The Qatar World Cup has ended, and what an ending. The greatest World Cup final of all time, and in my opinion the greatest game of football ever played. The quality of player and the actual on-the-grass football speaks for itself, but even beyond that the decade-spanning storyline to get to this point and the ramifications it has for the history of football are immeasurable.
Let’s look at the best performers in Qatar over the course of the last month.
10. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
One half of the best wing back partnership this tournament, Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui were so impressive throughout the last month.
Hakimi was the face of the Morocco team that made history by becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, and he was the face for good reason as his marauding runs down the right and link-up play with Sofiane Boufal, Azzedine Ounahi and Hakim Ziyech was the primary way Morocco attacked. Hakimi is the best right back in the world, although his own teammate Mazraoui may have something to say about that when these two come face-to-face in February in the Champions League round of 16.
Hakimi may not have the most extensive highlight reel defensively but he was not needed at the back as much as one may think even in a back five system because Mazraoui on the left often stayed back to create a de facto back four, giving Hakimi the freedom to bomb forward. This is not to discredit Hakimi’s defensive work rate either, as his tracking back was more than satisfactory.
9. Jude Bellingham (England)
Jude Bellingham ran the game for England. It’s hard to believe he’s 19 because the kind of qualities he shows in leadership and controlling the game are beyond that of a lot of central midfielders in their prime. Anything above four ball recoveries a game for a midfielder is incredible, but also factor in his playstyle. He was often the first presser in midfield rather than the lane-cutter. His ability to win back the ball in one-versus-ones and sometimes even one-versus-twos in the middle of the park was simply incredible.
This is all without mentioning his impact on the ball. Bellingham’s ball-carrying was key to England’s attack, as the front three did not have a clear plan for how to tackle the middle of the pitch, Bellingham offered a solution by moving in between the lines and attacking spaces ahead of the centre backs, allowing Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka to move into dangerous positions and play off of someone. Player.
8. Bukayo Saka
This is a rather simple one. Unlike a lot of the players here, Bukayo Saka’s contributions are mostly all laid out in front of our eyes.
Those damn goals.
They were beautiful.
Bukayo Saka is a special, special player. Hoping to see him continue this form going into the second half of the Premier League season, I can’t believe he’s ‘just one of the cogs’ in Mikel Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 because he could very easily be the central player. Even when England were down and out against France, Saka was their single ray of sunshine, pressing doggedly and running rings around Theo Hernández. What a redemption after the (unfair) criticism of him at the Euros.
7. Jamal Musiala (Germany)
Jamal f&#!ing Musiala.
Lionel Messi completed 15 dribbles this tournament, that’s the third most.
Kylian Mbappé topped the podium with 25 dribbles. Both players who lead the way for the Ballon d’Or, and made it to the final, meaning they played a total of 7 games each.
Sandwiched between them, a 19-year-old from Stuttgart with 19 dribbles in three games. If you average it out per game, Musiala has more than Mbappé and Messi combined.
Of course this is just a statistic for dribbles completed, but it paints a picture of the kind of player Musiala is and was this tournament. He was Germany’s only hope, running rings around defenders and midfielders alike, getting ever so unlucky with the woodwork twice and his teammates being unable to finish the chances he created.
At this rate, Musiala will be the greatest player in history. Mbappé may have had a World Cup by now but he still has a Champions League missing from his cabinet, and Musiala is breaking the records Messi set at 19 which Mbappé failed to do. Baller.
6. Cody Gakpo (The Netherlands)
Cody Gakpo has been the best player in the Eredivisie this season by some distance, the power rankings eluding him for the longest time. However, this time there is no hiding.
Gakpo was rather uncharacteristically not productive on both ends, scoring an amazing five goals but not bagging a single assist. It must be said that this was not for a lack of trying, as he was consistent with his passes into dangerous areas, but his teammates often let him down with the finish. Great player, please stay in the Netherlands. If he leaves next season for Manchester United or some other English club that’s bound to slow his progress down, I will cry.
5. Wojciech Szczęsny (Poland)
Wojciech Szczęsny was by far the best keeper at the tournament and by some distance.
Szczęsny was simply brilliant, saving Poland time and time again when the attack and defense let their country down, basically single-handedly dragging the team into the knockouts (although he did require the assistance of Robert Lewandowski against Saudi Arabia).
It’s unfortunate Szczęsny will have his lifespan shortened from the severe spinal issues he’s going to suffer from carrying an entire nation on his back, but hey, he’ll always have this tournament to look back on. My Golden Glove winner.
4. Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)
Bruno Fernandes was simply fantastic, scoring or assisting in every single game, eventually pinning himself with 5 goals and assists in 4 games, and it would have been a lot better if it weren’t for a certain Madeiran fraud missing multiple chances.
Playing in a fluid attacking role alongside João Félix, Otávio and Bernardo Silva, Bruno was the star of the show for Portugal, pushing pieces around the pitch like a king on a chessboard. His ability to dictate play from a non-central position showed his sheer presence on the ball, and this is all without mentioning his brilliance on the ball. A great acceleration of his form, which at club level has warmed up but hasn’t quite hit boiling point yet.
3. Kylian Mbappé (France)
Kylian Mbappé was otherworldly.
After a lukewarm season for Paris Saint-Germain, I didn’t expect anything too hot and heavy from him. I was so, so wrong.
Eight goals and two assists. Golden Boot winner. A hat-trick in a World Cup final. The quality of his goals too were top drawer. Another World Cup medal to add to his collection, although this one is markedly less honourable than the one he won four years ago.
2. Antoine Griezmann (France)
Antoine Griezmann could very well go down as one of the best players in World Cup history, and honestly I had him down for the number one spot until the final.
Griezmann was the leader of the press, pushing past Olivier Giroud to form the tip of the French spear and pressing tirelessly. His passing and movement off the ball was crisp, often finding himself or teammates running through the defensive line and in behind. His defending was so underrated, averaging five ball recoveries per game until the semi-final, where his role was changed a little to focus more on the attack. He was the heart of France’s play in the midfield and attack, progressing the ball from the middle toe the final third nearly every time he got the ball.
It is insane to think that just a half a year ago he was considered over the hump and washed up, his career renaissance in a new position this season has been beautiful to watch and this World Cup performance has been the summit of that.
1. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Lionel Andrés Messi. Simply the greatest footballer of all time.
Yes, Argentina were very lucky with referees. Yes, it was to the point of suspicion over match fixing. Yes, four of Messi’s goals were penalties. Yes, the tournament was held in a country with a horrific human rights record. Yes, I’m never going to find love.
Don’t care. Messi was the best player at this tournament. Argentina could not have made it out of even the group stages without him. Playing in a two-striker system alongside Julián Álvarez, Messi often dropped deep into midfield to collect the ball and bring it forward, carrying the ball at a rate only a player of his calibre is capable of. His magnetic dribbling and dizzying control of the ball continues to stun me even after all these years. Argentina played with what looked like a front four, but all of the play revolved around Messi. It was always Messi at the centre of the play, no matter where the ball went.
The greatest in Qatar. The greatest of all time. Celia and Diego smile from above.
What do you think of our rankings? Are there any omissions you would have included? Let us know in the discussion below.