The group stage took a while to get interesting, but once they picked up the pace, they were gripping. The last two weeks have given us some incredible drama, and we hope for more of the same.
Now it’s time for the knockout phase, and this is where things get REALLY interesting. There’s no more margin for error – if you slip up just once, it’s all over.
With all that excitement to come, let’s look at who our standout performers have been. Here is our World Cup Team of the Group Stage.
Wojciech Szczesny (GK) – Poland just about managed to qualify for the next round, squeezing in ahead of Mexico in second place on goal difference. And, had it not been for Wojciech Szczesny, they wouldn’t have even come close.
The 32-year-old made several vital saves, including two from the penalty spot. He kept Salem Al-Dawsari out in his side’s 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia and also denied Lionel Messi from 12 yards.
Achraf Hakimi (RB) – Morocco have been one of the surprise packages of the tournament. They have picked up seven points – a tally matched only by Netherlands and England.
Achraf Hakimi has been a huge part of this, contributing heavily at both ends of the pitch. He registered a brilliant assist for Youssef En-Nesyri in their 2-1 triumph against Canada, and was part of a backline that conceded just once.
Harry Souttar (CB) – Very few people fancied Australia to do much at this tournament. And when they fell to a 4-1 defeat in their opener, their chances of qualification looked incredibly slim.
But the Socceroos bounced back in fine fashion, recording 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark. Harry Souttar was crucial in both of these results, making several impressive tackles, blocks, and clearances.
Josko Gvardiol (CB) – Josko Gvardiol was one of a few youngsters expected to make an impact at this World Cup. So far, he has not let anyone down.
The 20-year-old has been at the heart of a Croatian defence that kept two clean sheets from three, conceding just once in the process. He has drawn widespread praise for his performances, and could soon earn himself a big-money transfer.
Theo Hernandez (LB) – Heading into this tournament, Theo Hernandez wasn’t Didier Deschamps’ first-choice left-back. But an injury to brother Lucas forced him into the starting XI, and he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
The AC Milan man has been frightening down the left-hand side. He has picked up two assists in two games, setting up Adrien Rabiot and Kylian Mbappe against Australia and Denmark respectively.
Marcus Rashford (RM) – Another who wasn’t in his manager’s first-choice line-up, Marcus Rashford looks to have played his way into Gareth Southgate’s starting XI with some terrific displays off the bench. Despite being a striker or left-winger by trade, the forward has shown his best stuff on the right.
In England’s emphatic victory over Iran, Rashford came on as a substitute and made an instant impact, cutting inside and finishing with his first touches of the game. He got his opportunity to start in their third group stage game against Wales, where he scored a brace to secure his side’s progression to the knockouts.
Casemiro (CM) – Brazil are currently the bookies’ favourites for the trophy, and their early performances have only enhanced this belief. In their tough clashes with Serbia and Switzerland, they dominated from the first whistle, facing zero shots on target across both fixtures.
Casemiro was the man controlling things from the heart of midfield. Additionally, he struck a late winner in the latter game, finding the top corner via a small deflection.
Bruno Fernandes (CM) – Completing a hat-trick of Manchester United stars in midfield, Bruno Fernandes has played a huge part in Portugal’s strong start to the tournament. He kicked off his World Cup with two assists against Ghana, setting up Joao Felix and Rafael Leao in a 3-2 victory.
Then, he bagged a brace (unless you believe Cristiano Ronaldo) in his country’s 2-0 win over Uruguay. At the moment, he is the only player to have multiple goals and assists, racking up two in each category.
Kylian Mbappe (LM) – Four years after announcing himself at the 2018 World Cup, Kylian Mbappe is back and shining on the biggest stage. The pacey forward has been the main man in a France side that look back to their best.
In the opening game, he got himself a goal and an assist in an emphatic 4-1 win against Australia. He followed this up with another standout performance, netting twice to defeat Denmark 2-1.
Cody Gakpo (ST) – We’ve spoken about three current Man Utd players already. Now, it’s time to talk about a potential future one.
The hype around Cody Gakpo has amplified tenfold since the beginning of the World Cup. He is one of just two players to score in all three games, striking against Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar.
Alvaro Morata (ST) – The other player to score in all three games? Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard appears to have earned a place in Luis Enrique’s starting line-up with some of his most prolific form in front of goal.
He began with a goal and an assist off the bench in Spain’s 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica, and continued with another off the bench against Germany. His first start of the competition came against Japan, where he headed home an early opener.
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