A warm croissant for breakfast, please. With a nice cup of dark coffee. No sugar. Take us to the Kremlin, on the Red Square. Show us Moscow, and be our tourist guide. Take us through the chambers of the Tsar, and please don’t forget to stop at Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The tour is free. Or better, it’s on Didier Deschamps and Les Bleus. They can afford that now.
France are World Champions again, for the second time in their history. The French conquered a new star defeating Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium, and Croatia in the knock-out phase. A slaughter of champions, of people who already won everything. Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani, Eden Hazard, Luka Modric all fell in the French trap. A trap built on some basic football concepts, including putting the acumen of few in the service of the talent of many.
This France squad didn’t make our jaws drop, beauty and appearance were rather left to the Gioconda’s smile and to Napoleonic conquers. But in football, those who win are always right. And so, The Cult of Calcio’s final Top 11 lineup could not but feature many French – pardon, World Champions – representatives.
However, the first slot in our dream team goes to somebody who lives on the other side of the Channel. A young lad that made his debut with his National side only in November 2017, at 24. Only 10 caps collected for him so far, out of which 3 in friendly matches, and 7 during the Russian competition. In a World Cup where no goalkeeper went over the top, our choice remains England’s Jordan Pickford – somebody who, if he manages to confirm what shown in Russia, may ultimately be able to make football come home!
Our defense is mostly made of players who made it to the Final. On the sides, we place two unexpected sensations that broke through right in this tournament. The right flank is for French Benjamin Pavard, likely ready to leave Stuttgart for some more important club. On the left, we confirm Mario Fernandes, the Russian defender of Brazilian heritage, whom according to transfer market rumors should be about to leave cold Russia, to settle in sunny Valencia.
Both our side players came up with some impressive performances at World Cup 2018, running up and down their flanks and evidencing themselves for their timely clearance. Moreover, they both managed to make it to the scorecard in one occasion: Pavard’s shot from out of the box in the game with Argentina was a true masterpiece, whereas Fernandes’ header during extra time allowed Russia to at least make it to penalty against eventually-winning Crotia.
Our chosen center back play in Spain and Turkey. The first one is a former teammate of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid: Raphaël Varane shone just like he did in Champions League in the past season, showing continuity and precision: A leader in the defense of a team whose destiny seemed written from the very beginning.
The second central defender has been playing with Besiktas since January, and is one of the less expected sensations from this World Cup. While everybody was waiting for the likes of Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, or Pepe, the best center back in the competition turned out to be Croatian Domagoj Vida, whose grit, willpower and spirit made football fans fall in love, and led the Vatreni on the road to Moscow.
Our midfield line bears three different flags. The first is the one of Belgium, represented by Chelsea’s pixie Eden Hazard – the playmaker, and most creative player of a Belgian representative which abounded in talent, but lacked a winning mindset. Hazard’s skills are insane, and rumors have it that he’s going to leave the London Royal Family soon, only to join the one based in Madrid (on the Real side).
The second flag is the Croatian one, and is carried over by a player whose wit and technique impressed every spectator in Russia. We are talking about Luka Modric, of course, the only champion in this World Cup who put his talent in the service of press, spectators, and the whole football experience. Such a pleasure to watch him play, and a totally deserved Golden Ball prize for him – the best player of World Cup 2018, despite a low-tone performance in the Final game.
To complete our midfield, we choose the man who, in our opinion, was the key pillar in Didier Deschamps’ strategy that led France to win. Indeed, it’s not by chance that Ngolo Kanté debuted with Les Bleus right under the Bayonne coach’s tenure. Chelsea midfielder’s technical acumen and balance will make him one of the most pursued dreams in this Summer’s transfer market session. Kanté comes with confidence, spirit of sacrifice, and can grant coverage of the whole midfield line. That’s impressive!
Our 4-3-3 formation features three strikers, so let’s take a look at the most beloved area of the pitch in the eyes of fans. The zone where any mistake can cost much, and only coldness and an even temper can make the difference between winning or losing a championship, a slot in a top division, or even a World Cup. To finalize our lineup, we took a deep look at the Final in Moscow.
Let’s start with a young and talented star, recognized by FIFA as the best young player of the tournament. Kylian Mbappé’s career seems to be destined to infinity and beyond. 5-time Ballon d’Or winners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are warned, Mbappé has already succeeded at 19 in doing what they vainly pursued for years. We have just one question though: If Paris Saint Germain forward’s market value is estimated at 200 million euro now, how much is he going to cost at, say, 25??? Fear and loathing in Paris!
Our central striker is a very-well known face in European football, especially by Bayern Munich and Juventus fans. A true old-school forward, Mario Mandzukic is a perfect number 9. The man who made Hugo Lloris’ legs shake, and made his small country rejoice multiple times, could bear on his shoulders the weight of a whole attacking line – as good as he is at making the best out of every ball ending on his feet. Have they told him already what is future role at Juventus is going to be, now that Cristiano Ronaldo has joined the Bianconeri?
The last free spot ends in the hands of another Croatian. This was a hard choice, as it forced us to leave out players like Romelu Lukaku, Edinson Cavani and Harry Kane. However, if Croatia went down to the history of the World Cup on the line of teams like Ferenc Puskás’ Hungary from 1954, or Josef Masopust’s Czechoslovakia from 1962 – both losing finalists which still impressed the world – much credit goes to Ivan Perisic. Inter’s winger played seven games at an absolute insane level, reaching again his peaking standards from his days at Wolfsburg. Shall we add that he also scored a fantastic – albeit useless – goal in the Final? Welcome back, Ivan!
Now that the World Cup is over, all we can add is that it was the strongest – and most expensive – team to win. Many have been criticizing the French’s supposedly anti-aesthetic style of play. On our part, we invite you to remember that what is unanimously regarded as one of the strongest and most entertaining sides to watch never won the world title. In 1974, the Netherlands could lineup players like Ruud Krol, Rob Rensenbrink, Willem van Hanegem, Johan Neesken and – Hear! Hear! – Johan Cruijff. But they were defeated by a German selection that used to go straight to the point. Just like Didier Deschamps’ France.
Translated by Matteo Carnevale