to do when your retiring afterwards..
Let me know your Best XI in the comments…