SportsClub selects the World Cup team of the quarter-finals as Belgium stars Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne steal the show, writes DEAN WORKMAN.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
The Chelsea stopper put in a stunning display between the sticks of Belgium to help his side knock out Brazil after a 2-1 win and secure progression to the World Cup semi-finals. The keeper was at the top of his game and never looked like putting a foot wrong for his side, making nine saves in total – the highest in a game by any goalkeeper so far in this tournament. His most important contribution came with a world-class save in the dying minutes as he tipped Neymar’s shot over the crossbar when it looked destined for the top corner.
Right back: Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
The Paris Saint-Germain defender was on top of his game as he managed to keep Neymar quiet, while also dealing with the threat posed by Marcelo. Meunier worked relentlessly throughout the encounter as he defended his flank brilliantly while also offering a threat when going forward.
Centre back: Raphael Varane (France)
The Real Madrid man redeemed himself from the error that got France eliminated in the 2014 World Cup, by putting in a top-class performance to help his side past Uruguay. Varane got the ball rolling for Les Bleus as his glancing header gave his side the lead in the first half. France got another through Antoine Griezmann, but it was Varane and his defenders who ensured that their South American opponents did not get a sniff as they stifled any attacking threat posed by Luis Suarez and co.
Centre back: Harry Maguire (England)
The English defender was one of the stars as the Three Lions beat Sweden 2-0 to progress to the semi-finals. The Leicester City man was unplayable in the air all day, winning all his aerial duels at the back, while he also rose highest to give England a first-half lead with a thumping header. Maguire continued to enhance his reputation as a ball-playing centre back in Russia, keeping his composure throughout to complement Gareth Southgate’s possession-based methods.
Left back: Lucas Hernandez (France)
The Frenchman has been one of Didier Deschamps’ trusted players throughout this tournament and the defender repaid this faith with yet another solid performance. Hernandez was solid at the back and rarely allowed the likes of Nahitan Nandez and Martin Caceres to overpower him on the flanks while also contributing in attack whenever possible.
Right centre midfield: Marouane Fellaini (Belgium)
The Manchester United man may have been a surprise inclusion in the starting XI but he proved all his doubters wrong with a quality performance to help his side past Brazil. Fellaini was a rock in the middle of the park, using his commanding presence to break down play and bully the Brazilian midfielders throughout. He was a vital part of Roberto Martinez’s game plan which kept the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Neymar quiet.
Centre midfield: Luka Modric (Croatia)
The Croatian captain was yet again his team’s driving force as they overcame hosts Russia to reach the semi-finals. Modric offered creativity and a cutting-edge performance throughout as he looked like unlocking the Russia defence at will.
Left centre midfield: Jordan Henderson (England)
The Liverpool man has become an important cog in the England machine at the World Cup and he further cemented his spot with another quality performance in his side’s victory over Sweden. Henderson was ever present in the middle of the park as he controlled the tempo of the game while he was also quick to snuff out any sign of danger.
Right forward: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Deployed as a right wing in Martinez’s game plan, Lukaku was tremendous as he ran the Brazilian defenders ragged all night. This was exemplified with his assist for the second goal, where he got the ball in the Belgium half and ran about 40m, outsmarting six Brazilians in the process, before laying it off for De Bruyne, who sent a rocket into the bottom corner.
False 9: Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
The midfield maestro was deployed in a false 9 position and was arguably the best player on the pitch. The Manchester City man kept popping up in dangerous spaces and was the attacking pivot from which Hazard and Lukaku fed off all night. De Bruyne capped off a fine performance with his stunning strike that turned out to be the winner for his team.
Left forward: Eden Hazard (Belgium)
The Belgium captain may not have grabbed an assist or a goal, but he was unplayable for most of the encounter and had the Brazilian right back chasing shadows at times. The Chelsea man completed all 10 of his take-ons in the game and ran himself into the ground as he looked to stretch the Brazilian defence to create space for his teammates.