World Cup Best XIs: Who makes our team of the tournament?

This World Cup in Qatar had its share of highs and lows, both on and off the pitch, but the brilliance of some of the individual performances will be a lasting memory of the tournament. It’s easy to name-drop Lionel Messi and the other goal scorers of the tournament, but there were standout World Cups across the field and in the technical areas too.

After a month in Qatar covering the tournament, ESPN’s journalists have made their final selections for their Best XIs and best managers of the tournament. Who are the consensus picks who made every list (other than Messi, of course)? How do these picks compare to the official list put out by FIFA? Let’s take a look.

Gab Marcotti

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Yassine Bounou (Morocco
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Marquinhos (Brazil), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Enzo Fernandez (Argentina), Jude Bellingham (England)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Julian Alvarez (Argentina), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Manager: Lionel Scaloni (Argentina)

I went with Bounou ahead of Livakovic (who I had in the mid-tournament XI) because of what he stood for and came to symbolize. Hakimi had a rough semifinal against France, but was close to flawless to that point. I doubt anyone will argue with Gvardiol (that Messi moment excepted) and Marquinhos was by no means responsible for Brazil’s downfall. Not sure we had an outstanding left back, and Theo did make mistakes, but he also brought a lot of quality.

My midfield hasn’t changed. Bellingham was outstanding, Amrabat was a monster in ever more difficult circumstances and Enzo grew into the role for Argentina, with more and more responsibility. Nobody, I hope, will argue with Mbappe and Messi. Alvarez’s prodigious workmate, together with his goals, means he stands apart.

Finally, Scaloni gets the coaching call: Argentina got better as the tournament progressed and he was constantly tweaking his team. Rarely do you get a manager who works so hard to squeeze the best out of his players.

Jeff Carlisle

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Goalkeeper: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Romain Saiss (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Croatia), Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Antoine Griezmann (France), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Striker: Julian Alvarez (Argentina)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

It’s stunning to think that Regragui was hired just three months before the tournament, but he was able to bring the Atlas Lions together in a short time, and by playing to the team’s defensive strengths, took Morocco to the semifinals, a first for an African team.

The back line features the two-way play of both Hakimi and Hernandez, with the latter pitching in with a vital goal in the semifinals. Saiss was the rock of Morocco’s defense before injury felled him and forced him out of the semifinal. Gvardiol will be remembered for getting skinned by Messi in the semi, but there’s no shame in that and he was otherwise outstanding.

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Both Modric and Amrabat were their team’s respective heartbeat, with the Croatia midfielder proving that 37 years of age is by no means too old to have an impact at the World Cup.

Griezmann was everywhere for France, especially in the semifinal win over Morocco. As for Messi and Mbappe, there’s not much more to be said. Messi may already have been going down as the game’s greatest ever, and this World Cup cements it. That is if he isn’t surpassed by Mbappe.

The forward spot came down to Alvarez or Olivier Giroud, and to the victor goes this spoil. Alvarez proved to be a dynamic foil for Messi and his four goals loomed large.

Sam Borden

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Romain Saiss (Morocco), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Mateo Kovacic (Croatia), Antoine Griezmann (France)
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (France), Julian Alvarez (Argentina), Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Let me start with a word about the hardest omission: Dominik Livakovic was outrageously good in Croatia’s goal all tournament so it feels borderline irresponsible to leave him off here … and yet, Emi Martinez’s save late in extra-time of the final is the stuff that goalkeeper dreams are made of, so, call it recency bias, but he gets the nod for me.

Amrabat, Hakimi and Gvardiol were absolute revelations, Kovacic was Croatia’s motor (which, given their circumstances, gave him the slightest of edges over the also excellent Jude Bellingham) and Griezmann was probably the player of the tournament going into the final.

Up top, it’s largely the superstars we all know and love, but while I suspect some think Olivier Giroud should be here, too, I saw his final as sort of the reverse of the situation at goalkeeper: Martinez’s play in the championship match got him onto this list while Giroud’s (deserved) early departure in the showpiece dropped him off.

Mark Ogden

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Thiago Silva (Brazil), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Croatia), Azzedine Ounahi (Morocco), Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina)
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (France), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first. Messi and Mbappe were outstanding at Qatar 2022 and the best two players by some distance, while Argentina’s Emi Martinez is the obvious choice in goal. Beyond that, I have gone for the players who performed consistently at a high level during the World Cup. Morocco’s Hakimi was the standout right-back throughout the tournament and was as effective going forward as defensively. You often hear of the perfect right-back being a combination of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s attacking skills and Kyle Walker’s defensive attributes, but Hakimi is all that and more.

Croatia’s Gvardiol was the best centre-back in Qatar. Yes, he was beaten by Messi during the semifinal defeat against Argentina, but if your only mistake is to be outdone by a genius, then nobody can complain. Thiago Silva was flawless for Brazil until their quarterfinal exit against Croatia, while Hernandez was France’s best defender all the way to the final.

In midfield, Modric has to be in there. At 37, he is still the best playmaker in the world and he was the heartbeat of Croatia’s team again. Alongside him, Morocco’s Ounahi was one of the revelations of the tournament. At 22, the Angers midfielder has a huge future in the game. As does Mac Allister, the Brighton midfielder, who became a kingpin for Argentina, getting better and getter with every game.

With Messi and Mbappe the obvious selections up front, I have gone for Ziyech ahead of France’s Olivier Giroud and Griezmann (both deserved a place in the team) because he came out of the international exile to be a star of the tournament with Morocco. Ziyech was dynamic, incisive and full of energy — something he now needs to show more of with Chelsea.

And the coach? Has to be Morocco’s Regragui. Apologies to Lionel Scaloni, who won the World Cup with Argentina, but Regragui’s coaching, decision-making and ability to bond his squad together having only taken charge at the end of August was remarkable.

Julien Laurens

Formation: 3-5-2

Goalkeeper: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia)
Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Raphael Varane (France), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Midfielders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina), Enzo Fernandez (Argentina), Luka Modric (Croatia), Theo Hernandez (France)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Personally, the choices have been quite easy. I think this Best XI almost picks itself. These players have been outstanding in pretty much every game they have played in Qatar, influencing the matches one way or another. In goal, I chose Dominik Livakovic for his great tournament but also for the surprise effect! Unlike the likes of Lloris, Martinez or Bounou who played in top clubs or have won big trophies before, no one expected the Croatian at this level.

The three best centre-backs in this World Cup have been Raphael Varane, who was still injured a month ago, who had a virus, and still put up superb performances, Nicolas Otamendi who surprised many with his level at his age and Josko Gvardiol, 20, who was maybe the best defender of the tournament except for the 35 seconds when Messi turned him over twice!

Achraf Hakimi and Théo Hernandez are my two wing-backs even if they had some lows too. I was very impressed in midfield by Enzo Fernandez, who was not a starter for Argentina at the beginning of the tournament and became a key player, and by Alexis Mac Allister, whose awareness, intelligence and football IQ are something else. Then, at 37, Luka Modric is immortal.

And finally, upfront there are two places for the king and his prince. For the GOAT and the mini-GOAT. Lionel Messi made history in this World Cup and was incredible at 35. Kylian Mbappé produced some genius moments too. One finished winner and best player, the other finalist and top goal scorer.

Tom Hamilton

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Goalkeeper: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Romain Saiss (Morocco), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Enzo Fernandez (Argentina), Jude Bellingham (England), Antoine Griezmann (France)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

I’m playing a 4-1-3-2 formation where the midfield will dominate, we have plenty of pace on the flanks to counter and then upfront we have the two outstanding players of the tournament.

The team is anchored in goal by Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic — as without him, they’d have lost that Brazil match — with the back four anchored by two of the Moroccans in Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saiss with Croatia’s outstanding Josko Gvardiol alongside Saiss in the middle and Theo Hernandez just pipping Marcos Acuna at left-back.

Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat will be the glue between the defence and midfield with those two brilliant youngsters, England’s Jude Bellingham and Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez, in the middle. Antoine Griezmann slots into the No. 8 spot with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe the threats upfront.

Morocco’s Walid Regragui would be perfect to manage this side.

Rob Dawson

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Martinez
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), John Stones (England), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (England), Luka Modric (Croatia), Antoine Griezmann (France)
Forwards: Mohammed Kudus (Ghana), Kylian Mbappe (France), Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Manager: Lionel Scaloni (Argentina)

You can’t have a World Cup Best XI without Messi and Mbappe. For two of the world’s highest-profile players to perform like that on the biggest stage is testament to how good they are. Only the greatest players can deliver when it truly matters.

Martinez deserves his place for penalty saves against the Netherlands and France, but also for his last-second stop in the final. Without it, Messi’s World Cup would be in the hands of Mbappe. Gvardiol was the best young player in the tournament and Modic was incredible in the centre of Croatia’s midfield at the age of 37. John Stones was quietly exceptional at centre-back for England and Bellingham was probably the breakout star in Qatar.

Kudus couldn’t get Ghana through the group stages but he stood out in a team that didn’t have the star quality of some others. As good as Mbappe was in the final, two of the reasons he was there at all were Griezmann and Hernandez. Griezmann set up both goals in the quarterfinal against England and ran himself into the ground against Morocco in France’s semifinal.

Manager of the tournament was, without a doubt, Scaloni. He was tactically flexible and got the best out of Messi to help win Argentina the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Not bad for a former West Ham full-back who was only meant to be a stand-in.

James Olley

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (England), Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Antoine Griezmann (France)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Julian Alvarez (Argentina), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Argentina predictably feature heavily given they ended their 36-year wait to win the World Cup. Martinez’s save from Randal Kolo Muani was as vital a contribution to their success as just about any other moment. He rightly won the Golden Glove.

Morocco were the surprise package of these finals with Hakimi vying with Amrabat to be the African side’s best player. Otamendi gave away a penalty in the final but was solid throughout the tournament while Gvardiol provided the backbone for Croatia’s run in securing third place. Hernandez had a roller-coaster tournament but a goal and two assists boosted France’s cause.

Bellingham took to this level with remarkable composure aged just 19 while Griezmann’s new deeper role was probably the key factor in Les Blues reaching the final two once again. Messi and Mbappe pick themselves while Alvarez edges out Olivier Giroud, given what happened in the final, and Richarlison, who sparkled earlier in the tournament before Brazil crashed out.

Honourable mentions too for Bruno Fernandes, Cody Gakpo and Azzedine Ounahi. It is harsh on Lionel Scaloni, given he delivered Argentina the trophy they craved, but Morocco exceeded all expectations by such a wide margin in Qatar that Regragui, given such a limited chance to work with these players, deserves recognition.

Cesar Hernandez

Formation: 4-3-1-2

Goalkeeper: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia)
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Josko Gvardiol (Croatia), Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Theo Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Jude Bellingham (England), Luka Modric (Croatia), Antoine Griezmann (France)
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (France), Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Manager: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Let’s start with Livakovic, who had a couple of clean sheets in the group stage and was incredibly decisive in two consecutive penalty shootouts in the knockout round. In defense, Hakimi is the easy selection at right-back, while Gvardiol and Otamendi (despite conceding a penalty in the final) are worthy of selection in the heart of the back line because of their crucial defensive interventions.

Left-back Hernandez will likely want to forget his performance in the final but was impactful in the attack throughout the tournament. It was a genuine joy to watch Amrabat work tirelessly and efficiently as a defensive midfielder, and possibly in the near future, we’ll be watching him at a much bigger club. Alongside him, 19-year-old Bellingham was an exceptional game-changer who seemed to do a little bit of everything in England’s midfield. Modric, who is nearly double the age of Bellingham, was brilliant with his progressive passes and a worthy Bronze Ball winner.

In a more attack-minded midfield role, Griezmann looked like the MVP of the tournament, but fell just short of this distinction at the final. Up top, eight-goal Mbappe is set to possibly become the next preeminent name in the sport, and until then, that accolade belongs to World Cup winner, Golden Ball winner and the arguable winner of the recognition as the greatest of all time: Messi.

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