Kylian Mbappe was perhaps the most exciting player at the World Cup and in a team of youth and experience, France rose to the occasion and claimed the World Cup for only the second time. Mbappe has already broken records in the transfer market and after Pele is now only the second teenager to score in a World Cup Final. Mbappe possibly represents the future of the attacking game, combining speed, skill and trickery. With a diverse youth development background at AS Bondy, Clairefontaine and AS Monaco, he is a player with football smarts and raw talent. The French team were perhaps better balanced than other sides, and whilst they never completely found form, they were clinical and effective, particularly on transition. Led by some heroic defensive performances from Raphael Varane and dominating in midfield through Pogba and Griezmann, Mbappe provided the constant threat to allow others freedom to play. Whether the French Revolution continues into Euro 2020 remains to be seen, but there is no doubt this is a country with some extremely exciting talent and potential to go on and do more.
The Nearly Men
The magnificent performance of England’s young team was a leading story of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Not only did the squad manage to make the semi-finals for the first time in 28 years, but they also brought broken Britain back together, united in football. As the hot English summer took hold, the chants of ‘football’s coming home’ rang out around the country and went viral on social media. Gareth Southgate’s revitalised young squad gave hope to a nation which has recently experienced enormous amounts of political instability and concerns over the BREXIT future.
Whilst falling short of the line, this young group is further proof that the overhaul of the academy youth development system under the EPPP and the coach education programs at The FA are having an impact. Whilst no system is perfect, England’s recent dominance at all international youth levels, combined with the new story of a brave new senior England side gives the home of football the chance to dream going into Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022. Harry Kane was a constant threat, Kieran Trippier a revelation, John Stones and Harry Maguire both outstanding at the back and you feel that players such as Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will only be better in the long term for the experience. Expect to see more young guns join the squad in the lead up to Euro 2020, too, with names like Ryan Sessegnon, Jordan Sancho and Marcus Edwards all possibilities to feature in the near future.
Iceland’s Rise Continues
Whilst failing to escape a very difficult Group D, which featured Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia, Iceland showed once again that a tiny island nation which famously dumped England out of Euro 2016, are still on the up. Their draw against an underperforming Argentina was a monumental achievement at a World Cup and with backs to the wall, they defended with desire, resilience, energy and togetherness. With a coach education system that is said to be flourishing, combined with continued investment in facilities that allow young players in the community to play freely and often, it will be interesting to see where the future of Icelandic football heads going into the next European Championships, and whether they be able to bring an even more rounded game to the tournament table.
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