64 teams took us on a month long roller coaster in the name of the FIFA World Cup, otherwise known as ‘The Greatest show on earth”.
Throughout this month, we were treated to some absolutely brilliant football, dazzling skills, unimaginable goals, last stitch winners, nerve wracking penalty shootouts.
In the end, the French prevailed as they won their second World Cup title. Some came as mere mortals, and they left as heroes. Players who didn’t have much fan following left with millions of admirers. Even the big names didn’t disappoint.
Today, we look back at the best eleven players who have proved themselves on the grandest stage of them all.
Hugo Lloris (France)
Many didn’t think France had leadership materials in their team. A certain Hugo Lloris would like to disagree. The French shot-stopper has been nothing short of a giant, guarding the French goal. Thanks to his exceptional keeping, the French kept clean sheets against the likes of Uruguay and Belgium. And it’s not just his keeping skills that impressed.
Even when they were trailing Argentina in the round of 16, Lloris was see urging the French to never stop believing. The way he led this young and brilliant crop of footballers to immortality just goes to show his true credentials.
Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
Deployed mainly as a right wing back, the Paris Saint Germain defender has been immense for the Belgians as they enjoyed their best ever World Cup, finishing third. An absolute mainstay for Roberto Martinez, Meunier combined defence with attack in a way every fullback would dream of. He was seen bombing up down the right to help Lukaku-Hazard-De Bruyne, while also tracking back to stop the opposition forwards. Being an absolute beast of a unit, Meunier also dominated almost everyone in the air.
He also scored the opener against England in their third place decider. Meunier’s importance can be described by just one match. Against France in the semis, he wasn’t there due to suspension. And the ‘Red Devils’ lost. Coming into the World Cup as a relatively unknown figure, Meunier leaves as one of the finest fullbacks of present times.
Raphael Varane (France)
With all the spotlight on the Pogbas, the Griezmanns, the Mbappes; it’s easy to not have seen the improtance of Varane in the French defence. Throughout the tournament, he’s been an absolute rock in the heart of Didier Deschamp’s defence. Intercepting almost every ball, Varane neutralised players like Lukaku, Suarez with relatively ease.
He was also vital in attack. Against Uruguay in the quarters, Varane opened the scoring. With four Champions’ League titles already to his name at just 25, Varane has already got his hands on something every footballer always dreams to win.
Diego Godin (Uruguay)
If you’ve been following La Liga for the last few years, there shouldn’t be any doubt in your mind about Godin being among the top defenders in world football. And in Russia, the world got to know about his prowess. Due to his defensive capabilities, complemented by his amazing leadership skills; Uruguay passed the group stage without conceding a single goal. And in the Last 16, Godin kept a certain Cristiano Ronaldo quiet as Uruguay reached the last eight.
Šime Vrsaljko (Croatia)
As their golden generation started their journey of conquering the world together for (perhaps) one last time, almost every Croatian player stood up to the occasion. On the right side of the defence, Vrsaljko did his job quietly but extremely effectively. He pocketed players like Aguero, Di Maria, Eriksen, Sterling as they reached the final. Vrsaljko’s resilience was on full display against Russia when he continued till his last breath after suffering an injury. He still played on for 120 minutes. The Atletico Madrid fullback can be extremely proud on what he achieved in his very first taste of the World Cup.
N’golo Kante (France)
They have players like Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappe in their ranks. But after winning the World Cup, the French players were seen singing a song about Kante at the top of their lungs. Indeed, any sensible football fans would know the importance of the Chelsea man in this French side. With more than 50 interceptions throughout the tournament, Kante has stopped almost every attacker to come up against him. Being an absolute irreplaceable cog in the Deschamps machine, Knate has once again proved the significance of ‘dirty works’ (tackles, interceptions) in football.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
Coming to this World Cup, the Croatian captain knew that this might very well be his last World Cup for his country. In his prime at least. With that in mind, Modric gave it all & the results were magnificent. He scored against Nigeria & a absolute thunderbolt against Argentina. Despite missing a guilt-edged penalty in extra time against Denmark, Modric proved he’s not the one to shy away from steep challenges as he once again came to take a penalty in the shootout against Denmark.
Modric once agains showed nerves of steel against Russia as he helped Croatia to their first semi final in 20 years. In the final, he ran the show again. Despite coming second, there was no doubting Modric’s astonishing consistency throughout the World Cup. And he capped off an amazing campaign with the Golden Ball. Officially, Luka Modric became the Best player of the World Cup 2018.
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
Coming to the World Cup on the back of an unforgettable campaign with Manchester City, Kevin De Bryune’s time to shine at the world stage had come. And boy did he do that and some! With performances worthy of winning the man of the match almost every match, KDB, as he’s mostly known to his teammates, was the main orchestrator of the Belgian midfield. The mercurial talent kept on proving his worth from the first match. In the round of 16, Chadli may have scored the winner against Japan but the main string puller of the vicious counter attack was De Bruyne himself. But it was against the mighty Brazil where De Bruyne truly showed his class.
Against ‘Selecao’, De Bruyne literally ran the show again. In the counter attacks, he was extremely deadly. After an own goal, it was his bullet strike that ultimately proved to be the winner. Even though they bowed out of the semis, De Bruyne’s brilliance shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Kylian Mbappe (France)
The heir to the throne has arrived. Such was the vibe after Mbappe burst onto the scene with Monaco. Within one season, he became the most expensive teenager ever as he signed for PSG. And in the world cup, Mbappe truly proved he’s here to stay. In the group stages however, he was relatively quiet to his extremely high standards. But it was against Messi’s Argentina that Mbappe truly came to the fray.
When Mercado’s deflected shot went in & Argentina took the lead, the French were in danger of going out. But then, up stepped Mbappe. With two goals of the highest order, he totally destroyed the Argentines. And even when he’s not scoring, he still terrorized the defences. Uruguay & Belgium matches are prime examples. And in the final, Mbappe became the first teenager since Pele to score in a World Cup final. Mbappe also won the best young player to cap off a memorable campaign.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
Mbappe may have taken almost all the spotlight, but Antoine Griezmann’s heroics shouldn’t go unnoticed. He scored the opener against Australia in the first match. After a relatively quiet group stage, much like his fellow teammates, Griezmann stepped up to the plate in the knockout stages. Before Mbappe’s heroics against Argentina, he was the one to open the scoring. He was elected man of the match against the stubborn Uruguay.
‘Grizi’, as he’s called by his teammates, provides when he doesn’t score. Two goals scored by the center backs Varane & Umtiti were assisted by the Atletico Madrid man. And when Croatia equalized in the final, it was Griezmann and his fortnite celebration that reinstated the lead for the Blues. A lead that they didn’t lose again. Griezmann won the Bronze Ball after a fabulous World Cup along with the tag of ‘World Champion’.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
The little magician of Belgium wasn’t always known to scoring goals. But in the World Cup, he finished as the third top scorer with 3 goals. He scored the goal that put ensured Belgium’s best ever finish in a World Cup. But it’s not just about goals.
Against Brazil, Hazard showed the world his other side of the game. Throughout the game, Hazard held up the ball as good as a proper “Number 9”. One may point out to the numerous counter attack opportunities he may have squandered, but what was important was the breaking up of the rhythm of Brazil’s play. He was also effective in keeping the ball as well. Against England, he was once again an all-rounder. And the goal was just an icing on the cake. For his exceptional contributions, Hazard snapped up the Silver Ball as the second best player of the tournament. Once again, Hazard has proved that he’s here to become the best in the world.
Honourable Mentions: GK: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), DF: Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier (England), MF: Paul Pogba (France), Ivan Rakitic (Croatia), FW: Harry Kane (England), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium).