FC Barcelona at the World Cup: Semifinals



All dates are based on EST.

Spain - Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, *Andres Iniesta

While it was certainly the last we'll see of Andres Iniesta, the future of the three current Barcelona players is less straightforward at national level. With the depth of Spain, it could be the end of all three and that's with the caveat that Pique doesn't retire from international duty like he has said in the past. For more on Pique's future at Barcelona, check out TBPod.link/93.

Group Stage Matches: 3-3 v. Portugal, 1-0 v. Iran, 2-2 v. Morocco
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-4 P) v. Russia

Argentina - Lionel Messi, *Javier Mascherano

After the win against Nigeria and an unbelievable escape from elimination, Argentina found themselves toe-to-toe with a squad that the aging South Americans couldn't contend with. Playing Messi as a "false 9" didn't appear to be the right tactical decision, but it's also possible that there was no magical solution that would have helped their defense contend with the pace of Kylian Mbappe. Messi still finished the match with two assists, 85% passing and 3 successful dribbles, but by playing closer to the French defense N'Golo Kante didn't have to mark him one-on-one and was able to harass and cut out passes in the midfield. In the aftermath, Mascherano immediately retired after the match, and now the question becomes whether or not Messi will continue playing for the national team or retire for the second time. Nevertheless, when one looks back on the Argentina side assembled and the quality of the group that they were drawn into (Croatia may have been the best side in the group stage), it should be seen as a triumphant success that they managed to get out of the group stage before being knocked out by a much deeper and skilled squad. Messi's leadership skills and role in the chaos surrounding the team will rightfully be criticized, but the problems in Argentina certainly go much deeper than their captain and may take years to mend.

Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Iceland, 0-3 v. Croatia, 2-1 v. Nigeria
Round of 16: 3-4 v. France

Brazil - Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho

The world's attention was always going to be on Neymar, and even some sensational performances by Coutinho couldn't prevent the power of narrative. Albeit for a late miss in the match and a few moments where composure was lacking in the face of an ever-changing defense (which switched to four at the back with impressive precision), Coutinho controlled play in Russia in ways that a proper midfielder does. Alongside Paulinho, they combined well with teammates and although Coutinho would never be considered a defensive stopper, he did his job and there were few moments when the Brazilian midfield looked lacking in that area. Paulinho's recent transfer news have dominated the headlines, but just as when he moved to Barcelona in the first place, the player the world sees playing for the Selecao is one of the top midfielders in doing the things that he does best. A good tournament for two players that ends with a difficult result.

Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Switzerland, 2-0 v. Costa Rica, 2-0 v. Serbia
Round of 16: 2-0 v. Mexico
Round of 8: 1-2 v. Belgium

France - Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti

It was a disappointment not to see Dembele come off the bench at the very least, but it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Didier Deschamps has found a recipe that works, with Blaise Matuidi or Corentin Tolisso, normally central midfielders, taking up the left wing of France's 4-2-3-1. If Dembele didn't play the same position as Kylian Mbappe, it should be assumed that he would have been the starter.

Unlike Dembele, Umtiti was always going to start against Belgium and good thing for France that he did. He took home the Man of the Match trophy after scoring the game's lone goal and helping Hugo Lloris collect his fourth clean sheet of the tournament. His up and down performances at the tournament may be somewhat forgotten after keeping Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard (the brightest of the three) in check. Comparisons to Carles Puyol's 2010 World Cup have been thrown around, a bit prematurely when looking at the stage of their careers in question, but the 24-year-old has surely gotten the rest of the world's attention outside of Catalonia with strong play in important matches. Good thing he signed that contract extension. For more on Umtiti, Dan and Diana discussed the CB in TPod.link/94.

Group Stage Matches: 2-1 v. Australia, 1-0 v. Peru, 0-0 v. Denmark
Round of 16: 4-3 v. Argentina
Round of 8: 2-0 v. Uruguay
Semifinal: 1-0 v. Belgium
Final: July 15th v. Croatia

Germany - Marc-Andre ter Stegen

With Germany out in the group stages, the only silver lining for ter Stegen is that he'll have a few extra weeks of vacation.

Group Stage Matches: 0-1 v. Mexico, 2-1 v. Sweden, 2-0 v. South Korea

Uruguay - Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez served as more of a distributor in his battle with Umtiti and Raphael Varane as he did somewhat languish without his normal strike partner Edinson Cavani, who was replaced by Girona's Cristhian Stuani. Uruguay was forced to defend deeper in their half than we've seen them this tournament, and Suarez did not shirk his defensive duties. Suarez didn't see much of the ball as finally Uruguay's midfield met their match. While the loss stings, the tournament was a success for him, if not for the simple fact that he didn't have one major moment of villainy as he did at the last two editions of the World Cup. He still showed that he is a master of the "dark arts" if you will, but no action was particularly notorious. If he is able to come into the new season looking like the goal-scoring, lively threat that he was in Russia, some of the criticism and questions of age being thrown his way may find a reason to temporarily muffle their bile.

Group Stage Matches: 1-0 v. Egypt, 1-0 v. Saudi Arabia, 3-0 v. Russia
Round of 16: 2-1 v. Portugal
Round of 8: 0-2 v. France

Croatia - Ivan Rakitic

In football, comparisons can be deadly. In the same breath, overrating and underrating players based on said comparisons is an even bigger waste of time for those with any intellectual acumen. Rakitic, a player who is better than anyone thinks he is while not being as good as his defenders protest, has had the spotlight thrust upon him in ways that Cules would never have expected at the start of the tournament. Against England, Croatia had to ride the wave of momentum in the contest, taking possession when it was given and then defending with vitality when England found their footing. For a man that has played 70 matches this year, more than any top flight player in the world, he has shown little fatigue in doing what has been asked of him for club and country. He wasn't particularly important to the result of England in the highlights, but it doesn't mean he didn't have an effect on the game. Neither he nor Modric put on their typical passing clinics, and three consecutive extra times may have something to do with that, but his cross-field ball to Sime Vrsaljko which allowed Vrsaljko the space he needed to deliver the ball that found Ivan Perisic and subsequently the back of the net should not be forgotten. He will always be second fiddle to Modric for Croatia and he will always be compared to the shadows of Xavi and Iniesta at the Camp Nou, but Rakitic is currently showing the world just how necessary a player with his profile and desire is in the modern game.

Group Stage Matches: 2-0 v. Nigeria, 3-0 v. Argentina, 2-1 v. Iceland
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-2 P) v. Denmark
Round of 8: 2-2 (4-3 P) v. Russia
Semifinal: 2-1 (AET) v. England
Final: July 15th v. France

Colombia - Yerry Mina

Yerry Mina had one of the moments of the tournament with another header goal, his third of the tournament, in stoppage time. Colombia didn't play a game that won them many fans, but Mina was arguably their best player once again. He is playing well and with other teams potentially looking at him with wanting eyes, his unclear future at the Camp Nou may have more options after his last few weeks in Russia. For more on his place in the squad, check out TBPod.link/93.

Group Stage Matches: 1-2 v. Japan, 3-0 v. Poland, 1-0 v. Senegal
Round of 16: 1-1 (3-4 P) v. England

Belgium - Thomas Vermaelen

Trailing in the second half against France, all of Roberto Martinez's substitutes had to be attacking options so Vermaelen should never have been expected to see the field. It is clear that he has been an important player for Belgium's "Golden Generation" and while he isn't the same kind of star that Vincent Kompany is, he should be remembered all the same for his role in the country's recent footballing success due to the experience and calm poise that is ever present when he can stave off injury and get on the field. At the moment he is fit, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get his World Cup and possibly national team send-off against England in the third place game.

Group Stage Matches: 3-0 v. Panama, 5-2 v. Tunisia, 1-0 v. England
Round of 16: 3-2 v. Japan
Round of 8: 2-1 v. Brazil
Semifinal: 0-1 v. France
3rd place game: July 14th v. England

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