The 2018 Fifa World Cup is now over.
As we now begin the countdown to Qatar 2022, we can look back at a thrilling month of football in which we saw the introduction of VAR, last-minute winners, goalkeeping mistakes, some incredible tactical advances and big surprises too.
We saw the World Champions crash out in the groups, the favourites bomb out to the unfancied hosts in the round of 16, a semi-final line-up that for the first time ever, did not feature Brazil, Argentina or Germany; we also saw Croatia make their first-ever final and France capture their second trophy 20 years after they secured their first!
But which players performed best? Who struggled? We here at Squawka, teaming up with Sporting Index, have come up with two combined XIs – one covering the 2018 World Cup’s best players, and the other its worst. Who’s in which side? Read on and find out.
Chelsea’s big Belgian may be angling for a move away from Stamford Bridge this summer, and he did his prospects no harm with a string of wonderful performances at the World Cup. Time and again Courtois would thwart opponents trying to break Belgium down, and his excellence is a big reason why Belgium finished third.
Key Stat: Courtois made more saves (27) than anyone else at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Kieran Trippier arrived at the World Cup a relative nobody whose spot in the starting XI wasn’t even guaranteed. By the end of the tournament he had established himself as a top-class right-back with a deadly set-piece repertoire. Trippier was supremely creative for the Three Lions as they finished fourth, joining David Beckham as the only other English player to score a World Cup free-kick.
Key Stat: Kieran Trippier created more chances (24) than any other player at the 2018 World Cup, including the most from set plays (15).
Mr. Consistency. Raphael Varane didn’t have a bad game for the whole World Cup, providing a constant steady building block at the back for Les Bleus as they ground their way to World Cup glory. He even scored a colossal first goal in the quarter-final win against Uruguay.
Key Stat: No player made more clearances (44) at the 2018 World cup than Raphael Varane.
The only non-semi-finalist in this list, and with good reason. Diego Godín was arguably the player of the tournament up to the point Uruguay got knocked out (through no fault of his). A string of excellent defensive displays and some pulsating runs forward from this colossus.
Key Stat: No defender made more interceptions (13) than Diego Godin did during the tournament.
Lucas was only playing because of Benjamin Mendy’s injury woes, but he made the most of his chance and provided a steady and solid presence on the left of France’s defence. The Atlético Madrid man protected his flank with assurance and even chipped in with a couple of big assists at key moments.
Key Stat: Lucas Hernandez won more tackles (16) than any defender at the World Cup.
Centre midfield, Croatia
Quietly had a brilliant tournament, doing so much sensible midfield work that enabled his team-mates to shine. Rakitic even performed when called upon to be the star. He hammered in two shootout-winning penalties and was Croatia’s best player by a distance as the little nation played their first-ever World Cup final. The fact he played a part in making the final N’Golo Kante’s worst game of a superb tournament sees him included ahead of the Frenchman.
Key Stat: Rakitic won more fouls (20) than any other central midfielder at the 2018 World Cup.
Centre midfield, Croatia
Luka Modric was a sensation for the 2010 World Cup. With Rakitic backing up, Modric soared heads and shoulders above all but one other midfielder. The Croatian created, he destroyed, he did everything one could ask from a man. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the Golden Ball at the end of the tournament.
Key Stat: Modric made more recoveries (56) than any other outfield player at the tournament.
Centre midfield, France
It sounds impossible but Paul Pogba got better with every single game he played at the tournament. In the first game he won France the game with his shot, in the second he won France the game with his pass, and just kept on improving after that. He attacked and defended in equal measure, playing gorgeous passes and capping it all off by dominating the World Cup final with a magnificent display where he hammered in the game-changing third goal with a sublime finish to all but secure the trophy for France.
Key Stat: Paul Pogba was the first ever Man Utd player to score in a World Cup final.
Ivan Perisic was having a poor World Cup, but heroes are made from the semi-finals and later. Perisic got an incredible goal and assist to help Croatia turn the semi around, and in the final, he drew his nation level with a stunning strike. He shone on the biggest stages.
Key Stat: Ivan Perisic has been directly involved in more major tournament goals (11) than any Croatian in history (7 goals + 4 assists).
Dribbling is something that many players can do, but there’s maybe two or three in the whole world who can do it like Eden Hazard. The Belgian annihilated opponents with the ball at his feet and was a key player in Belgium’s drive to their first-ever third-place finish.
Key Stat: Eden Hazard completed the most take-ons (40) at the 2018 World Cup.
Who else but Kylian Mbappé? The second youngest player at the World Cup was one of its most pulsating attacking talents. The wildest thing is that the records he hit (second teenager to score a brace in the KO rounds, second teenager to score in the final) all belonged to Pelé. When you’re matching up to the main man himself, you know you’re onto something special. All Hail King Kylmonger!
Key Stat: Mbappe’s four goals at the World Cup were the most by a teenager since Pele scored six in 1958.
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David De Gea
David De Gea was amazing for Manchester United this season but somehow couldn’t translate that to performances for Spain. He was inexplicably shaky for his nation and somehow got out-done by Igor Akinfeev in the round of 16 shootout.
Key Stat: At the 2018 World Cup, David De Gea conceded six times from seven shots on target faced, making just one save.
Poor Fagner. Drafted in to replace Dani Alves, he was always going to struggle. But he really struggled, like, seriously. Not only did he fail to defend his flank in any serious way, but he offered nothing in attack either.
Key Stat: In Brazil’s quarter-final exit, no Selecao player conceded more fouls (3) than Fagner.
Came into the tournament in questionable form and fitness and never looked right. Shocking during Germany’s loss to Mexico, and disastrous during the win over Sweden, during which he got sent off, missing Germany’s final game against Korea.
Key Stat: Boateng failed to make a successful tackle or interception during Germany’s game against Sweden.
The most handsome defender around was so utterly exposed by every opponent that he played against. He got spun around by nearly every Mexican who attacked him and whilst he missed the Sweden win, he returned to face Korea and make a new low. Hummels was not only poor defensively against Korea, but also absurdly profligate, missing all of Germany’s best chances.
Key Stat: Mats Hummels missed all three of his clear-cut chances at this World Cup, the joint-most by a player in the group stages. Three of five Germany’s big chances at the World Cup fell to Hummels.
Left-back, Korea Republic
The left-backs at the World Cup weren’t terrible, nor were they that great, but the worst of them had to be Kim Min-woo, who’s reckless tackle to give Sweden their penalty (and thus victory) effectively knocked Korea out of the World Cup.
Key Stat: Kim Min-woo lost possession 16.4 per 90 minutes at the World Cup – more often than any other South Korea defender
Defensive midfield, Argentina
Javier Mascherano was the best player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But four years is a long time in football, and Javier Mascherano was the worst player at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He was utterly ineffectual yet a consistent presence in the XI.
Key Stat: No midfielder play at least 180 minutes conceded more fouls per 90 minutes (3.75) than Javier Mascherano.
Defensive midfield, Colombia
Colombia played one really great game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and it was the one game they played without Carlos Sánchez starting. He was terrible in the three games he started, conceding two penalties over the course of the tournament and getting sent off a couple of minutes into the first game.
Key Stat: Carlos Sanchez’s dismissal against Japan was the second-fastest red card in World Cup history.
Attacking midfield, Spain
David Silva has long been an excellent performer for Spain in their qualification campaigns (and he was again here) but he usually fails to perform at World Cups. This year was supposed to be different, but ended up being more of the same. Silva contributed nothing but misfortune and woe.
Key Stat: No Spain player took more shots without scoring than David Silva (10).
Attacking midfield, Argentina
Maxi Meza’s nonsensical and directionless style of play may have been forgivable were he some teenager playing at the end of his debut season. But he’s 26. He was useless with the ball at his feet, with his biggest crime being missing the obvious and easy pass to the top of the box to find Leo Messi with just seconds remaining and Argentina needing a goal to equalise against France.
Key Stat: No Argentinian player had more unsuccesful touches (9) than Maximilliano Meza.
Thomas Muller was heading into the 2018 World Cup six goals short of Miroslav Klose’s all-time record. He had scored five in each of his previous two tournaments and it was expected the premium big-game player would deliver once again. He didn’t. Germany didn’t. Muller did not even provide an assist.
Key Stat: Muller failed to score or provide a single assist for the first time at a World Cup.
Obviously, Poland are not a good side, but Robert Lewandowski is a world-class striker and you’d expect him capable of producing something in the way of a performance or a shot in anger; but no. He set the record for most goals scored in a single European World Cup qualifying stage before the tournament; in Russia, Lewandowski was utterly impotent.
Key Stat: Despite taking 29% of Poland’s shots at this World Cup, Lewandowski failed to find the net with any of his nine attempts. He was not directly involved in any of Poland’s goals at this tournament.