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
After seeing Germany and Spain booted from the tournament by opponents that they should have beaten on paper, Brazil has easily been the most consistent of the pre-tournament favorites. With three of the eight round of 16 matches being decided by penalties, Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico was the only win of the round even decided by more than one goal. Coutinho has been Brazil’s most important player so far in the tournament, including Neymar, and his familiarity with Paulinho has certainly been helpful to the cause. Against Mexico the two Barcelona midfielders took a backseat to Neymar, Casemiro and Willian, all of whom were superb in the victory. Yet, it’s clear to everyone that a World Cup trophy will come on the back of the skill, work rate and industrialism of the two Barca boys.
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: July 6 v. Belgium
France – Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti
After taking the 4-2 lead in the 68th minute after Mbappe’s second goal, Dembele wasn’t needed in the match. It was a shame not to see him feature, but Blaise Matuidi’s yellow card will suspend him for the quarterfinal. Corentin Tolisso is the like-for-like replacement, but Dembele wouldn’t be a surprise for the starting line-up if Didier Deschamps believes that attacking Uruguay’s stingy defense head-on is the best strategy. Either way, Umtiti will continue to feature next to Raphael Varane. He still hasn’t shown his best in Russia, but both he and Varane have done just enough to get the wins. In France’s 4-2-3-1, Umtiti doesn’t need to take on players with the ball in the way that he does at Barcelona, and with Luis Suarez on the horizon, maybe it’s not a bad thing that he can focus more on the defensive side of the ball.
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: July 6 v. Uruguay
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
Much of the credit has been rightfully given to his now-injured strike partner Edinson Cavani’s brace against Russia, but Suarez’s hold-up play and passing were a major catalyst for the success of Uruguay’s attack against Portugal. Suarez worked hard and like all of his teammate, kept himself out of the referee’s book in a match that excepted to be a bloodbath (Ronaldo was the only yellow card). His passing accuracy was lower than Cules have come to expect at Barcelona (53%), but his instincts have him looking like the player that FC Barcelona would love to have next season.
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: July 6 v. France
Croatia – Ivan Rakitic
The story, as should have been expected, was Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric lead Croatia to a victory, part four. Modric missed the penalty in extra time that would have put away feisty Denmark, but he found a way past Kasper Schmeichel in the shootout. Rakitic meanwhile, stepped up and buried the game-winning penalty with the kind of composure that so many at this World Cup have lacked. Even when Croatia’s players were losing steam from all their pressuring, Rakitic fought on in extra time to help get the game to penalties with his positioning and tackling. Only two players in the game had more than 100 touches and it’s no secret who those two are with the way that Croatia are playing. Since their 2-0 win over Nigeria, they have come to the forefront as the unlikeliest contender to make the final; their match-up with the hard-working Russians (they’ve covered the most ground in the tournament) will take another composed performance.
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: July 7 v. Russia
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
Unfortunately for Vermaelen (or maybe fortunately), he didn’t feature in the comeback victory over Japan as Vincent Kompany made his return to the starting line-up. Roberto Martinez has made unorthodox yet accurate substitutions, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Vermaelen if their match-up with Brazil requires it.
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: July 6 v. Brazil