Not much can happen in Sunday’s final to sway opinions about Russia 2018’s outstanding stars. This is my team of the tournament, lined up in a 4-3-3 formation.
1- Thibaut Courtois: I am part of a Chelsea WhatsApp fans group in which every one of us agrees Belgium keeper Courtois’ World Cup performances surpass anything they’ve ever seen in Chelsea colours. His one handed save to deny Neymar was just one of several that put him in my team ahead of Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa.
2- Yerry Mina: Three goals in as many games, all of them headed by Cafeteros hard man Mina wins him a place in my back four, ahead of one of the tournament’s revelations – France’s Benjamin Pavard.
3- Yuto Nagatomo: Blue Samurai left back Yuto Nagatomo was a real flyer as his side came within minutes of eliminating Belgium from the World Cup. Nagatomo’s energy on the overlap wins him a place ahead of Colombian Johan Mujica.
4- John Stones: Three Lions defensive lynchpin Stones has been monumental for Gareth Southgate’s trailblazers. With two goals to his name, he is in my side ahead of team mate Harry Maguire because the latter was out jumped by Yerry Mina in England’s 1-1 draw with Colombia.
5- Raphael Varane: During Russia 2018, French maestro Varane has time and again proved that the bigger the game, the better he is. His display in France’s semifinal victory over Belgium was from the top drawer.
6- Ngolo Kante: Les Bleus midfield workhorse Kante is the fulcrum on which Didier Deschamps’ finalists are built. Trophies always to follow the Chelsea man wherever he goes, which is a strong pointer to Sunday’s outcome.
7- Eden Hazard: Despite putting himself under unnecessary pressure by repeatedly referring to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Belgium skipper Hazard blossomed in Russia. His goals involvement makes him my choice ahead of Peru’s Andre Carrillo.
8- Luca Modric: Croatia skipper Modric carried his team’s leadership mantle with distinction. His two goals from midfield are a scant reflection of how dominant he’s been in Croatia’s best World Cup since 1998 when Davor Suker’s goals helped them reach the last four.
9- Harry Kane: No team of the tournament would be complete without the competition’s leading scorer Kane. The Three Lions skipper has led from the front in England’s best World Cup year in decades.
10- Kylian Lottin Mbappe: French youngster Mbappe has illuminated Russia 2018 with a string of captivating displays, most notable of which was in the Round Of 16 victory against Argentina when he was literally unplayable. Comparisons with Thierry Henry aren’t far fetched. Mbappe is a gem.
11- Denis Cheryshev: Russian wide man Cheryshev won many admirers by forcing his way into the team and then showing his compatriots how it should be done. The Villarreal star’s four goals are all among contenders for the tournament’s best.