Unpredictable is the best word to describe the World Cup this far. Underdog teams have performed admirably, while powerhouses like Germany have flopped. Relatively unknown players have made a name for themselves and superstars of the game like Harry Kane have shined. Selecting a best XI is tough and will always be debatable, but all these players have shined on the global stage.
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico
Ochoa is the epitome of an enigma. When the World Cup kicks off and he puts on his Mexico kit, his club struggles are pushed aside and he suddenly outshines the top goalkeepers in the game. Mexico’s attack has been exciting, but their defense has been exposed on occasion. Ochoa has bailed them out constantly with 15 saves thus far, and will look to carry his form into Mexico’s elimination game versus Brazil
Defender: Yerry Mina, Colombia
Colombia lost their opening fixture to Japan. Although Japan played well, a lot of this can be attributed to Carlos Sanchez’s early red card. Mina has used his height and frame to his advantage, and has dominated the air. Colombia kept clean sheets versus teams with potent forwards like Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mané. Furthermore, Mina scored the opening goal versus Poland and the winner versus Senegal. Both goals came off of headers, and there was no chance Mina’s marker was going to win the aerial duel in either. The Barcelona man will look to have another world class performance versus England.
Defender: Andreas Granqvist, Sweden
No one thought a 33-year-old defender would lead his team to finish first in a group that included Germany. Although Sweden lost a heartbreaker to the Germans, they kept clean sheets in two victories over Mexico and South Korea. Granqvist has been the emotional leader of this team, and has made his captain qualities quite obvious. Besides his tenacious defending, he has scored two of Sweden’s five goals. Both came from the penalty spot, but it says a lot that Sweden would trust a defender in crucial situations like those.
Defender: José Giménez, Uruguay
Giménez has had the most impressive statistics out of all defenders. He has averaged three tackles, over five interceptions, and over four clearances per game. This, undoubtedly, has played a large part in Uruguay keeping three consecutive clean sheets. Furthermore, Giménez’s stoppage time goal versus Egypt earned Uruguay their first win of the tournament, and led them to earning a full nine points in their group. He’s been on the rise for a while, but has seemed to firmly establish himself as en elite defender.
Honorable mentions: Diego Godín, Uruguay; Dejan Lovren, Croatia; Kieran Trippier, England.
Midfield: Luka Modrić, Croatia
Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise, Modrić has been the most dominant midfielder in the tournament. Croatia eased their way to nine points in their group, in large part due to Modrić’s brilliance. He quickly finds himself controlling the tempo of every game, which has earned Croatia a dark horse reputation. In addition to this, he has scored two goals, including a screamer that sealed Croatia’s win versus Argentina.
Midfield: Ivan Rakitić, Croatia
Rakitić hasn’t allowed Modrić to outshine him for Croatia. Instead, he has been the perfect partner and has formed the most dangerous midfield tandem in the World Cup. His passing has been sublime, and has created several chances for his teammates. His long shots have also been feared by opposing goalkeepers, and so far he has one goal to his name.
Midfield: Aleksander Golovin, Russia
The Russians knew they needed their wonder kid to shine if they were to succeed in any way. If anything, Golovin has already surpassed all expectations. He was admirable in Russia’s first two matches, and although he didn’t shine versus Uruguay, he led the hosts out of their group. His chemistry with Denis Cheryshev and Aleksander Samedov in the attacking midfield has also been something to watch. Golovin has two assists and an outstanding free-kick goal in the tournament to date.
Midfield: Isco, Spain
Spain’s midfield options may be the deepest in the world, but Isco has out shined the pack. He’s been extremely calm on the ball, and in turn has become a major threat in the Spanish attack. Diego Costa has fed off the attacks created by Isco, which allowed Spain to finish first over Portugal in Group B. Besides also scoring a goal, Isco is completing 93 percent of his passes, an absolutely mind-boggling statistic.
Midfield: Philippe Coutinho, Brazil
Coutinho has easily been Brazil’s star of the tournament, even over the likes of Neymar and Thiago Silva. Everything Brazil has done has started through Coutinho, or has at least seen him play a part. He scored Brazil’s opening goal versus Switzerland, and a stoppage time winner versus Costa Rica. Like Isco, Coutinho’s passing has also been insanely accurate, resting at a completion percentage of 91. With two goals and an assist to his name, Coutinho will look to continue his fine form.
Honorable Mentions: Denis Cheryshev, Russia; Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Ronaldo’s hat trick versus Spain has been the best individual performance so far. In a highly anticipated match up, Ronaldo proved why he’s considered the best in the world by many. He also managed to score the winner and only goal versus Morocco. Although he struggled versus Iran’s compact and stubborn defense, he still left the group stage tied for second in the Golden Boot race. Portugal lives and dies through Ronaldo’s production, and he faces another tough task versus Uruguay’s defense.
Forward: Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Lukaku wasn’t used in Belgium’s victory over England, but still has four goals in two matches. He notched braces versus Panama and Tunisia, and it was obvious no defender could overcome his strength and positioning. Although struggling with a foot injury, Lukaku should be set to return in Belgium’s upcoming match versus Japan.
Forward: Harry Kane, England
Kane is the main reason why “It’s coming home” has been a trending phrase across the world. The English have placed all their faith on their striker, and it’s safe to say that it has paid off. Kane’s role is to solely be a threat in the box, and with this he has managed to score five goals in two matches. His hat trick versus Panama was an English player’s first in a World Cup since 1986. England will need Kane to perform again if they hope to overcome a feisty Colombia side.
Honorable Mentions: Diego Costa, Spain; Eden Hazard, Belgium.