Gianluigi Buffon didn’t even make it to Russia. The Germans didn’t last long, with Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, all illustrious victims. In the middle of the journey of his life, Cristiano Ronaldo found himself in Florentino Perez and Portugal’s dark wood. The man from Funchal didn’t like that, and shouted: “I am worth more than 100 million euro!”
The South American powerhouses, Argentina and Brazil, were next. The Celeste y Blanca had to call Missing, as their star Lionel Messi disappeared. The Auriverde could have used some good nurse practitioners: Neymar got hurt again…
Jokes apart, World Cup 2018 is leading us to only one possible conclusion: The generation of players that dominated the 2000s is progressively leaving room to the speed and athleticism of a new age, the one of the football Millennials. They came, they saw, and they are ready to win – just two games away from drinking from the football Holy Grail, the World Cup. People like Kylian Mbappé, Romelu Lulaku, or Dele Alli, who left for Moscow as young prospects, and are now ready to tell a different story which says: We are the masters of modern fooball.
With that being said, The Cult of Calcio is ready to offer you our new selection of the most impressive players seen during the Round of 16 and the Quarter Finals. We do have a few doubts, if truth be told, especially among the posts and on the sidelines. Therefore, we chose to keep some experience in the key roles, and leave room to those who have the age and the skills on their side to complete our ideal lineup.
At only 24, Everton’s young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, with an estimated market value of 24 million euro, defended England’s goal and brought them back to a Semi Final after 28 years. We chose him as our starting goalkeeper over Croatia’s Danijel Subasic and Russia’s Igor Akinfeev, who saved a combined eight penalties together. Far from the transfer market and media spotlight, Pickford is an old-school young goalie, whose confidence helped his defensive duo John Stones – Harry Maguire to shine as well. For more information, ask Colombia and Sweden.
He is not so young anymore and he was eliminated by France, but he still remains one of the best center backs seen at World Cup 2018. Who are we talking about? That’s Diego Godin of course, whose 32 years and 10-year experience in La Liga helped him display an extreme focus and team organization in Russia. Way to go, Captain!
To support Godin, our idea is to add two additional center backs, switching to a 5-3-2 lineup – yes, the module that costed the Azzurri the qualification to the World Cup. Like in the best of fairytales, Harry Maguire – a 25-year-old defender from Leicester – joined the club of the scoring defenders, with a powerful header that swept away all of Sweden’s IKEA-themed jokes about the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The Swedes went home, and revenge was served.
The third center back is Raphaël Varane, who is also 25 but has the experience of a veteran already, with four Champions Leagues won with Real Madrid. The defender born in Lille is a fast learner, and lessons from his teammate Sergio Ramos must have helped him to score the first goal for France over Oscar Tabarez’s Celeste. Just like Maguire, Varane scored an extremely important goal, the cherry on top of a sumptuous and fearless performance. How much does he cost? Just 63 million euro…
With so much quality in the middle of our defense, we could surely use some speed on the sides. Our choice for the right flank is Brazilian-born Russian Mario Fernandes, aged 27. He was the one to equalize for Russia during extra time of the Quarter Finals with Croatia, taking his side to the penalty shootouts. He also had the courage to take one of those penalties, but unfortunately from the spot he didn’t live up to the name he created during the games with Spain and Croatia. His final shot was, well, no comment. But don’t worry, Mario…as Italian singer Francesco De Gregori used to sing: Non è da questi particolari che si giudica un calciatore (“you can’t judge a football player from such small details”)
One the other side, here comes the French Benjamin Pavard, a 22-year-old that can play on both flanks, as well as as center back in Stuttgart. Pavan won the left back spot in our selection. Why? We could mention the way he blocked both Argentinian and Uruguayan offences, but for aesthetics’ sake we prefer to leave you to this goal, and ask you to please notice the way he celebrated after it:
Does it sound familiar? To us Italians, it does. It looks so much like Marco Tardelli’s celebration in 1982, and Fabio Grosso’s in 2006. A good omen for France, we would say…
On the midfield line, we cannot but confirm him for the third time. How could you renounce to such magnificent vision of play, effectiveness, and full heart, after all? He is the true sensation of this competition, not because he was not known enough before, but because he’s the only true star player left who is still leading his national side. His name, of course, is Luka Modric: The heart and soul of World Cup 2018.
If Modrid is the heart and soul, Kevin De Bruyne is a collector of dreams. Those of the other teams, and especially those of Brazil. The Manchester City midfielder came up with an impressive performance, stunning the five-time World Champions with a skillful and powerful goal:
De Bruyne is 27 years old, and is ready to face the neighboring French with his head held high. What a Semi Final match is that going to be!
The third midfielder provides us with some speed, allowing us to change our game from side to side. Tottenham’s Bamidele Jermaine Alli, aka Dele, is a 22-year-old British player of Nigerian heritage, and exactly what we need to shift into high gear. This young lad raised in Milton Keynes is known for his agility and his pretty good timing: When there was stuff to be done, he answered present – scoring the 2-0 goal over Sweden that pushed England again into a World Cup Semi Final 28 years later. Football was born in England, you know.
Our two-man attacking line is a brand new one, mixing strength, speed, and of course much class. We already spent many words about El Matador Edinson Cavani. With his double, he led Tabarez’s band to their win over CR7’s Portugal, but could not support his team during the following Quarter Final with France. Blame it on his calf, a malevolent injury, or just on destiny.
To support the Matador, we call for duty Romelu Lukaku, a 25-year-old sriker based at Old Trafford, who can provide us with agility, power, and the assurance of one goal per game: The champion from Antwerp has already scored four in four games for his Belgium. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Translated by Matteo Carnevale