WORLD CUP TEAM
All hail Cup’s feistiest, fastest and fittest stars
Moscow — After a thrilling World Cup, AFP sport reporters have picked their top players of the tournament, based on all 64 matches played in Russia.
Thibaut Courtois: Chelsea’s giant goalkeeper was a dominant presence for Roberto Martinez’s team in Russia. He produced one of the saves of the tournament when he leapt to his left to tip over a Neymar curler in the dying seconds of the quarterfinal against Brazil to keep the score at 2-1.
Thomas Meunier: If Belgium had been able to field the suspended Meunier for their semi-final against France, the outcome might have been different, as France’s players admitted themselves. If proof were needed, the Paris Saint-Germain attacking left-back scored in Belgium’s victory against England in the third-place playoff.
Raphaël Varane: Varane came to the World Cup having just won his fourth Champions League medal with Real Madrid. He and Samuel Umtiti enhanced their reputation during the tournament, giving France defensive solidity and helping the side keep clean sheets against Uruguay and Belgium.
Kieran Trippier: When Tottenham’s Trippier scored a fantastic free kick early in the semifinal against Croatia, Gareth Southgate’s young team appeared to be heading for their first World Cup final since 1966. Alongside John Stones and Harry Maguire, Trippier epitomises England’s new generation of ball-playing, pacey defenders.
Paul Pogba: Manchester United midfielder Pogba came to Russia after an underwhelming season under Jose Mourinho, during which he was left out a number of times. But under Deschamps, Pogba anchored the midfield with N’Golo Kante, giving players around him licence to go forward.
N’Golo Kante: As always the unsung hero, Chelsea’s Kante is certainly not underestimated in his dressing room. The French players treat him as a lucky charm and he rarely lets them down, doing the dirty work in front of the defence while others are able to showcase their skills further forward.
Philippe Coutinho: Brazil looked like they were picking up momentum at the World Cup until they ran into Belgium in the quarterfinals. While Neymar blew hot and cold, Barcelona’s Coutinho was a constant attacking threat, scoring a wonderful curling goal against Switzerland in Brazil’s opening match at the World Cup.
Luka Modric: Croatia captain Modric was named player of the tournament after inspiring his side to reach the final in Moscow. The Real Madrid midfielder, who has a vast range of silky skills and an ability to control matches, had a superb match against Argentina and dominated the midfield in the semifinal as England tired.
Kylian Mbappe: Mbappe, just 19, scored twice against Argentina to overshadow Lionel Messi and announce his arrival as a superstar. His goal in the final was the cherry on the top and the Paris Saint-Germain forward received the young player of the year award.
Eden Hazard: Hazard proved in Belgium’s thrilling last-16 win over Japan and then the coming-of-age quarterfinal victory against Brazil that he can unlock defences.
Mario Mandzukic: The 32-year-old forward was the warrior at the heart of Croatia’s run to the final. The Juventus man nipped in ahead of England defender John Stones to score the winning goal in the semifinal and send his nation into uncharted territory.