World Cup Team of the Group Stage

World Cup XI of the Group Stage

Tom Lever

GK: Wojciech Szczesny - Poland

Poland progressed through Group C of the World Cup on four points, only behind favourites Argentina. The Juventus number one takes the goalkeeper spot with a portfolio of vital saves to his name, including two penalty saves. Szczesny made 19 saves across the group stage games, which was the highest in the competition.

The ex-Arsenal man kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw vs Mexico in their opener, he also denied his opposition in the second game which was a 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia, Saving a penalty in the 46th minute when his side were 1-0 up.

Then, the 32-year-old was tasked with keeping Argentina’s Lionel Messi out from the spot, which he did successfully. He made 9 saves in the 2-0 defeat and single-handedly kept Poland’s goal difference intact, which was the eventual deciding factor as they qualified for the round of 16 on goal difference ahead of Mexico.

RB: Achraf Hakimi - Morocco

24-year-old Achraf Hakimi has been sensational for top-of-group F Morocco. The highest-performing African nation was only one of three sides to finish on seven points in the group stage, facing European giants Croatia and Belgium along the way. PSG’s right back is known for his pace and attacking ability, yet he has defended extremely well making the most tackles per game in the group stage.

Hakimi provides the perfect balance of attacking and defensive output. The number two helped Morocco keep two clean sheets, with one of them coming in a 2-0 win versus Belgium. They also may have not conceded in the entire group stage if it wasn’t for an own goal against Canada, a game where Hakimi starred and registered an assist.

CB: Harry Souttar - Australia

The biggest surprise package in this world cup is Australia who finished second in Group D, accumulating six points in a tough group including Denmark, France, and Tunisia. The Socceroos beat Tunisia and Denmark 1-0, with brilliant defensive displays from Stoke City’s Harry Souttar. The 6ft 6 man mountain had played only one game in the last year prior to the World Cup due to injury, yet he was able to perform when his nation needed him most.

The 24-year-old impressed with his aerial dominance and great technical ability, especially for someone of his stature. He displayed this in Australia’s first game against France, when he played a perfectly weighted diagonal which they eventually scored from to take an early 1-0 lead. Souttar will have a huge role to play if they are to progress in the tournament, as they face Argentina in the round of 16.

CB: Josko Gvardiol - Croatia

Gvardiol is an incredible talent. At just 20 years old he shows the experience and confidence of a veteran, putting in a player of the match performance in Croatia’s 0-0 draw against Belgium which secured them a spot in the round of 16. A last-ditch tackle on Romelu Lukaku was the highlight, putting his body on the line for his nation.

The Leipzig player’s confidence in possession and progressive actions start a lot of Croatia’s attacks by feeding the ball into their incredibly technical midfield. Croatia finished on five points, keeping two clean sheets, however, they struggled in front of goal, not scoring in two out of three games. Meaning that Croatia needs to be solid defensively as goals are not guaranteed.

LB: Luke Shaw - England

The best-performing side in the group stage was Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions. Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw performed incredibly at the recent European Championships and he has carried his international form into the World Cup. The 27-year-old hasn’t put a foot wrong so far and has helped his team keep two clean sheets in the toughest group at the tournament according to FIFA rankings.

His link-up play and technical ability is underrated, and he often begins attacks with his progressive carries and forward-thinking approach. We have seen his quality in the final third also with his crossing creating many chances, especially in the 6-2 win vs Iran where he registered an assist. The 27-year-old has also provided a threat from dead-ball situations with his delivery from set pieces, however, it seems that Phil Foden has now took that responsibility.

DM: Casemiro - Brazil

When you think of Brazil, your mind instantly goes to the attacking players with flair who are pure entertainers. However, the most important player in this Brazil side is Casemiro. His role in the starting XI gives freedom to all his attacking team mates which allows them to express themselves on the field, without worrying about losing possession. The Manchester United man is the glue to this Brazil side and it was shown in the victories against Serbia and Switzerland.

Casemiro only played the first two games of the group as Brazil had already qualified for the knockouts, which meant that Tite could rotate his squad in round three. The 30-year-old won the game for Brazil in round two against Switzerland with a half-volley which flew into the top right in the 83rd minute. The holding midfielder has provided an attacking threat at the World Cup and he will play a significant role if Brazil are to go far in the tournament.

CM: Antoine Griezmann - France

A tactical tweak by Diddier Deschamps seems to have been a masterstroke so far in Qatar. The Atletico Madrid attacker has been moved into a midfield role which he has excelled in against Australia and Denmark.

Griezmann showcased that he can control games through the midfield by dictating play from deeper positions. The tournament specialist has performed in multiple roles for France, whether that be as a Left winger, a false 9 or a number 10. However, I believe this role allows Griezmann to be more creative and involved in the game.

The French international was the best player on the pitch in the 4-1 win against Australia, making six key passes and creating four big chances. He also played a vital role in France’s 2-1 victory over Denmark, curling in a cross from the right which Mbappe finished, giving France all three points.

CM: Bruno Fernandes - Portugal

Bruno Fernandes carried Portugal through the group stages with two player of the match performances. The number 8 picked up two assists in two minutes against Ghana in their 3-2 victory, slotting in Joao Felix and Rafael Leao on the counter attack to regain their lead in the 78th minute.

Portugal then faced their toughest test in Group H, ‘dark horses’ Uruguay. Bruno scored twice in a 2-0 victory, although Ronaldo will disagree, meaning his nation finished top of their group.

The 28-year-old was rested in Portugal’s 2-1 defeat in round three to South Korea, ending the group stage with four-goal contributions in two games, the joint most in the group stage and highest of all midfielders.

RW: Lionel Messi - Argentina

Argentina were stunned by Saudi Arabia in round one, losing 2-1 after taking the lead early on via a Messi penalty. Argentina had the ball in the back of the net three more times in the first half, but all were ruled out for offside. Even with sustained pressure from the favourites, they were unable to create any chances in the second half.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner silenced the critics against Mexico however, registering a goal and an assist. In the final group stage game versus Poland when Argentina needed to win, Messi showed why he is one of the greatest ever with a stellar performance even though he missed an early penalty.

Captain Messi only needs a World Cup to complete football, and if he continues to perform how he has in the group stage then Argentina will fancy their chances. If the South American side can stay solid at the back, then Messi will win them games on his own.

ST: Cody Gakpo - Netherlands

One of only two players to score in every group stage game is 23-year-old Cody Gakpo. The PSV forward has scored crucial goals vs Senegal and Ecuador, which helped the Netherlands finish top of group A. He is a natural finisher, scoring with his right foot, left foot and his head.

The most in-form player in Europe right now has shown how his versatility can be a useful attribute. In the first game against Senegal, Gakpo played behind the strikers in a number 10 role, often drifting to either side of the field to get involved in play. Whereas in the next two fixtures vs Ecuador and Qatar, the Dutch attacker played in a central role where he can use his elite finishing more frequently. Gakpo’s goals will be vital for the Dutch in the latter stages of the tournament. Without a real goal scorer in the squad, it is time for Gakpo to step up.

LW: Kylian Mbappe - France

Kylian Mbappe is simply unstoppable and was on fire for France in the group stage. Defenders will be petrified at the thought of trying to stop the 23-year-old, with his direct dribbling and blistering pace.

The PSG attacker started his World Cup campaign with a goal and an assist against Australia in a comfortable 4-1 victory. France then faced tough opposition in Denmark, where Mbappe stole the show, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory showing both outrageous trickery and the instinctive movement of a goal poacher. He didn’t start in the last group game defeat to Tunisia but made a quiet cameo for his standards.

The goal machine who already has a World Cup under his belt has it all, but his finishing, dribbling and top-tier decision-making are standout attributes. How do you stop arguably the best player in the world right now?

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