Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because it happened. Yes, this mushy cliche is usually reserved for the breakdown of a summer love story but it is every bit as applicable here. The World Cup has been amazing, far better than even the greatest optimist could have thought but now we have the tough reality of three weeks of nothing. I don’t count pre-season games as something by the way. It was so rough last summer I wrote a book. Anyway, before we start thinking about August, here’s my Team of the Tournament. It will follow the usual style of my Team of the Weekend entries – a mix of the sublime and ridiculous.
Hugo Lloris – I was torn between three for this spot. Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty right at the end of extra time in front of his Dad. Imagine doing that! I’m chuffed if I can pull off a reverse parking manoeuvre in front of mine. Denmark lost that shootout to Croatia and Danijel Subasic, who was my second nomination. Subasic saved vital penalties against Denmark and then Russia despite having cramp in his arse at the end of normal time. But the jersey goes to Hugo Lloris who summed up his career across seven games. A mixture of sublime saves and iffy moments was underlined by trying to dribble around Mario Mandzukic on his own six-yard line. Whoops. Quite fitting really that the last goal of this World Cup was utterly ridiculous. Still, he lifted the trophy, so who’s laughing now?
Benjamin Pavard – What a hero this guy is. Firstly, he has been robbed for BBC’s goal of the tournament but that’s another story. I’ll openly admit I didn’t even know this chap’s name heading into the tournament but the Stuttgart man has been incredible, not just for his great goal but his all-round displays. In France’s opening game Mark Lawrenson decided he was rubbish and spent the whole game groaning his every touch – not like Lawro to be wrong though, is it?
Harry Maguire – This should really be Kieran Trippier who has been exceptional but I’ve opted for Maguire as I think he’s played a key part in the whole “football’s coming home” movement. Basically, Maguire was in the stands four years ago and turned up for his first England game with his stuff in carrier bags. His teammates call him slabhead and he’s the man of the people in my eyes. Scored against Sweden too. A hero.
Nacer Chadli – Is he a defender? Of course not, but if Roberto Martinez is going to field him at fullback then so am I. Of course he ended up as a wing back, I think, nobody really knows with Martinez but the man who made only 6 appearances for West Brom ended up with a bronze medal and goal of the tournament (BBC). Incredible turn of events all round.
Luka Modric – Player of the tournament and an entirely sensible pick. Gave absolutely everything to get his team to the final in presumably his last World Cup, but…is it just me or did he turn his back on Pogba’s goal in the final? Nevermind. Deservedly the golden ball winner.
Denis Cheryshev – I can’t claim to pay loads of attention to the Russian national team but young Denis didn’t even start the tournament in the team yet had his own goal of the tournament competition. He ended up with 4 goals, the last of which was a beautiful curling effort against Croatia in the quarterfinals. Goodness knows why he isn’t a regular starter but he might have some suitors this summer.
Eric Dier – Dier was actually quite hopeless when he came on against Colombia but he wrote his name into England history forever by scoring the decisive penalty to see England win a penalty shootout, their first in World Cup history. This all went to Dier’s head as he tried to play like Pirlo in the 3rd place playoff game, measuring a dink over Courtois that was hacked off the line. Moreover, he will always be remembered as the man who made us appreciate Jordan Henderson.
Manuel Neuer – A goalkeeper!? In midfield??? No, I haven’t gone mad but Manuel certainly did. Germany’s hilarious group stage exit was rubber-stamped by Neuer taking it on himself to play in central midfield for the closing stages of their defeat to South Korea. The results were, of course, disastrous…possession lost, Son through one on one and 2-0. Some things just can’t be explained
Nikola Kalinic – You know, I bet Kalinic regrets refusing to come on as a sub in Croatia’s first group game against Nigeria. Sure, he wasn’t to know they were going to reach the final but an apparent back injury was enough for Kalinic to remain seated and be evicted from the Croatian camp. I wonder if he still gets a medal?
Kylian Mbappe – There’s no doubt we witnessed the birth of a superstar at this World Cup, of course, we already knew he was brilliant but it’s one thing doing it for PSG but to turn up on the world stage and be brilliant is quite another. The Argentina game was really the start of France’s golden run, Mbappe’s pace terrifying an ageing Argentine defence (and midfield) and capping it off with a goal in the final. Scoring in a World Cup final would be enough for me, but he’s only 19 so he’s got to find a new motivation. Probably move to Real Madrid and win lots of things.
Neymar Jr – Firstly, how often does Neymar get confused with his Dad? Surely not enough to warrant the Jr on the back of his shirt. This was meant to be Neymar’s World Cup as he lead Brazil to glory and righted the wrongs of 2014, but instead, he spent the whole thing acting like a petulant child and overreacting to every foul on him. Even with VAR available to point out these numerous flaws, the rolling around continued and everybody lost sympathy with him. I wonder if he’s ever read The Boy Who Cried Wolf or even the Brazilian equivalent? That’s Christmas sorted.
Roberto Martinez – I wanted to put Oscar Tabarez in here to make up for the lack of Uruguay players but I’ve opted for Martinez because EVERYBODY IS A WINGBACK. He’s learned nothing from his Wigan days, though he has far better players than Conor Sammon now. Anyone who has Thierry Henry and Graeme Jones as coaches is obviously a bit daft but I do wonder how their team meetings went. Did Jones ever disagree with Henry? How could he? Anyway, cheers Roberto. It’s been a laugh.
I’ll be back in the domestic season with Team of the Weekend every Monday, I’m off to find something to do for three weeks. Bye for now.