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FIFA World Cup 2018’s best XI is here - picked exclusively by Bhaichung Bhutia 

The World Cup 2018 has seen some enthralling action with Belgium, France, Croatia and England enter the last four stage. Bhaichung Bhutia picks his choice of best XI from among the semifinalists

football Updated: Jul 09, 2018 10:02 IST
FIFA World Cup 2018,Bhaichung Bhutia,Jordan Pickford
Belgium's Eden Hazard (L) and France's Kylian Mbappe (R) have been two most exciting forwards in the FIFA World Cup 2018.(AFP)

With four teams remaining, this is a good time to choose a World Cup 11. There may have been better players in Russia but they haven’t been considered because they are not alive in the competition anymore. But even after narrowing the pool to four teams, the task is fraught with danger because many could agree to disagree with my choices.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: It’s England vs Croatia, France vs Belgium in race to final

Pickford over rest

I went with Jordan Pickford ahead of Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris and Danijel Subasic because he is the youngest and the smallest but just as confident. In his first World Cup, Pickford has helped England break a penalties’ curse and even against Sweden he made some crucial saves. Courtois and Llloris also play behind defences more experienced than England’s.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Precision during set-pieces key to England’s success

Defensive wall

Ahead of Pickford, I would line up Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany and Raphael Varane. This combination would have the pace and industry of Walker, who has adapted well to being a centre-back, the leadership quality of Kompany, who was important in helping Belgium stick to their defensive shape in the face of enormous pressure from Brazil, and Varane who has helped France stay calm at the back. Given Kompany’s ability to execute back-heels to corner-kicks and Varane’s headed flicks to them, this defence can also help up the park.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: For this British journalist, Russia is one freewheeling road show

Midfield generals

Protecting the trio would be N’Golo Kante who will be the smallest on the pitch and also the busiest. In front of Kante, I would line up Kevin de Bruyne, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. This may make the midfield more attack-oriented but I am banking on Raktic to provide cover along with Kante. Also, it isn’t as if Modric can’t help break down moves. So, Modric, who is a leader on the pitch and can run his socks off, and Rakitic can provide protection and freedom for De Bruyne when needed.

De Bruyne started slowly but came into his own against Brazil with that goal. He is good with both feet, has commendable ball control and can provide a telling pass that usually result in goals.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Croatia search for missing sparks ahead of England clash

The hitmen squad

Those goals will be scored by Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard. Kane will be the false nine because he has the qualities to be one. He is a quality striker who is also important when his team doesn’t have the ball and he is calm. Kane’s goals may seem opportunistic but it is also a product of being at the right place at the right time and that comes from reading the game well.

And anyone who underestimates goals from penalties should be reminded that Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric have missed from the spot. Also, if Kane has successfully converted penalties it is also because goalkeepers can’t second-guess him.

Mbappe and Hazard would stretch the opposition defence. Both can operate at speed without compromising on technical ability. Mbappe’s strength and speed reminds me of Brazil’s Ronaldo. He is a work in progress and I can’t wait to see an improved version in the European championship in 2020.

The writer is a former Indian football team captain

First Published: Jul 09, 2018 09:50 IST