MOSCOW - It is not called the world's biggest sporting event for nothing and in almost every way you look at it, the 2018 FIFA World Cup did not disappoint. Dramatic late goals, unexpected results and the tension created by the Video Assistance Referee are just some of the elements that will ensure this tournament is likely to always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of fans who witnessed it.
But most of all, Russia 2018 will be remembered for the superb quality of football as the game welcomed a bold new generation spearheaded by French teenager Kylian Mbappe while bidding farewell to the old guard led by Andres Iniesta, and perhaps also Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
World Cup team of the tournament:
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium).
Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois makes a save during the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, July 6, 2018. (FRANCISCO SECO / AP PHOTO)
The Belgium shot-stopper was brilliant throughout the tournament, especially late in his team's 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Brazil when the 26-year-old made a number of fine saves as the Selecao peppered his goal in search of an equalizer. The Chelsea player just pips France's Hugo Lloris, whose howler that gifted Mario Mandzukic a goal in the final might have cost him his place.
Right-back: Kieran Trippier (England).
England's Kieran Trippier scores his side's opening goal during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in, Moscow, Russia, July 11, 2018. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP PHOTO)
Trippier was not only defensively sound at left wing-back for England, he also gave them another attacking edge with his speed off the mark and lethal crosses. In addition, the Tottenham Hotspur defender posed a constant danger with his delivery at set pieces and scored from a free-kick in his team's 2-1 semifinal loss to Croatia.
Center-back: Raphael Varane (France).
France's defender Raphael Varane celebrates the team's victory in the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)
The Real Madrid center-back was part of a supreme central defensive partnership for France alongside Samuel Umtiti. He blunted rival forwards with his speed, anticipation and aerial strength. The 25-year-old also left his mark in attack, scoring with a fine glancing header in France's 2-0 victory over Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
Center-back: Diego Godin (Uruguay).
Uruguay's Diego Godin celebrates after his team's second goal during the group A match between Uruguay and Russia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Samara Arena in Samara, Russia, June 25, 2018. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP PHOTO)
The 32-year-old was the bedrock of a Uruguay defense that was among the most frugal of the tournament. His understanding with Atletico Madrid teammate Jose Gimenez at the heart of the Celeste back-four was particularly decisive in the group stage, when Uruguay won each of their three matches without conceding a goal.
Left-back: Lucas Hernandez (France).
France's Kylian Mbappe (left) celebrates with team mate Lucas Hernandez after scoring his side's third goal during the round of 16 match between France and Argentina, at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, June 30, 2018. (DAVID VINCENT / AP)
Not even a guaranteed starter in Didier Deschamps' side at the beginning of the tournament, Hernandez quickly made the left-back position his own with a series of assured performances. It is true that there were few other obvious team-of-the-tournament candidates for this position, but Hernandez is a deserved inclusion for his blazing runs out of defense and for bringing a harder edge to the French side.
Defensive midfielder: N'Golo Kante (France).
France's midfielder N'Golo Kante and France's defender Djibril Sidibe (back) take part in a training session at the Luzhniki Stadium training field in Moscow on July 14, 2018 on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia. (GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
He might not be a born entertainer like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann or Mbappe, but Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante is proof that even in this age of social media and individual showmanship, there is still a place in football for the understated. The Chelsea midfielder was outstanding at Russia 2018 with his tireless box-to-box running and knack for effecting turnovers. An early yellow card in the final prompted Les Blues manager Didier Deschamps to withdraw him early in the second half of the final, but by then his impact had already proved to be telling.
Central midfielder: Luka Modric (Croatia).
Croatia's Luka Modric (front) celebrates with teammates at the end of the 2018 World Cup Group D match between Argentina and Croatia at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Russia, June 21, 2018. (RICARDO MAZALAN / AP)
Croatia's Real Madrid playmaker was a deserving winner of the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player. He was deployed both as a deep-lying midfielder and, later in the tournament, in a more advanced free-roaming role. Not only did the 32-year-old cover more kilometers than any other player in the World Cup, he was also his team's key creative force, working brilliantly in tandem with Ivan Rakitic.
Attacking midfielder: Eden Hazard (Belgium).
Belgium's Eden Hazard celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the group G match between Belgium and Tunisia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Russia, June 23, 2018. (MATTHIAS SCHRADER / AP PHOTO)
The Chelsea attacker scored two goals and provided two assists, leading Belgium to third place - their best ever World Cup finish. But those statistics only tell part of the story. The Real Madrid target also showed he is not averse to tracking back and he was the centerpiece of coach Roberto Martinez's counter-attacking tactics with his bursts forward, which often began in Belgium's own defensive third.
Right wing: Kylian Mbappe (France).
France's Kylian Mbappe poses with the best young player award after the 2018 World Cup final match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2018. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)
The 19-year-old lit up the World Cup with his electric pace, power and lethal finishing. The high point of his tournament came in the round of 16 when he scored twice and drew a penalty in France's helter-skelter 4-3 win over Argentina. In doing so, Mbappe became the first teenager since Pele in 1958 to score twice in the same World Cup match. Then on Sunday he became only the second teenager - the other also being Pele - to score in a World Cup final.
Center forward: Harry Kane (England).
England's Harry Kane celebrates after he scored his side's second goal during the group G match between England and Panama at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, June 24, 2018. (ANTONIO CALANNI / AP PHOTO)
Despite fading at the end of the competition as fatigue evidently set in, Kane became only the second Englishman after Gary Lineker to win the World Cup Golden Boot, awarded to the top scorer at the tournament. The Tottenham Hotspur striker netted six goals - all of which came in his first three matches - including a hat-track against Panama.
Left wing: Antoine Griezmann (France).
France's forward Antoine Griezmann poses with his daughter and their World Cup trophy after winning the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)
The 27-year-old is the third Atletico Madrid player to make this team and the fifth Frenchman. Griezmann was decisive at key moments with his quality from set pieces, creativity in open play and coolness from the penalty spot, from where each of his four goals in Russia came. The 27-year-old's understanding with fellow forwards Mbappe and Olivier Giroud improved as the tournament progressed and he was awarded man-of-the match in the final with a goal and an assist.