Goals win games, defences win silverware – the age-old adage always rings true during the FIFA World Cup. Be it Spain’s 1-0 victory in the 2010 semi-finals or Germany’s 7-1 annihilation of Brazil in the 2014 semi-finals, defenders form the fulcrum of the winning teams.
Here are the top defenders likely to set the stage ablaze at the 2018 FIFA World Cup:
The Spaniard has invited a lot of flak in recent past due to his role in Mohamed Salah’s injury in the UEFA Champions League final, but Ramos holds the key to Spain’s aspirations to regain the summit of world football after a difficult four years. Spain has gone through a phase of reinvention of their footballing style, but this stalwart’s displays will decide how deep a run Spain makes into the knockout stages.
An integral part of Pep Guardiola’s Premiership-winning Manchester City side, Nicolas Otamendi’s all-round game will be crucial for Argentina’s chances in the upcoming World Cup. A fearless tackler of the ball known for his unapologetic sliding challenges, Otamendi rounded off last season with the most number of completed passes in the Premier League. Similar to most other years, defence is the weakest link among the La Albiceleste and Otamendi’s leadership abilities will come into play as Argentina forge through a tricky Group D.
The 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany in the 2014 semi-finals at the Maracana notwithstanding, Marcelo is arguably Brazil’s finest defender – Roberto Carlos’ worthy successor at the Los Galacticos has already achieved every other possible honour in club and international football, and a FIFA World Cup will cement the 30-year-old’s legacy.
Marcelo is undoubtedly one of the world’s best attacking fullbacks, his overlapping runs on the left flank a sheer delight to watch, but the Brazilian has added a measure of wit to his panache, elevating his game to near-perfect levels.
Marquinhos, renowned among his colleagues as the ‘little phenomenon’, is all set to take the mantle from Thiago Silva this summer. With already 25 international caps, Marquinhos is no stranger to the expectations which comes with donning the Canarinho jersey and the 24-year-old’s quick feet and solid defensive skills bode well for Brazil as they will be eager to write off their humiliating elimination in the previous campaign.
Germany’s golden boy and a five-times Bundesliga champion, Mats Hummels already has a FIFA World Cup Winners’ Medal, but the Bayern Munich centre-half is aiming for a repeat telecast this summer. In a star-studded Germany defence consisting of the likes of Jerome Boateng, Antonio Rudiger, Niklas Sule and Joshua Kimmich, the 29-year-old Bavarian academy graduate is the lynchpin of the squad – the uncontested leader of the defence who will lead the charge for Joachim Loew’s men to defend their world title.
A self-proclaimed Bastian Schweinsteiger fan, he has already drawn comparisons to Philipp Lahm, and the 23-year-old Bayern Munich youngster’s versatility is only enhanced by his flawless performances – whether at the heart of the defence or as an attacking fullback. With over 100 club appearances at senior level, Kimmich has everything necessary to succeed for his nation – talent, passion and confidence, and he could very well be Germany’s breakout star in this World Cup campaign.
Alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld, with a goalkeeper of Thibaut Courtois’ calibre below the bars, Jan Vertonghen is often overlooked among Belgium’s golden generation of footballers. However, the Tottenham Hotspur mainstay will be a significant, if not the most integral component of Roberto Martinez’s defensive ranks.
Vertonghen has steadily improved his defensive attributes over the years, cutting down the silly mistakes and Belgium will also look to him for his commandeering displays at the heart of the defence, especially as Kompany will be heading into the World Cup on the back of a season riddled with injuries.
One might ponder when was the last time an English centre-half was considered to be among the best in his position when a FIFA World Cup swung by – definitely not since the likes of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry stepped aside. John Stones, for his generic British name, offers a novel playing style – one that suits the current crop of English footballers.
Under Guardiola’s tutelage, not only has Stones honed his flair to ‘play out of the back’, but has also added a bit of finesse to the defensive elements of his game. The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be his first huge test when it comes to dealing with pressure at the international stage, especially as an English footballer, but Stones is perfectly capable of putting a strong showing in Russia.
Senegal are no world beaters, but Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the finest in his position – the 26-year-old is soon expected to break all transfer records for defenders. When physicality complements poise and technical prowess is enhanced by the reading of the game, comes along a cerebral player of Koulibaly’s calibre.
Senegal have been drawn into an interesting group with Poland, Colombia and Japan; and while they must rely upon the Sadio Mane and M'Baye Niang for goals, strong defensive performances will be crucial to progress to the knock-outs. Koulibaly, irrespective of how far his country progresses, is destined to excel.
France are only secondary to Germany when it comes to boasting of star footballers in each and every department, but it is the French defence which consists of some of the finest young European talents of this generation – Raphael Varane being the numero uno.
The Real Madrid prodigy is the ultimate epitome of the phrase ‘talent has no age’, proving his mettle time and again. And France needs the 25-year-old to fire all cylinders, especially as they head into the World Cup with bona fide world beaters in each and every position. The likes of Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba are expected to provide the glitz, but it will be Varane’s renditions alongside his centre-half partner of Samuel Umtiti which will decide France’s future.
Potential Breakout Stars:
Presnel Kimpembe has been one of Unai Emery’s success stories at Paris Saint-Germain and the 22-year-old’s remarkable rise to prominence is expected to continue in Russia this summer, as Laurent Blanc has named him in a decorated France squad.
Uruguay’s Jose Gimenez is yet another candidate destined for stardom, the 23-year-old Atletico Madrid defender already boasting of FIFA World Cup experience from Uruguay’s 2014 campaign. Coming off a decent season with the UEFA Europa League winners, Gimenez is essential to dark horses Uruguay’s plans.
The value of a centre-back in today’s footballing market is nothing short of warped – as Barcelona’s Yerry Mina and Tottenham Hotspur’s Davinson Sanchez will attest to, but these two youngsters are Colombia’s future and they are likely to make their mark this summer itself.
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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2018 21:44:25 IST