With the semi-finals upon us and finally some hope for an English side that has far exceeded expectations to potentially return as heroes, it’s important to not overlook fantastic individual performances on the biggest stage of world football. So I’ll be giving my team of the quarterfinals and acknowledging some of those standout performers.
GK: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium vs Brazil)
With many of the favourites already eliminated from the World Cup, Belgium lined up against one of the few remaining favourites for the title. Courtois and his Belgian defence would have to deal with a Brazilian onslaught with Neymar, Coutinho, Willian and Jesus all hungry for goals. He is considered one of the world’s best and proved it with one of the best individual displays of the tournament. He made multiple top-class saves and nine in total, the most by any goalkeeper in the competition so far. His heroic saves to deny spectacular efforts from Coutinho and Neymar helped Belgium to hold an impressive 2-1 victory over Brazil.
CB: Harry Maguire (England vs Sweden)
Southgate’s three-man defensive structure raised some questions during the lead up to the World Cup but their solidity provided by Maguire, Stones and Walker flanked by the trusty Young and Trippier has paid dividends for England. Maguire has been one of the stand-out performers for England in this campaign despite some doubt early on. His quarter-final performance justified his starting spot for England and he got a deserved goal against the Swedes in the quarters. A bullet header from another England set-piece goal and an impressive defensive display showed why he is so desperately sought after by the top six in the Premier League.
CB: Raphael Varane (France vs Uruguay)
France started the tournament shaky with a lucky win against Australia helped by a penalty and an own goal, a scrappy goal against Peru to get another three points and a goalless draw against Denmark having them progress to the knockout stages unconvincingly. A thriller against Argentina showed Mbappe’s quality but they faced a harder test in the quarterfinals against Uruguay. Griezmann got lucky with his goal but Varane showed his quality with a goal and a clean sheet for his country. His goal was well taken and his defensive display was pivotal to France’s progression with seven clearances and winning 70% of his duels. France must, however, improve for the semi-final match against Belgium as many will argue they’ve been lucky in almost all of their games.
CB: Domagoj Vida (Croatia vs Russia)
Croatia has been very impressive so far this tournament and could potentially reach the World Cup final which would be remarkable. Despite not having to play the strongest of opposition in the knockout stages so far they have already shown their quality in their 3-0 demolition of Argentina in the group stage. In the quarterfinals, they faced an aggressive and hungry Russian side eager for success in front of their own fans. Vida was vital to Croatia’s progression with not only a great defensive performance but also getting a goal in normal time and then emphatically converting a spot kick in the shootout. He has undoubtedly been one of Croatia’s most important players and could surprise England with his quality in the semifinals.
RM: Kieran Trippier (England vs Sweden)
A few months before the World Cup, Kieran Trippier was probably highly doubting his chances of starting as the right back for England considering Kyle Walker’s form but a recent tactical switch from Gareth Southgate has enabled both of them to start for England. England’s set pieces have been outstanding this tournament and Trippier and Young have been responsible for the vast majority. Trippier has been brilliant both offensively and defensively when needed and was heavily involved in the buildup to Dele Alli’s goal cutting the ball back to Lingard who then put in the cross. A clean sheet too is also impressive but he’ll need to be on top of his game against the likes of Perisic, Rebic and Mandzukic in the semifinals.
CM: Jordan Henderson (England vs Sweden)
The Liverpool skipper was disappointed to have missed out on the captaincy for the tournament but that hasn’t stopped him from playing a vital role in the leading and commanding of this inexperienced English side. His ability to control the tempo of the game and spread the play out wide has been a joy to watch. He has adapted his playstyle for Jurgen Klopp over the past couple seasons dropping deeper into a holding role and this has been utilized by Southgate to free up Lingard and Alli in the centre of the park. He hasn’t been getting goals or assists but has been putting in outstanding performances each and every game and has won over many doubters who wouldn’t have picked him to start prior to the tournament.
CM: Luka Modric (Croatia vs Russia)
The Real Madrid maestro has been Croatia’s most influential player so far this tournament and has led by example as captain. Every team needs a world class player to perform at the highest level and guide their country through difficult games and that’s exactly how Modric played against Russia. He dictated the tempo of the match and not only did he provide the assist to Vida’s goal but he converted his penalty in the shootout and ensured that his side maintained focus the entire game. He isn’t used to being a leader at Real Madrid but his overall footballing experience has proved to be so important for the Croatian side that is taking this tournament by storm.
LM: Denis Cheryshev (Russia vs Croatia)
Cheryshev has been one of the standout performers during this World Cup tournament and in front of his own crowd, he has excelled. He started the tournament on the bench but made an instant impact as a substitute against Saudi Arabia and has since been Russia’s star. He scored a screamer in the quarter-final against Croatia and was unlucky to have his tournament end there but his performance against Croatia was brilliant but unfortunately let down by some of his teammates, especially in the shootout. Despite his World Cup campaign coming to an end, his upcoming season could be a breakthrough for him as clubs will be lining up for his signature.
AM: Eden Hazard (Belgium vs Brazil)
Hazard didn’t enjoy the best of campaigns for Chelsea in the 17/18 season but his occasional moments of magic did remind us of the player he is. He’s shown that again this World Cup and his standout performance against Brazil isn’t the first time he’s stepped up for his country. He was named the captain for Belgium and has proven that to be a smart choice by Martinez. He didn’t provide any goals or assists in this game by succeeded 100% of his dribbles, won 20 duels, and had a 77% pass completion rate. Not only that but he drew four fouls and guided his team to a memorable victory over Brazil and will undoubtedly be France’s biggest threat alongside De Bruyne.
AM: Jesse Lingard (England vs Sweden)
Lingard has been outstanding for England all-tournament recording ridiculously high passing accuracy each game, achieving over 90% in each of his four games. He has played with confidence and his performance against Sweden was the perfect example. He drove at the Swedish defence, caused problems and also had the intelligence to drop deep and find space where no one else did. He was brilliant on the ball and played an inch-perfect cross to Dele Alli for England’s second. Lingard played expertly well and thoroughly deserves this place in the team of the quarterfinals.
ST: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium vs Brazil)
Despite failing to score which is unusual for his campaign so far, Romelu Lukaku played brilliantly in a slightly modified Belgium set up. With Hazard going up top with Lukaku in the absence of Dries Mertens, the pair shifted wide allowing De Bruyne to play in the False Nine role. Lukaku, to his credit, did what he needed to do. He ran at the Brazilians the whole game and tired them, his strength and power allowed him to pick the ball up deep and dominate the Brazilian midfield and defence which was what lead to the second Belgian goal. He provided the assist for Kevin de Bruyne and his lack of goals in the game shouldn’t be looked into too much, he remains a massive threat for the French in the semifinals.
So, that’s my best 11 from the quarterfinal stage of the FIFA World Cup 2018. What are your thoughts on my team and would you make any changes? Let me know who I missed in the comments or tweet us @AllOutFootball_ using the #AOF.