Bleacher Report's 2022 World Cup Best XI
And just like that, the 2022 World Cup has ended.
Arriving awkwardly in the middle of the European domestic seasons and gone in what felt like an instant, the monthlong celebration of the best the beautiful game has to offer was special—especially on the pitch.
The play was breathtaking, in full high definition and with all the computer-generated VAR offside decision graphics your eyes can handle. Argentina won the whole thing as Lionel Messi carried the team and the entire country on his shoulders for the duration. Morocco became the first African nation to make the semifinals in a stunning run. Traditional powerhouses had shockingly bad performances. We had a bit of everything.
We'll examine some of the best individual performances in Qatar. Eleven of them, in fact. When those players are combined, you'll have your Bleacher Report 2022 World Cup Best XI.
How will this team be determined? That comes down to a variety of factors: overall production (goals/assists), averaged player rating and a third quality known as the "spiciness level." This includes how buzzy the player was in Qatar and the moments created by their play on the pitch.
These three factors combined will create a team that excelled and delighted this past month and whose names will be on the lips of everyone going into the second half of the league campaigns.
Let us take to the pitch with our 11 of the best, who will be lining up in everyone's favorite 4-2-3-1.
GK: Dominik Livaković, Croatia
The Checkered Ones produced another outstanding tournament on their way to a third-place finish. Outside of Luka Modrić (who somehow doesn't make this squad), they had one very big reason for their success: goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. With the impressive Joško Gvardiol in front of him (more there soon), Livaković was excellent between the sticks for Croatia.
Active, alert and steadfast, Livaković helped Croatia get past the group stage with only one goal surrendered. Then he oversaw wins in two penalty shootouts, including one against Brazil in the quarterfinals. That'll do.
Honorable Mention: Emiliano Martínez, Argentina
LB: Theo Hernández, France
After his brother Lucas went down with an ACL tear just 13 minutes into France's World Cup campaign, Theo came in and Les Bleus didn't miss a beat. One of the highest-rated left backs who played in Qatar (7.22, according to WhoScored.com), Hernandez provided France with energy and dependability down the flank.
He wasn't at his best in the final vs. Argentina, and you could point fingers at his performance vs. England in the quarterfinals, but Theo was the best of a mostly average bunch at the left-back spot.
Honorable Mention: Jordi Alba, Spain
CB: Romain Saïss, Morocco
Morocco's dream run to the semifinals could not have been possible without an incredible team effort in which each player contributed to the cause to the utmost of his ability. One of the standouts of this incredible unit was center back and captain Romain Saïss. Organizing a group that allowed (checks notes) zero goals in open play before the semifinals merits inclusion among the tournament's best XI.
Honorable Mention: Harry Maguire, England
CB: Joško Gvardiol, Croatia
The masked man was a buzzy name going into the tournament in Qatar, and his play solidified his place among the must-have young defenders in world football. Even though he got the Lionel Messi Treatment in the semifinals vs. Argentina, Gvardiol was immense (he defended Leo well on that goal, for the record). He combines all the skills you are looking for in a dominating center back: size, athleticism, positioning and truly terrifying face.
He's at RB Leipzig now...but not for much longer. The big boys are coming for him.
Honorable Mention: Raphaël Varane, France
RB: Achraf Hakimi, Morocco
The brightest star among the tremendous squad of Moroccan Atlas Lions is Achraf Hakimi. The barnstorming fullback, with pace to keep up with Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappé, was sensational in Qatar and deserves more love for the remarkable job he did in this side.
Oh, and he scored the game-winning penalty against Spain in the round-of-16 shootout with a Panenka. Ultimate spice, and because of it, a spot in the Best XI.
Honorable Mention: Diogo Dalot, Portugal
CM: Jude Bellingham, England
The player in the Best XI whose nation was eliminated the earliest, Jude Bellingham was incredible for England at the World Cup.
At only 19 years old, Bellingham looks like he'll be in the middle of the Three Lions midfield for many major tournament eliminations to come and will again be the best player in the squad. Often driving the team forward singlehandedly, Bellingham was involved in mostly everything positive England did.
He was the highest-rated central midfielder at the World Cup with an average of 7.58. Along with fellow starlet Bukayo Saka (who just missed out on this Best XI), Bellingham will give the English reason to believe in the years ahead.
Honorable Mention: Luka Modrić, Croatia
CM: Sofyan Amrabat, Morocco
If Jude was rated the best center mid at the World Cup, Mr. Amrabat was by far the most influential. Along with the rest of the Moroccan team, Amrabat stole the hearts and minds of the football public with his determined play, tidiness on the ball and know-how of a player who has won the biggest prize in the past. While his trophy cabinet is sparse, Amrabat can take pleasure in the delight he brought to the world during Morocco's push to the semifinals, a first for an African nation.
Honorable Mention: Frenkie de Jong, Netherlands
CAM: Antoine Griezmann, France
Going into the tournament, not a ton was expected of Griezmann. Suffering through a difficult season at Atlético Madrid, where he was on a minutes restriction for a portion of the season because of the club's deal with Barcelona for his services, Griezmann took on a bigger role with France thanks to several pre-tournament injuries.
Playing in a mostly unfamiliar role as a No. 8, Griezmann excelled and seemed to seamlessly transition into a do-everything player for Les Bleus, combining in attack and pulling the strings behind an exceptionally talented attacking three. He also led all attacking midfielders in key passes with 22, in average player rating at 7.52 and tied for the tournament lead in assists with three.
Honorable Mention: Neymar, Brazil
LW: Kylian Mbappé, France
Mbappé's performance in the final, let alone his entire tournament, was worthy of winning a World Cup. He was incredible from start to finish, and while he may never be the "GOAT," he is on his way to seriously rarefied air.
Only 23, Mbappé deposited eight goals in seven World Cup matches on his way to the Golden Boot award. Of the eight, his dramatic equalizer in the final is a goal that will never be forgotten and, on another day, was worthy of winning a tournament like this. It was outstanding and one of his best-ever strikes.
Completing his hat trick in extra time, a first in a World Cup final in over 50 years, Mbappé wrote himself into the record books. Has it been mentioned that he is 23 years old? He has another three World Cups ahead and could go down as the greatest player on the biggest stage. Olivier Giroud certainly thinks so.
Honorable Mention: Cody Gakpo, Netherlands
RW: Lionel Messi, Argentina
If this is a list for the Best XI of the World Cup, Leo makes it because he could easily be considered for the World Cup Greatest XI at this point. He did complete football, after all.
Leo was on another level for much of this tournament. From the moment the final whistle went in Argentina's tournament-opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, he said to keep the faith, and did he ever repay that.
Just missing out on a clean sweep of winnable awards as the Golden Boot went to Mbappé, Leo was the clear winner of the Golden Ball, the tournament's MVP, after his epic run of games. The 35-year-old became the first player ever to score in every round of the World Cup. He dragged his team to the final and then won the thing. For Argentina.
Leo has achieved everything there is to achieve in the sport of football, and with his near-perfect run in Qatar, he is the unquestioned GOAT, as if it was even a question.
Honorable Mention: Richarlison, Brazil
ST: Olivier Giroud, France
Unfortunately for Giroud, he saved his worst performance of the tournament for the final against Argentina and was hooked before half-time. Some speculated an injury held him back, but the first 45 were tough to swallow for the French.
Prior to that, though, he was the center of the France attack that got the European nation to the final and tied for third for the Golden Boot with four goals. He also was third in shots (again behind Mbappé and Messi). Without Karim Benzema in the mix, Giroud (and France) flourished, and he continued to score big goals in bigger moments.
Honorable Mention: Julián Álvarez, Argentina