World Cup team of the round: Group stage round 2
We’re through the second round of group fixtures of the World Cup and it is with an extremely heavy heart that we must say goodbye to 10am kick-offs. You will never be forgotten, Serbia versus Cameroon with a bowl of Cheerios.
With it all to play for heading into the final games before the knockout stages, here is 90min’s team of the round – with a grand total of zero players keeping their places from last week’s selection. Where’s the consistency, boys?
Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!
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Take a bow, Wojciech Szczesny. The Polish goalkeeper’s double save on Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty and the point-blank follow-up from Mohammed Al Burayk was the finest bit of goalkeeping we’ve seen in the World Cup so far. And that’s been a fairly competitive field.
It kept Poland in the lead heading into half-time despite heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and ultimately won his team the game – giving them a fighting chance of qualifying from the group with Argentina still to play.
The right wing-back was the hero for Costa Rica during their shock 1-0 win against Japan, finding himself as the furthest player forward when the ball broke and curling a left-footed shot into the top corner.
Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda might have done better but it was still a special moment, especially after the country’s 7-0 humiliation at the hands of Spain.
A Stoke City centre-back in the World Cup team of the round? You’re not dreaming. Harry Souttar really was that good for Australia during their 1-0 win against Tunisia.
The man-mountain kept the opposition at bay on his own at times, making heroic last-ditch tackles for fun and getting his head on absolutely everything away. Souttar also impressed with his distribution from the back; he’s far more composed on the ball than he might appear.
Morocco’s captain was an impenetrable wall for his country alongside West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd, who gave Hammers fans a reason to be optimistic when the Premier League returns
Saiss, however, gets the nod for being a nuisance at the other end – his run across goal led to Abdelhamid Sabiri’s free-kick somehow finding its way past Thibaut Courtois. Led his team with aplomb during their 2-0 over Belgium – a wonderful moment for African football at the tournament.
Jordi Alba defended resolutely against Germany (their backline went to pieces after he was substituted) and provided their only goal with a moment of real quality.
The Barcelona left-back whipped in a beautiful low ball for Alvaro Morata, a chance that even the fairly profligate Atletico Madrid forward couldn’t miss. An honourable mention to Pervis Estupinan, too, who had a wonderful game in Ecuador’s 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.
Casemiro’s goal did take a deflection, but who cares? He took the chance magnificently. Beyond that, he bossed the midfield all game during Brazil’s 1-0 against Switzerland. You get the sense that he’s the one player this beyond-stacked team, deservedly World Cup favourites, couldn’t actually afford to lose, such is his presence in front of the back four.
Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus has been a delight to watch during the group stages and put South Korea to the sword with a fine brace on Monday. The 22-year-old can play anywhere in midfield but is at his best driving forward past defenders. He can finish a bit too, with one goal a glanced header and the other a calmly taken curler into the far corner.
He’s at Ajax for now, but expect the big clubs to come calling once this World Cup is over.
Playing slightly out of position on the right, both here and for his country, Andrej Kramaric was the match-winner during Croatia’s 4-1 victory over Canada on Sunday.
Canada started the brighter of the two teams, even taking the lead, but Croatia came roaring back thanks to two superb finishes from the Hoffenheim forward – one to level the game and the other to put his team 3-1 up and out of sight.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. He wasn’t going to go quietly now, was he? Lionel Messi stepped up yet again for his country, who were teetering perilously on the brink of elimination and unable to find a goal against Mexico.
Out of nothing, he found one: a glorious low drive into the corner to beat Guillermo Ochoa. What a moment. Enzo Fernandez’s second to seal the crucial victory was every bit just as good, but this game will (quite rightly) be remembered for Messi’s heroics and all the goosebumps they caused.
The most dangerous player in the competition, it’s as simple as that.
Kylian Mbappe scored both goals for France as they edged past Denmark and he remains a one-man attacking force with his pace, movement and poacher’s instincts. As it was four years ago in Russia, this is looking ominously like it will be his tournament.
They might have lost in the end, but South Korea put up one hell of a fight after going 2-0 down against Ghana. Cho Gue-sung inspired the comeback with two brave, headed goals and Korea looked dangerous every time they swung a cross in towards him. It ultimately ended in heartbreak but it was a thrilling fightback in what has been the tournament’s best game.
An honourable mention for Vincent Aboubakar, too, who came off the bench to change the game for Cameroon in their own thriller.