FIFA 2018 World Cup: The best XI from semifinals
FIFA 2018 World Cup: The best XI from semifinals
And then there were just two! France reached their third World Cup final of the last six editions as a Samuel Umtiti header sunk Belgium while Croatia fought back from a goal down to beat England in extra-time for their first ever final as an independent nation.
The semi-final fixtures certainly lived up to the billing, delivering some memorable individual performances from all the four factions. Here’s how these stars would stack up in a combined XI:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (France)
While the French squad is packed to the rafters with talent, the goalkeeper was thought to be one area of concern for Les Blues (19/2 favourites to win the World Cup) coming into tournament. But Lloris successfully shrugged off all challenges of last season to come up clutches in the competition. He continued his fine form in the semi-finals, making 5 saves to keep Belgium at arm’s length. His full-stretched dive to deny his Tottenham teammate Toby Alderweireld early on in the game was the pick of the bunch.
Right-back: Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia)
Not the biggest of names in the Croatian squad, but he certainly was that night against England when he proved to be immense in the historic win. He cleared a John Stones header off the line in the first-half with his great positional awareness to keep England from doubling the lead, and then laid an inch-perfect cross inside the area for Ivan Perisic to equalise later after the break. Vrsaljko was virtually everywhere; a beacon of energy and industry. His 98 touches on the ball was the joint highest in the match while only one player put up more crosses than his 9.
Centre-back: Raphael Varane (France)
Varane set France on their way to the semis with the opener against Uruguay, and this time, put in an incredible shift at the back to frustrate the fearsome Belgian attack. He made 6 clearances and one interception, whilst also winning 2 aerial duels to keep out the likes of Lukaku, Hazard and co.
Centre-back: Samuel Umtiti (France)
After Varane, it was his centre-back partner Umtiti’s turn to get on the scoresheet as he headed in Griezmann’s cross to put France on their way to the finals. Besides, the Barcelona defender also turned in a solid display at the back. He also drove the ball out with great energy and was the only one to make more clearances than Varane with 7.
Left-back: Lucas Hernandez (France)
Hernandez was quiet in the semi-final versus Belgium. But quiet means just no great shakes, though he did his bit in the match and was called into action especially in the latter half of the game. He did challenge Mertens on the left and restricted him to just hopeful punts into the box. But what’s worth noting is that Hernandez was the fullback with the most passes in the final third in the game with 5.
Defensive midfielder: N’Golo Kante (France)
The pass master was at it again, running into spaces to provide a constant outlet of passes whilst also helping out at the back as an extra personnel in defense. He made 2 successful tackles, 2 interceptions and also maintained an admirable pass success of 91 percent.
Left midfielder: Eden Hazard (Belgium)
The Belgian juggernaut was successfully halted by France, but Hazard kept pushing until the last minute. He got the ball forward with his magical dribbles – he completed 11 in the game – and also laid a key pass. Despite the eventual defeat, he was the creative light for the Red Devils and registered an astonishing 96% pass success! His all round game can be signified by his contributions in the defense when France were on the ball, making 2 tackles and interceptions each.
Right midfielder: Kevin Trippier (England)
Trippier wasn’t even a regular with Tottenham until last season. But Danny Rose’s season long injury was a blessing in disguise as he not only became a first-team regular, but also rose to become an important member of the side. He continued the rich vein of form in the World Cup, and scored a beautiful freekick to put the Three Lions ahead after just 6 minutes in the game. He was the brightest player going forward and laid 4 key passes in the match, more than any player on the field. He was great defensively too, making a game high 3 clearances and 2 interceptions.
Right-winger: Kylian Mbappe (France)
It’s truly something special when you’re the best player in a match despite neither scoring nor assisting. And even special is an understatement when the player in question is Mbappe. The PSG starlet stole the show yet again with his electrifying pace and almost bagged an early lead when he was put through on goal before Courtois came forward to collect it. His 7 dribbles in the game were bettered only by Hazard while he laid 6 key passes, at least twice more than any other player.
Left-winger: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Perisic has never been a prolific goalscorer, but somehow finds a way to be one when with Croatia (33/1 favourites to win the World Cup) in the international tournaments. The Inter Milan star drew his side level by expertly latching onto Vrsaljko’s cross, before laying off for Mandzukic to score the winner deep into extra time. He even hit the post at one point, but it mattered little as he was the catalyst to his side’s victory.
Striker: Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
Mandzukic may not have scored many goals at the World Cup, but he’s still integral to the attack given his work rate and intelligent movements. He perhaps scored the most important goal in the country’s history when he struck 5 minutes from time to send Croatia in the World Cup final.