It’s team of the tournament time as the 2022 World Cup draws to a close, and this one’s straightforward enough. Only one rule – you can only select one player per country, which is bad news for Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Julian Alvarez.
We imagine they’re devastated.
GK: Andries Noppert (Netherlands)
One of the very best stories of the World Cup. A couple of years ago, a 26-year-old Noppert was an out-of-work goalkeeper who couldn’t get a game in the second tier and was contemplating a career switch to become a very tall policeman. Yet a goalkeeping crisis at Go Ahead Eagles offered Noppert a chance, from where a move to Heerenveen followed and eventually, most absurdly of all, a call-up to the Dutch squad for the World Cup. His international debut was at the World Cup, which remains remarkable despite this particular World Cup being the one World Cup at which such nonsense was at least theoretically possible. And he was great, in a Dutch side that… wasn’t really all that. He faced 22 shots on target and saved 18 of them. His five appearances at this World Cup comprise over 10 per cent of his career professional first-team games.
RB: Sergino Dest (USA)
Always end up skimping on the full-backs in these XIs, don’t you. Under-appreciated, are full-backs. We’re not pretending he pulled up multiple trees in Qatar but he did fine. Better than ‘one appearance all season for Milan on loan from Barcelona’ would lead you to expect, but not quite as good as ‘Manchester United urged to move for USA star’ might.
CB: Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Probably the best centre-back at the tournament despite being so comprehensively mugged off by Lionel Messi in the semi-final. Not the first, won’t be the etc. and besides the game was long gone by then. His composure and game-reading ability at just 20 would mark him out in any team, never mind among Croatia’s old warhorses. Scored a really lovely goal in the third-place play-off, which is one step up from scoring a really lovely goal at five-a-side on a Monday, but still.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Despite Senegal going out in the last 16, only one player has made more clearances than Koulibaly in Qatar, and that man is his centre-back partner in this side. Only six players won more tackles than Koulibaly’s nine. Five of those players reached the semi-finals and the other is also in this side. No spoilers, but it was Jude Bellingham.
LB: Aziz Behich (Australia)
Is this almost entirely due to a combination of the whole full-back thing and that run he made in the closing stages against Argentina that ended up as one of the great goals that never was? We prefer not to speak. Also got into a bit of a rumble with Lionel Messi, which is a good story to tell people isn’t it?
CM: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)
Has completed the World Cup cycle in record time. From “breakout star” to “linked with everyone (well, Liverpool)” to “Warning against signing a player based on the World Cup”. Of course, that does rather rely on you forgetting or ignoring that he’s played over 100 games in Serie A. It’s not like signing some clown from Bumblefuck FC in Farmer’s Division Three because he done a good tackle in a Group F game is it.
CM: Jude Bellingham (England)
Utterly unnecessary for anyone to be that good and that grounded at 19. He’s already a complete midfielder with zero weaknesses and until he joins Liverpool or Manchester City and thus finds himself necessarily embroiled in the toxic tribal Premier League landscape he’s going to remain universally liked as well.
LW: Kylian Mbappe (France)
Could be about to win his second World Cup at the age of 23, which is just plain nutty. Only going for his first Golden Boot, though, and might not even win that. Bit fraudulent, if you ask me. Also hasn’t scored since the last 16 which is a bit Harry Kane of him, isn’t it? Is he even any good? Is it possible that actually he is shit? No. He is good actually. Let it never be said that we shy away from the spicy take.
AM: Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)
Better than Cristiano Ronaldo for club and country. You’d have to have a cold, dead heart not to laugh.
RW: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
He’s quite good, isn’t he?
CF: Richarlison (Brazil)
In a non-vintage tournament for number nines, Richarlison gets the nod because a) we’ve not picked any other Brazilians and we’re not hipster enough to ignore Brazil entirely and b) he did score two of the very best goals of the tournament. Was a bit shit in the quarter-final, but overall it was a very impressive performance indeed from a man who we should not forget is Tottenham’s fourth-choice attacker. On a related note, we struggle to get our heads round the fact Brazil’s starting XI has a West Ham player in it and Argentina’s has Villa and Brighton lads. Richarlison gets bonus points for celebrating his World Cup exploits by getting a massive Mount Rushmore-style tattoo of Brazil legends on his back – legends that include himself.