There are 16 teams left standing in the 2018 World Cup after the group stage was finalised on Thursday and they can now start to plot their route to next month's final. It has been a thrilling tournament beyond expectation, not least because host nation Russia are still in with a chance. They were expected to struggle but have instead thrived to set up a tough round of 16 clash against Spain.
Russia were not the only nation to deliver a shock, albeit others did so for the wrong reasons. Defending champions Germany were eliminated on Wednesday after slipping to a stunning 2-0 defeat to South Korea. Failure to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup means four of the last five defending champions have failed to get out of the groups.
Argentina almost joined Germany in an early exit, but Lionel Messi and Marcos Rojo delivered when it mattered most to fire the South American giants through to the next stage of the competition, where they will meet France in a tantalising fixture.
England secured their place in the last 16 with a game to spare but lost their 100 per cent record in their final group match, losing 1-0 to Belgium on Thursday night. A second place finish has actually put England in the quote-on-quote 'easier' half of the draw and if they overcome Colombia they will face either Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
Pre-tournament favourites Brazil qualified for the next stage with relative ease, but no international heavyweight has really made a statement of intent in Russia this summer.
Key to humbling Germany in South Korea’s monumental 2-0 win over Die Mannschaft was goalkeeper Cho Hyun-Woo. The 26-year-old finished the group phase as the highest WhoScored rated shotstopper in the competition (7.60) and was particularly influential against Germany, picking up the WhoScored Man of the Match award. Hyun-Woo plies his trade in his native Korea but will certainly have admirers further afield after really impressing for the Asian side.
Branislav Ivanovic was spared from Serbia’s 2-0 defeat to Brazil in their final group match, which is probably for the best given his age up against the speed and guile of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Co. The former Chelsea defender was expected to play centre-back for Serbia this summer but was restored back to his regular right-back position. Averaging 3 tackles per game and 2 key passes per game, Ivanovic finished the group phase as the highest rated right-back in the competition (7.47).
Forging a centre-back partnership in the best rated XI from the group phase is South American duo Yerry Mina and Jose Gimenez. The former only featured in Colombia’s last two matches but scored in boom his country's name in the next round of the tournament, while Gimenez scored Uruguay’s opening goal of the 2018 World Cup and Uruguay kept clean sheets in both of his appearances.
Completing the back four is left-back Ivan Strinic. The 30-year-old was rested in Croatia’s final group game, but played an integral part in their first two games. The Sampdoria defender earned the WhoScored Man of the Match against Nigeria before helping Croatia record a stunning 3-0 win over Argentina to secure their place in the next round.
Kieran Trippier features in right midfield for in the WhoScored team of the group phase after emerging as one of England’s best players at the 2018 World Cup. The Tottenham defender was given the night off against Belgium, but his delivery from set-pieces was particularly key to England’s opening two wins. Half of the goals England have scored at the 2018 World Cup have come from set-piece situations (4/8), while only Australia’s Aaron Mooy (10) completed more crosses than Trippier (9) in the groups.
As touched on earlier, there were grave concerns about Russia this summer, but the hosts have really added to what has been a sensational World Cup thus far. CSKA Moscow ace Aleksandr Golovin is heavily linked with a move for Chelsea and it’s no surprise given his form this summer. The 22-year-old, one booking away from suspension, was not risked in their final match but has played a direct hand in three of the eight goals Russia have netted at the 2018 World Cup (one goal, two assists).
Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho, who has really emerged as a start for Tite’s side this summer, joins Golovin in central midfield in our best rated XI. The Barcelona midfielder has scored or assisted in all three of Brazil’s group games and will be key to their chances of winning the World Cup. Odds on Coutinho winning the Golden Ball have been slashed as a result of his dazzling displays.
Coutinho's Brazilian team-mate, Neymar, completes the midfield in our best rated XI and the world’s most expensive player of all-time is gradually bubbling to the surface. It’s understandable the Brazil No.10 is yet to return to his decisive best but has still been a threat for the Selecao. Neymar has attempted more shots than anyone else (16), while no player has created more goalscoring opportunities (11). Furthermore, only Lionel Messi (20) has completed more dribbles than his former Barcelona team-mate (17).
Completing our best XI are Premier League strikers Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane. Neither featured in Belgium and England’s clash on Thursday night, but both have been in the goals this summer. England captain Kane is the top scorer in Russia with five goals, with Belgium striker Lukaku one behind on four. Both will have one eye on finishing this summer as the top scorer to further enhance their reputations as one of the best strikers on the planet.