Russia 2018: World Cup Group Stage Best XI
So the World Cup group stages have been completed, the last 16 decided. There has been a hatful of goals, controversies aplenty and enough VAR to last a lifetime; as far as most are concerned anyway...
Amid the drama, several elite football stars have faltered; The entire Germany team for example. While others have justified their superstar status. The likes of Mexico and Japan have taken their opportunity to shine in front of a global audience.
Such has been the individual quality on show in Russia, building a Group Stage XI was no mean feat. Here's our best stab at it:
Choosing a goalkeeper in a World Cup that has seen a plethora of goals is a difficult task, but there is one standout performer so far; Fernando Muslera.
The Galatasaray shot-stopper may not be up there amongst football’s biggest names, but in Russia, he has been the comfortable standout.
Three games in, the Uruguay man has three clean sheets to his name; the most at the tournament so far, and he's barely looked like conceding a goal.
Sure, having the world-class Diego Godin sitting in defence helps, and the South American team to deploy a defensive style, but that shouldn't take away from Muslera's impressive group stage achievement.
Mexico’s swashbuckling style has been amongst the best at the tournament so far, with Jesus Gallardo proving to be a huge part of that.
In the impressive win over Germany in their opening game, his link-up play with Hirving Lozano down the left wing was exemplary. It led to the brilliant Joshua Kimmich having arguably the worst game in his young career.
He didn’t manage to replicate that in the win over South Korea, but was solid defensively, helping his side finish as runners-up in Group F.
The only minor negative to date as his early yellow card against Sweden; becoming the fastest ever handed out at the World Cup.
Anyone who happens to have watched Atletico Madrid in La Liga over the last few years will know just how good Diego Godin is.
He's cemented his world-class status, having been amongst football's best defenders at this World Cup, playing a key role in his side keeping a clean sheet in all three of their games.
It's not that his performances have been limited to defending, either. Godin's adapted somewhat, become more of a ball-playing centre-back, often seen striding out of defence in an attempt to stoke his side into action.
A rock at the back and inventive with the ball, Godin has been both the perfect centre-half and captain for his country thus far.
Last season proved to be a tough one for John Stones at Manchester City, as he struggled to prove his worth to Pep Guardiola.
England manager Gareth Southgate has had no reservations about handing the ex-Barnsley man a starting role in his defence, though, and so far it has paid dividends.
A solid performance in the 2-1 win over Tunisia was followed by something of a starring role in the demolition of Panama, as Stones bagged himself two goals in the 6-1 win. Had Harry Kane not scored a hat-trick, Stones may have walked away with the match ball.
Instead, he will have to content himself with the fact that his performances at the World Cup have gone a long way to answering some of the questions that remain about him.
If the truth were known, Kieran Trippier is not even the best right back in the England squad. That honour belongs to Kyle Walker.
With the Manchester City man employed at centre-back by Southgate, Trippier has been given his chance to impress and he's done that and then some.
Bombing up and down the right flank, the Tottenham man has been nothing short of exceptional since minute one, providing this team with a much-needed extra attacking dimension.
The real highlight of his performances has been his quality set pieces; something England have benefitted from greatly.
Every World Cup, there is a player that rises from obscurity to earn a big-money move. This year it's Aleksandr Golovin.
The Russian midfielder currently plies his trade for CKSA Moscow in his homeland, but that is unlikely to be the case should he continue the tournament as he has started it.
A starring role in the demolition of Saudi Arabia on the opening day was followed by another impressive display in the win over Egypt.
Three games in, Golovin has two assists to his name. No doubt he will be key to their hopes, as Russia prepares to take on Spain in the first knockout round.
He has already been linked to several top European clubs, including Juventus, and his performances so far have justified those rumours. Golovin is this tournament’s James Rodriguez.
Unlike the aforementioned Golovin, Luka Modric is a name that all football fans are aware of.
Fresh from playing a starring role in Real Madrid’s fourth Champions League win this summer, the maestro has continued to shine at this World Cup for Croatia.
It was his penalty that ultimately secured the win over Nigeria in round two, while a superb individual strike capped off a display of pure midfield dominance in the impressive defeat of Argentina.
If his exploits for Madrid hadn’t already established his status as one of the best midfielders in world football, then Modric’s displays in Russia have certainly fixed that.
Fortune often plays a huge part in the World Cup and Russia winger Denis Cheryshev can testify to that.
The Villarreal forward wasn’t even a starter for his national side when the tournament kicked off, but an injury to Alan Dzagoev presented him with his opportunity. He has taken it gladly.
If two stunning goals in the opening game, his first for his country no less, didn’t put him in contention for national hero status then another strike in the win over Egypt certainly did.
With three goals already, Cheryshev sits amongst the competitions top scorers. Russia will be hoping he has more in the tank when they take on the Spanish.
There are those who claim that it is Philippe Coutinho, not Neymar, who is the key man in Tite’s Brazil setup. His performances at this World Cup have gone a long way to establishing that as fact.
Without Coutinho in their midfield, the Selecao would have found themselves in dire straights at this tournament.
His goals have proven crucial, helping to secure four points from two very lacklustre performances against Switzerland and Costa Rica, while his assist for Paulinho's opener against Serbia was sublime. His two Man of the Match awards have been justified, to say the least.
Things may not have been going well at Barcelona but for his country, it appears he will be the man they hang their hat on in the quest for a sixth World Cup.
Sometimes it seems that Ronaldo can’t do anything more to cement his status as one of the best ever, then he proves us wrong.
With this World Cup apparently being the one in which the Messi vs Ronaldo debate will be settled for some, it is the Portuguese superstar that is leading the race.
A hat-trick in the opening game against Spain showed he was ready to take Russia by storm, with another against Iran backing up the fact that he is determined to win the Golden Boot.
Without Ronaldo, Portugal are average at best, but with him, they will fancy their chances in the knockout stages. That’s the kind of form he’s in right now.
Not since Wayne Rooney tore up Euro 2004 has an English striker been this feared on the international stage. Harry Kane is a man who everyone is talking about.
Five strikes have him sitting at the top of the goalscoring charts, well on his way to the Golden Boot that Kane has openly declared he wants.
The fact that the Tottenham Hotspur man's goals now accounts for 5% of all England's World Cup strikes tells you everything you need to know about his tournament so far.
Like Portugal and Ronaldo, England would be sorely lacking if they didn’t have Harry Kane. The fact that they do has the Three Lions roaring once again.