All dates are based on EST.
Spain – Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, *Andres Iniesta
While it was certainly the last we’ll see of Andres Iniesta, the future of the three current Barcelona players is less straightforward at national level. With the depth of Spain, it could be the end of all three and that’s with the caveat that Pique doesn’t retire from international duty like he has said in the past. For more on Pique’s future at Barcelona, check out TBPod.link/93.
Group Stage Matches: 3-3 v. Portugal, 1-0 v. Iran, 2-2 v. Morocco
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-4 P) v. Russia
Argentina – Lionel Messi, *Javier Mascherano
After the win against Nigeria and an unbelievable escape from elimination, Argentina found themselves toe-to-toe with a squad that the aging South Americans couldn’t contend with. Playing Messi as a “false 9” didn’t appear to be the right tactical decision, but it’s also possible that there was no magical solution that would have helped their defense contend with the pace of Kylian Mbappe. Messi still finished the match with two assists, 85% passing and 3 successful dribbles, but by playing closer to the French defense N’Golo Kante didn’t have to mark him one-on-one and was able to harass and cut out passes in the midfield. In the aftermath, Mascherano immediately retired after the match, and now the question becomes whether or not Messi will continue playing for the national team or retire for the second time. Nevertheless, when one looks back on the Argentina side assembled and the quality of the group that they were drawn into (Croatia may have been the best side in the group stage), it should be seen as a triumphant success that they managed to get out of the group stage before being knocked out by a much deeper and skilled squad. Messi’s leadership skills and role in the chaos surrounding the team will rightfully be criticized, but the problems in Argentina certainly go much deeper than their captain and may take years to mend.
Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Iceland, 0-3 v. Croatia, 2-1 v. Nigeria
Round of 16: 3-4 v. France
Brazil – Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho
The world’s attention was always going to be on Neymar, and even some sensational performances by Coutinho couldn’t prevent the power of narrative. Albeit for a late miss in the match and a few moments where composure was lacking in the face of an ever-changing defense (which switched to four at the back with impressive precision), Coutinho controlled play in Russia in ways that a proper midfielder does. Alongside Paulinho, they combined well with teammates and although Coutinho would never be considered a defensive stopper, he did his job and there were few moments when the Brazilian midfield looked lacking in that area. Paulinho’s recent transfer news have dominated the headlines, but just as when he moved to Barcelona in the first place, the player the world sees playing for the Selecao is one of the top midfielders in doing the things that he does best. A good tournament for two players that ends with a difficult result.
Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Switzerland, 2-0 v. Costa Rica, 2-0 v. Serbia
Round of 16: 2-0 v. Mexico
Round of 8: 1-2 v. Belgium
France – Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti
Samuel Umtiti was under pressure from a teammate that knew him well for most of the match, and it showed in his decision-making. The French defender hasn’t been at his best all tournament, almost the opposite of his performances at Euro 2016, but he has still done his job and helped France to their third clean sheet at the World Cup. With partner in defense Raphael Varane excelling on both ends, there must be a feeling that Umtiti’s turn is coming. Either way, with the tantalizing match-up with Belgium representing the toughest test yet, it’s about that time in the tournament when a player in his position either covers himself in glory or takes some of the blame of defeat with little room in the middle. Dembele, meanwhile, seems to be on the fringes of being needed as the matches take on heightened importance, as he came on in the 88th minute for Kylian Mbappe with what one would assume with the sole role of dribbling towards the corner flag and seeing out the match. Even with Blaise Matuidi suspended, Didier Deschamps opted to go with another central midfielder in Corentin Tolisso on the left wing to help France best keep their defensive shape. France haven’t needed a late goal since Australia, and Dembele’s talents may just be needed if Belgium deliver the first punch.
Group Stage Matches: 2-1 v. Australia, 1-0 v. Peru, 0-0 v. Denmark
Round of 16: 4-3 v. Argentina
Round of 8: 2-0 v. Uruguay
Semi-final: July 10th v. Belgium
Germany – Marc-Andre ter Stegen
With Germany out in the group stages, the only silver lining for ter Stegen is that he’ll have a few extra weeks of vacation.
Group Stage Matches: 0-1 v. Mexico, 2-1 v. Sweden, 2-0 v. South Korea
Uruguay – Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez served as more of a distributor in his battle with Umtiti and Raphael Varane as he did somewhat languish without his normal strike partner Edinson Cavani, who was replaced by Girona’s Cristhian Stuani. Uruguay was forced to defend deeper in their half than we’ve seen them this tournament, and Suarez did not shirk his defensive duties. Suarez didn’t see much of the ball as finally Uruguay’s midfield met their match. While the loss stings, the tournament was a success for him, if not for the simple fact that he didn’t have one major moment of villainy as he did at the last two editions of the World Cup. He still showed that he is a master of the “dark arts” if you will, but no action was particularly notorious. If he is able to come into the new season looking like the goal-scoring, lively threat that he was in Russia, some of the criticism and questions of age being thrown his way may find a reason to temporarily muffle their bile.
Group Stage Matches: 1-0 v. Egypt, 1-0 v. Saudi Arabia, 3-0 v. Russia
Round of 16: 2-1 v. Portugal
Round of 8: 0-2 v. France
Croatia – Ivan Rakitic
Clubs are starting to take notice of global trends and they aren’t snapping up players that have exceptional World Cups for major money. Yet, what happens to the stock of a player that fans often criticize on their own team who has an argument for the player of the tournament? Rakitic’s performances have been consistent and tireless. His transition to a do-everything defensive midfielder for Barcelona has been Croatia’s gain, as he popped up on every blade of grass to support his more attacking teammates. It is not a knock on Luka Modric, long considered one of the top if not the best midfielder in the world, but rather a compliment that Rakitic is beginning to be seen as an equal. The icing on the game of delivering the final penalty kick to send his team to victory for a second time is a nice byline for his performances so far.
Group Stage Matches: 2-0 v. Nigeria, 3-0 v. Argentina, 2-1 v. Iceland
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-2 P) v. Denmark
Round of 8: 2-2 (4-3 P) v. Russia
Semi-final: July 11th v. England
Colombia – Yerry Mina
Yerry Mina had one of the moments of the tournament with another header goal, his third of the tournament, in stoppage time. Colombia didn’t play a game that won them many fans, but Mina was arguably their best player once again. He is playing well and with other teams potentially looking at him with wanting eyes, his unclear future at the Camp Nou may have more options after his last few weeks in Russia. For more on his place in the squad, check out TBPod.link/93.
Group Stage Matches: 1-2 v. Japan, 3-0 v. Poland, 1-0 v. Senegal
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-4 P) v. England
Belgium – Thomas Vermaelen
Vermaelen came on for Nacer Chadli in the 83rd minute of the win and helped see out the result. His performance was brief but assured as Brazil desperately pushed bodies forward for the late equalizer. Much like club teammate Ousmane Dembele (also probably the Belgian Dembele), it would be far-fetched to see him in the starting line-up against France unless Roberto Martinez is again seeking to provide a new look to his defense to try to gain a tactical advantage. A start for the experienced centre-back is unlikely at best.
Group Stage Matches: 3-0 v. Panama, 5-2 v. Tunisia, 1-0 v. England
Round of 16: 3-2 v. Japan
Round of 8: 2-1 v. Brazil
Semi-final: July 10th v. France