The sporting spectacle that football fans were waiting for with bated breath for months has left us dazed. The FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia exceeded expectations as a mile, as we saw loads of everything to leave fans satisfied. We witnessed numerous upsets with some of the biggest teams and players failing to showcase their talents and we also saw young stars rise to stardom. The action on the pitch was thrilling as we saw records tumble with penalties and own-goals touching figures never seen before. The Video Assistant Referee caused its fair share of controversies, but in the end it was instrumental in enabling the game to carry on smoothly.
One major shock was the success of England and the English Premier League players. The English Premier League has often been criticized for not having the numbers to back in terms of performance, despite being the most popular and marketed league in the sport. The English team made it to the World Cup semi-final for the first time in 28 years, and a large contingent of 40 players from the Premier League represented the four nations that made it to the final four. That's way more than the La Liga, which had only 12 players representing the four teams in the semifinals.
The English national team bowed out of the World Cup with their heads held high and so do quite a few of the players playing in the English Premier League. In this article, we analyze the best playing eleven from the World Cup comprising of only Premier League players-
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
This is possibly the most difficult position to decide in this eleven. English keeper Jordan Pickford became a hero back in his country after his heroics in the penalty shootout and his solid keeping throughout the tournament. The World Cup was lifted by French and Tottenham's skipper Hugo Lloris. However, the Golden Glove was deservingly presented to Belgium shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois.
Courtois was spectacular throughout the tournament and his most exceptional performance came in that historic triumph over Brazil in the quarterfinals. The Chelsea man also kept 3 clean-sheets in the 7 matches. The 26-year old was excellent in the semifinal loss against France as well, and it was sad that he ended up on the losing side.
Courtois departed from Russia with his reputation enhanced even further and his displays along with David de Gea's mistakes mean that he's a strong contender to make the move from England to Real Madrid.
Right Back: Kieran Trippier (England)
This surely is the breakthrough tournament for the young lad from Bury. Trippier was England's player of the tournament and would also feature on most people's Team of the tournament. The Tottenham man featured as a right wing-back in the England eleven, and he was composed in defense. But the most impressive aspect of his game was his attacking play. With Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling struggling for form, England were unable to create too much in open play. However, most of the service came from Trippier's ball from the right flank.
The 27-year old was also England's set-piece taker and his deliveries created havoc in the opposition defense. This was illustrated by the fact that most of England's goal came from set-pieces. Trippier's deliveries were immaculate and they were also converted well by the likes of Harry Kane, John Stones and Harry Maguire.
However, the best moment of his tournament came in the semifinal against Croatia. The man referred to as 'Bury Beckham', had his moment of glory as he scored a sensational free-kick to give England the lead. Sadly, it was not to be as Croatia clawed their way back to send England out of the tournament.
Centre Back: Harry Maguire (England)
Harry Maguire came into the tournament unsure of whether he would get the chance to start or not. England manager Gareth Southgate though, went for Maguire ahead of the more experienced Gary Cahill and Phil Jones. Maguire's showings in the tournament vindicated Southgate's decision as he formed a solid defense alongside Kyle Walker and John Stones, who both are extremely erratic.
Maguire hardly put a foot wrong throughout the tournament as he was assuring at the back and was good with his ball distribution too. Maguire also caused the opposition defenders headache during set-pieces and it was his header that put England ahead in the quarterfinal against Sweden.
Maguire's fantastic World Cup has caught the attention of the top clubs in England, and there's a strong chance that he would move out of Leicester on a big money transfer this summer.
Toby Alderweireld (Belgium)
Dejan Lovren might have taken the second centre-back position, but his lacklustre performance in the final means that he slips behind Alderweireld in this team. Toby Alderweireld formed a formidable back three with his Tottenham compatriot Jan Vertonghen and Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany. Alderweireld who has been one of the best centre-backs over the past three years was back to his best in Russia, after an injury-hit club season.
The Spurs man went about his job in an unspectacular manner, as he was always in the right place at the right moment thanks to his fantastic reading of the game. His presence meant that Thomas Meunier was given the freedom to raid in the opposition half while attacking. The 29-year old is seeking a move out of Spurs and his performances here in Russia will interest the big clubs looking for a commanding centre-back.
Left Back: Jan Vertonghen (Belgium)
A shortage of options in this position has meant that we have got in a makeshift left back in this team. Vertonghen, whose preferred position is in the centre of the defense, has filled in at left-back numerous time before for club and country. Vertonghen, who was named in the PFA Team of the Year, carried his fine form into the World Cup in Russia. The 31-year old formed a solid back three alongside Alderweireld and Kompany. His assurance at the back made up for Belgium's weakness on the left flank as Chadli and Carrasco were not at their best in Russia.
Vertonghen's distribution from the back is top class and his balls into midfield continued to open space for the pacy attackers in front. His excellent reading of the game and positional awareness enabled him to get the better of the pacy attackers. His strength allows his to make recoveries despite his pace reducing with age. He also scored the crucial first goal in their second round comeback win from 2-0 down against Japan.
Central Defensive Midfielder: N'Golo Kante (France)
N'Golo Kante's phenomenal career continues to astound us. In three years, the little man rose from the sixth to first division of French football. After getting a move to Leicester City in England, the man stunningly played a pivotal role in two consecutive shock Premier League triumphs with different clubs, and he collected numerous individual accolades on the way.
The man has been invaluable whichever team he has played for and he showed his immense worth again in Russia for France. The Frenchman was key in snuffing out dangerous attacks, and his presence as a defensive shield also allowed Paul Pogba to express himself in a way that he has been unable to for Manchester United.
Kante is not a player who is the most pleasing on the eye. He would not even figure in the goals and assists chart, but would be there at the top of everything that relates to the defensive aspect of the game, despite being a midfielder. The Chelsea star possesses bundles and bundles of energy and at times it feels as if he's there all over the pitch. He doesn't mind doing all the dirty work for his team and he does it with utmost dedication. Kante is one player every team dreams to have.
Central Midfield: Paul Pogba (France)
This is the tournament where Pogba shut all his critics with influential showings. Paul Pogba has often found himself on the firing end since his move to Manchester United, but he has gone on to produce career-defining performances, which will have a special place in the hearts of the French fans.
Pogba was allowed to play a more attacking role in the knock-out stages by Didier Deschamps, thanks to Kante's presence and the box-to-box midfielder made full use of that freedom. He began with a good game against Australia and he was rewarded with a lucky goal, which was later credited as an own-goal by the Australian defender. Two lacklustre French displays against Peru and Denmark made Deschamps realize his mistake and he let Pogba bombard into the opposition box. He caused countless problems to the Argentine defense and his teammates benefitted from those. Yet, he came into the final without a goal to his name and doubts still hovering above him.
It was in the biggest game of his career, that he showed the world his full potential. The 25-year old orchestrated all the attacks from midfield and his runs into the box caused the Croatian defense lot of trouble. It was in one such attack that he decided the tournament. His left-foot curler into the top corner killed Croatia's spirit and instilled belief that France were indeed going to be champions.
Pogba's importance to this team could be missed behind the numbers as it was Mbappe and Griezmann who stole all the headlines. But, it was Pogba who was the architect of most of the French attack with his masterful control and passing.
Right Wing: Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
This is a year where de Bruyne has grown from a talented midfielder to one who is the best in the business. Kevin de Bruyne controls the pace and tempo of the game like Paul Scholes and Xavi used to and yet he has an attacking influence that the best number 10s in the world do. After a fantastic record-breaking season for Manchester City, de Bruyne carried his excellent form into the World Cup. The Manchester City man alongside Hazard and Lukaku formed a formidable front three that left defenders worried.
His ability to pick the most outrageous passes were on display in Russia and he was the orchestrator behind most of Belgium's goals. He manufactured most of the goals in the Group stages and then turned it on in the knockout stages. With the score deadlocked at 2-2 in the final stages of the second round clash against Japan, it was his breathtaking run that created the final minute goal that took Belgium into the quarterfinals. However, his most influential performance came in the quarterfinal against favorites Brazil.
It was the 27-year old's rocket from outside the box that gave Belgium a 2-0 lead, which ultimately proved crucial as Belgium just about sneaked through. The only off-game that he had was in the semifinal against France, and that proved crucial as Belgium missed were unable to find the back of the net in his absence. He ended the tournament in fine style by providing the assist for Thomas Meunier's opener in the third-place match against England.
Left Wing: Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Eden Hazard was named as Belgium's captain, despite Vincent Komany's presence in the side and the former led from the front to take the Belgium side to their best ever finish. The current Belgian team is considered to be one of the world's best and inarguably the country's best ever, thus earning the tag of 'Golden Generation'. This was exemplified by their fleet-footed marauding skipper- Hazard. Hazard, was arguably the most consistent player of the tournament, as it's hard to think of a game where he was not troubling the opposition. He tortured every defense in his way and ended the tournament with three goals and two assists.
Hazard's fine form on the left wing allowed Lukaku to blossom and he stretched the attacks with his lightning pace. He was also as clinical as ever, and formed a scary front three alongside Lukaku and de Bruyne. Hazard did everything his manager asked him to right from creating attacks, to delivering passes to scoring goals. But one notable aspect of his game was to win tactical fouls in the final third to create set-pieces or consume more time, and this is highlighted by the 27 fouls he won. Until their exit, Belgium were definitely the most thrilling team to watch and it was their skipper who was dominating proceedings.
The Chelsea forward was also a strong contender for the Golden Ball, and he might have well walked away with the prize had Belgium made it to the final. Yet, he heads back with his head held high, having made himself the darling of the nation.
Hazard's sensational performances have also attracted the attention of Real Madrid, and Hazard is the top contender to replace Cristiano Ronaldo's massive shoes at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Forward: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Romelu Lukaku has always been a prolific goal scorer for club and country. He was amongst the goals yet again in this World Cup, with four goals under his belt. However, it was Lukaku’s work off the ball and his ability to link up with his fellow attackers which caught a lot of people’s attention in Russia. Lukaku display attributes of his game that we haven't seen too much of before, and that'll surely aid his progress. An integral member of the star-studded Belgian attacking unit, Lukaku’s speed and power up front helped to propel the Red Devils’ dream run to the semi-finals.
Lukaku was the perfect foil for Hazard and de Bruyne, and he began the tournament with consecutive braces in demolitions of Panama and Tunisia. He had a terrible game against Japan in the second-round clash, yet it was his important fake that led to Chadli's last minute winner. He couldn't find the net in the knockout stages, but his overall play showed a marked improvement in this tournament.
Forward: Harry Kane (England)
Harry Kane was surprisingly named as England captain ahead of the more obvious choice of Jordan Henderson. Kane was named as the skipper to carry his team from the front, much like Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski do for their respective countries. Kane had an extremely strange tournament, where he ended with the Golden Ball, despite not influencing the game too much in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Kane began in devastating fashion with a brace against Tunisia, which included a minute in the dying stages of the game. He then scored a hattrick in a hammering over Panama, to finish with 5 goals in the group stages.
He scored the crucial penalty in the second round clash to put England in front against Colombia, and also converted another one in the penalty shootout that followed. But, that sadly was the end of it all. England sneaked through over Sweden but then fell in the semi-final hurdle against Croatia, with Kane drawing blank. He failed to find the net in the third place game against Belgium too, and left the World Cup with the feeling that he failed to deliver in the moments where it actually mattered.