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2018 FIFA World Cup | The Dream XI from group stages

The Statesman’s Team of the Group Stages looks like this. What’s your Dream XI?

Prithviraj Dev | New Delhi |

Take a deep breath, for after two weeks of non-stop footballing action, the 2018 FIFA World Cup has come to the halfway stage and the dust is beginning to clear.

Pre-tournament favourites and defending champions Germany have been sent packing, while most of the other big guns have barely scraped past to the knockout stages.

It’s been the most open World Cup in recent memory, with many an upset that has sent the bookmakers scurrying to recover their losses, but the rollercoaster ride in Russia has delighted football fans for the most part.

Before the pre-quarters commence, let’s take a look at the The Statesman’s team of the group stages, in a 4-3-3 formation:

Goalkeeper: Hannes Þór Halldórsson (Iceland)

Yes, Iceland conceded five goals in three games and finished dead last in their group, but Halldórsson was a standout option even as some of his vaunted teammates failed to live up to their billings.

Like the rest of his compatriots, this was his World Cup debut, but the 6’4 shot-stopper never once looked like he was overawed by the occasion.

Ask Lionel Messi and Co, if you don’t believe it but Haldorsson didn’t make life easy for any of their opponents and had it not been for some of his saves at full-stretch, the Albiceleste might just have sailed through their group.

Left-back: Lucas Hernandez (France)

Coming into the tournament, most expected Benjamin Mendy to start for Les Blues, but Atletico Madrid’s Hernandez beat off competition from the Manchester City man to feature in all three games for the European champions.

Playing in his first World Cup, the 22-year-old has been extremely assured at the back and his cool displays have ensured that Dider Deschamps’ men conceded just once (that too, via a penalty) in three games.

Centre-back: Jose Maria Gimenez (Uruguay)

Something about Atletico Madrid and young defenders, isn’t it?

Well, Uruguay’s defence has been rock solid and that’s thanks in no small part to the the 23-year-old Gimenez.

Forming a steely partnership with old dog Diego Godin at the heart of their defence, which is the only yet to concede, the 6’1 centre-back has handled everything thrown at him with consummate ease so far.

Centre-back: Raphael Varane (France)

At one stage, Varane looked like another talent not quite able to live up to his enormous potential, but something clicked and the Real Madrid stopper hasn’t looked back.

The jury is still out on Samuel Umtiti, but Varane has been anything but indecisive at the back and his calming presence at the back has helped Les Blues form a miserly defence.

Hopefully those niggling injuries are firmly a thing of the past and the 25-year-old will soon be placed in the top echelon of central defenders.

Right-back: Kyle Walker (England)

Considering the opposition he’s faced (Panama and Tunisia) and the fact that he operates in a three-man defence for the Three Lions, this may seem like a strange inclusion but the pacey Walker is definitely among the finest right-backs in the business.

Mistakes that dogged his game are faint memories and he’s not the only player who’s managed to maintain his club form for country as well.

Left Midfield: Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man for Brazil.

No, it hasn’t been Neymar, rather his less flashy teammate.

Tite’s side haven’t been fluent in attack, far from it. So it’s safe to say Coutinho’s goals in their opening two games have been worth their weight in gold.

And his masterful assist for Paulinho’s opener against Serbia was a joy to behold too, suggesting Barcelona’s record signing is finding his groove and if the Samba Boys go all the way in Russia, you can bet Coutinho will be pulling the strings.

Centre midfield: Luka Modric (Croatia)

Midfield masterclass after masterclass.

Picking up where he left off for club Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, Modric has tamed the likes of Argentina without breaking a sweat.

His cool penalty in their opener against Nigeria was usual fare, but his golazo against the Albiceleste really turned the clock back a few years.

Anyway, the diminutive maestro doesn’t just make it for his goal tally, but for his ability to effortlessly switch from defence to attack.

Every single time.

Right Midfield: Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)

Modric’s partner in crime for the Croatian national team, Rakitic has always been an under appreciated player at club Barcelona.

His shackling of club mate Lionel Messi, however, didn’t go unnoticed and it’s great to see the industrious midfielder finally get the acclaim he deserves.

An excellent team player and most managers would kill to have the 30-year-old in their time.

Left wing: Eden Hazard (Belgium)

In just two games, Hazard has had quite the impact.

The mazy dribbles were always there, but the goals and assists (2 and one, respectively) have followed too.

Granted, Tunisia and Panama are arguably the weaker of the sides at the World Cup, but they still needed to be beaten, didn’t they?

If this is to be the year Belgium’s Golden Generation emulate Spain’s from eight years past, then expect Hazard to be their shining light.

Centre Forward: Harry Kane (England)

Tottenham Hotspurs’ Golden Boy is finally coming good for England as well.

Like Hazard, he’s not been up against Brazil or Spain, but a hat-trick at the World Cup shouldn’t be taken lighlty, no matter the opposition.

After missing out on the Premier League Golden Boot, Kane looks determined to finish his first World Cup as the top scorer and if the Three Lions can reach even the semi-finals, that is a very big possibility indeed.

Right wing: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

That first game against Spain was something else, wasn’t it?

There’s little Ronaldo hasn’t achieved as of yet and right now, it looks like he’s on a one-man mission to get that elusive World Cup.

Didn’t have the best of games against Iran, but CR7’s treble against La Roja will be talked about for a long, long time.

Also did score the winner against Morocco, so love him or hate him, you can’t not have him in your team.

Substitues:

  1. Fernando Muslera (Uruguay)
  2. Diego Godin (Uruguay)
  3. Yerry Mina (Colombia)
  4. Dani Carvajal (Spain)
  5. N’Golo Kante (France)
  6. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
  7. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)