World Cup 2018: One Underrated Player from Each Semi-Finalist
After Saturday’s games, we now know the teams that will contest the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup: France, Belgium, Croatia and England. Two of those four teams have never won the World Cup while the other two have only won the tournament once while usual giants Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain have crashed out.
The composition of the semi-finalists is certainly surprising, but none of these teams are devoid of talent. Players still in the tournament include Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric, Romelu Lukaku, Antoine Griezmann and Eden Hazard. Naturally, it is those players that have attracted most of the discussion in the run-up to the World Cup. However, each of these semi-finals has a few underappreciated players who have been vital in their run in the tournament.
France - N’Golo Kante
It feels strange to label a former Premier League Player of the Year as ‘underrated’ but it is fitting considering the nature of French team. Much of the discussion surrounding Les Blues have pertained to Kylian Mbappe’s emergence as one of the best players in the world or even Paul Pogba’s industry. However, one player who has matched Mbappe and Pogba is Kante whose performances remain underappreciated.
Defensively, Kante has been among the best defensive midfielders in the tournament. He has done what he does best- make crucial interceptions with 3.4 per game which ranks 3rd in the tournament (and first among players remaining). He has averaged 2.4 tackles per game, 5th among players in the semi-finals. Moreover, unlike most defensive midfielders, Kante doesn’t dive in unnecessarily- winning 75% of his tackles. It is that defensive excellence that has allowed France to sport one of the best defences in the World Cup- only conceding four in the tournament.
What has made Kante so underrated is how his attacking contributions have been ignored. The defensive midfielder has been an excellent passer as he has made an average of 60.6 passes per game, tied for 5th in the tournament among players remaining. Yet, his passing continues to be efficient- with an 89.4% pass success percentage. Such passing excellence (along with his usual defensive brilliance) will be key for France if they are to win their second World Cup.