World Cup 2022: Team of the Group Stage

Who starred in their team’s early World Cup showings?

What will likely be remembered as the most dramatic World Cup group stages for a long time came to a close on Friday night with more drama, as Brazil lost 1-0 to Cameroon and Switzerland came through a five-goal thriller against Serbia to head through along with the Selecao.

It followed last-minute drama in almost every group, with plenty of sides heading home on goal difference alone, and shock results continuing to add fuel to the fire.

But among the chaos, there were some stars that stood above the rest.

Here’s the best XI of players at this tournament (so far).

GK: Wojciech Szczesny (Poland)

Poland snuck through by the skin of their teeth, at one point heading to the last 16 on fair play before Saudi Arabia pulled a late goal back against Mexico, sending them through on goal difference instead.

Central to their progression was former Arsenal and current Juventus no.1 Wojciech Szczesny, who made a total of 17 saves across thee group games, including two penalties, to allow Poland through despite just scoring twice. In fact, his 3.6 xG saved is double that of the second-placed goalkeeper, and he will have to repeat his heroics if Poland are to advance against France in the round of 16.

RB: Ko Itakura (Japan)

Technically on the right side of a back three for Japan, Itakura has nevertheless been a stalwart in defence as the Japanese managed the most suprising route to the top of a group including Germany and Spain.

Beating Germany on the opening day, they then fell to a shock defeat to Costa Rica before pulling off another comeback victory against Spain, knocking Germany out in the process.

Defensively, Japan have been one of the most solid in the tournament, and Borussia Mochengladbach’s Itakura has been a key part of that.

CB: Roman Saiss (Morocco)

Morocco were dark favourite flops 4 years ago in Russia, but have gone under the radar this time around and have been excellent in a tricky group also featuring European heavyweights Croatia and Belgium.

The North African side have only conceded via an own goal, and their watertight defence has been key to them topping the group and sending Belgium home early. Former Wolves man Saiss has been central (both literally and figuratively) to that success, and along with Aguerd has ensured that Morocco have reached the last 16 for the second time in their history.

CB: Harry Maguire (England)

Ridiculed for his lack of play time at Manchester United, Harry Maguire has returned to the England set-up and looked perfectly at home even as the Three Lions opt for a back four as opposed to a back three under Gareth Southgate this tournament.

England’s man of the match against the USA, his passing range and driving runs from defence complement perfectly with John Stone’s more cautious approach, and he missed just 20 minutes of the group stage as he helped England top the group and set up a tie with Senegal.

LB: Luke Shaw (England)

Much maligned coming into the tournament for their lack of gametime, both Shaw and Maguire have rediscovered their best form so far this tournament amid the comfort blanket of international football.

Shaw’s performances down the right flank helped England emerge as the best side across the group stages, while he also grabbed an assist in the opener against Iran.

CM: Gavi (Spain)

Spain’s eye-catching football was encompassed best by young star Gavi, who was central to much of their good play and even grabbed himself a goal against Costa Rica.

A draw and a defeat followed, but the Kopa award winner continued to impress with his ability to find space and work in tight spaces without getting himself on the scoresheet as Spain were easy on the eye but ultimately picked up one point from six.

CM: Jamal Musiala (Germany)

Germany were shambolic in their second consecutive World Cup group stage, but have one of the brightest sparks in World football in the form of teenager Jamal Musiala.

The 19-year-old midfielder dazzled across all three games with his incredible dribbling and his eye for a pass, even if he was let down by a mixture of personnel and systemic issues across the remainder of the side.

CM: Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)

While much of the focus has been on Cristiano Ronaldo, who was released from Manchester United on the eve of the tournament, it has been Bruno Fernandes that has put Portugal on his back.

Grabbing two assists in his side’s 3-2 win over Ghana, he followed it up with two goals to ensure Portugal’s progression into the last 16 with a game to spare, and underlined his importance to Fernando Santos’s side in the process.

RW: Mohamed Kudus (Ghana)

Just like Germany, it was not to be for Ghana this tournament as they fell in the group stages, but Mohamed Kudus propelled his name onto the international stage (if it wasn’t there already), with some excellent performances for the Black Stars, which included helping them to a famous 3-2 win over South Korea.

ST: Enner Valencia (Ecuador)

Currently joint top goalscorer, Enner Valencia’s tournament is over but he has nonetheless been incredibly impressive this World Cup.

With the two opening goals of the tournament, he followed it up with another as Ecuador snatched a point with the Netherlands and leave them in with a shout to qualify.

A 2-1 defeat to Senegal ended that dream, but it was still a tournament to remember for the former West Ham man.

LW: Kylian Mbappe (France)

Once more, Kylian Mbappe continued to show the world that he has to be considered one of the greatest players in world football with a pair of brilliant performances for Les Blues, while he caused chaos when he came on in their third group game.

Grabbing three goals from the left-wing, the Frenchman is looking to be the youngest two-time World Cup winner since Pele, and has definitely started off strongly.

Read more:

World Cup Daily Round-Up: Betting tips, previews, stats and latest news

Kylian Mbappe, USA & quartet of Man City stars headline World Cup group stage stat leaders

Ben Browning

Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.

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