World Cup 2018

Who makes the World Cup surprise XI?

 • by Mark Thompson
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The World Cup has been full of surprises.

From the opening game, where a supposedly poor Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0, to Germany and Argentina’s struggles, to England’s fantastic results, shocks have come on a regular basis.

There have been so many surprises that we can already put together a World Cup Surprise XI.

GK – Hannes Thór Halldórsson

Iceland’s goalkeeper epitomises the nation’s story.

The 34-year-old almost quit football at 20, is a filmmaker (and directed a Coca Cola advert for the World Cup), and put in a fantastic performance against Argentina, making six saves including keeping out a Lionel Messi penalty. Deserves a Viking Clap or two.

RB – Kieran Trippier

Tottenham Hotspur fans have long been critical of their right-back, wistfully looking off to the Etihad Stadium and the dearly departed Kyle Walker, but Trippier has been excellent for England.

While the players around him all have obvious potential, it’s truly surprising for the former Burnley man to be performing at this level, and long may it continue.

CB – Dejan Lovren

Croatia are emerging as true dark horses of this World Cup with their wins over Nigeria and Argentina.

While their more offensive players might have been catching the headlines, it’s the strength of the defence that has been surprising too, and Liverpool’s Lovren is a big part of that.

CB – Rafael Márquez

Considering that Márquez is a) 39 years old, and b) on a US blacklist, it’s a marvel that he’s at the World Cup at all.

In truth, Héctor Moreno has been the best centre-back for Mexico at the tournament so far, but Márquez’s story is too good to ignore.

LB – Ehsan Haji Safi

Iran may not have qualified for the round of 16 but they came very close. Much of this was down to their solid defence, which managed to limit Spain and Portugal to just one goal each.

Haji Safi has been a key part of that, making three tackles and three interceptions across the two games.

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CM – Marcelo Brozović

The Inter Milan midfielder is not one of Croatia’s star names, but he was a crucial part of their victory against Argentina.

He anchored the midfield and made eight ball recoveries, even registering an assist by passing the ball off to Luka Modrić before his goal.

CM – Héctor Herrera

Others in the Mexico side may have caught the eye more than Herrera, but his tenacious performances in central midfield haven’t gone unnoticed by the wider football world.

He’s made 11 tackles – the third-most in the tournament as of writing – and has reportedly been made a Real Madrid transfer target. Julen Lopetegui, the new boss of Los Blancos, gave Herrera a key role when he was the Mexican’s manager at Porto…

RW – Ahmed Musa

Musa had a disappointing time while at Leicester City, which made it all the more surprising when he started to set the pitch alight for Nigeria.

He scored two goals against Iceland, and as he’s still on the books with the Foxes will this persuade them to keep him around?

AM – Xherdan Shaqiri

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The first player whose name begins with X to score at the World Cup – a major accolade if ever there was one – Shaqiri’s last-minute goal against Serbia completed the first comeback of the tournament.

His time at Stoke City didn’t seem to suit him, but with these performances putting him in the shop window, where will he end up next?

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LW – Hirving Lozano

Football Whispers tipped him as One to Watch for the tournament and he duly delivered with his goal against Germany.

The talented youngster had a good season for PSV in 2017/18, but nobody expected him to make the impact that he has at the World Cup.

ST – Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku might be the biggest name on this list, but that doesn’t mean that his performances haven’t been a surprise.

Thierry Henry’s tutelage has clearly had an impact, with the Belgian scoring four goals in two games.

Unlike Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo, the only players to equal or better that tally at the World Cup so far, none of his goals have been penalties so, arguably, he’s the true leader of the Golden Boot race.

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