Football is played in cycles and they change constantly, but the 2018 World Cup has seen a number of new dominant forces in world football emerge.
Prior to the tournament it was expected that Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar would be the best performing players at the tournament, yet they’ve been overshadowed by Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe.
These young stars have all stepped up for their respective national teams and it’s telling that they will all be involved in the World Cup semifinals, whilst none of the aforementioned big three are even still in Russia.Of the four semifinalists, only England and France know what it’s like to lift the famous trophy, and England’s triumph came as far back as 1966.Croatia and Belgium have never won the tournament, although both have reached the semifinal stage in previous editions.
Modric and Rakitic have spearheaded a golden generation where experienced players form the backbone of an impressive team. They reached the 1998 semifinal less than 10 years after their harrowing war of independence, and the current crop of players believe they can go one step further.
England stand in their way of the final, with Gareth Southgate having surpassed all feasible expectations by guiding the team to this stage.
Harry Kane is the top scorer of the tournament, whilst Jordan Pickford has performed countless heroics in the knockout stage. There is a sense of fearlessness within England’s squad, they aren’t damaged by the failures of previous teams, and this has been evident in their performances in Russia.
Belgium’s success under Roberto Martinez is a little less surprising, they’ve long been heralded as one of the most talented groups of footballers at international level in recent years, but they’ve never before hit their potential.Marc Wilmots took the brunt of the blame for previous disappointing displays, but the real key players have stepped up this summer and delivered.Eden Hazard played a phenomenal match against Brazil on Friday evening, catching the eyes of the watching world. France are probably the only team to have met expectations by reaching this stage, though the team hasn’t played at their best yet.Didier Deschamps has been accused of being slightly cautious, but his young defence of Lucas Hernandez, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Benjamin Pavard have performed to a high standard.Mbappe has produced moments of magic and Paul Pogba has done well without garnering the sort of attention he usually receives.
It may have seemed as though the reign of Messi and Ronaldo would never come to an end, and it’s premature to say it has, but this World Cup has shown there are players ready to take the mantle.