Just eight games remain at this fascinating, wonderfully unpredictable World Cup as we reach the quarter-final stage and several Manchester United players are in with a shout of winning the ultimate prize on July 15 in Moscow.
Nemanja Matic, Marcos Rojo and David de Gea have all gone home having failed to register much of an impact at these finals – although Rojo’s goal against Nigeria will certainly go down in history – and will join up with the Man United squad in time for their pre-season tour of the United States.
But there remain a number of players out in Russia battling to win the holy grail of sport. At this quarter-final stage everybody feels they are in with a chance.
And so, with that in mind, who exactly is left, and what can we expect from them?
The Frenchman was at the centre of the most impressive attacking performance of the knockout rounds so far, dominating Argentina alongside Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante. His balls over the top and through the lines caused a number of problems with Kylian Mbappe eviscerating anything which came near him.
For the first time at the tournament, France truly started ticking. But they face a formidable task against a relentlessly organised Uruguay side with two world class strikers at the other end. He will need to pick his passes well.
The Belgian saved his country in a whirlwind game against Japan, coming off the bench at 2-0 down and, just ten minutes later, heading home a thumping equaliser. He has suffered plenty of derision from supporters recently but there was no denying his powerful impact on Monday night.
He may be called upon in similar fashion when Belgium go up against tournament favourites Brazil, who keep the ball very well. Belgium may need to go more direct, and Fellaini – amazingly – may be the answer.
He may not have the armband but Lukaku has emerged as his country’s de facto captain on the pitch, giving rousing team talks on the pitch before each game and leading the line with authority. That dummy for Nacer Chadli in the dying moments against Japan was a glowing example of the maturity which has hallmarked his game at the World Cup.
27 goals for Manchester United. Four in Russia.
There is a case to be made that Lindelof has been one of the best centre-backs at this tournament: imperious against Germany, swaggering against Mexico, intractable against Switzerland. He has visibly grown in stature with each game and, in the process, sent a powerful message to Jose Mourinho ahead of next season.
England’s hopes of a first semi-final since 1990 rest on whether or not Harry Kane can get the better of him – especially at set pieces.
The youngster had spent most of this World Cup frustratingly on the periphery of things. He produced a rousing substitute appearance against Tunisia but didn’t feature against Panama and was unable to have an impact against Belgium.
But that changed when he put himself forward to be England’s second penalty taker in a shootout win over Colombia, demonstrating enormous bottle and skill to dispatch it perfectly. It should serve as a huge psychological boost ahead of the quarter-final with Sweden.
Only Aleksandr Golovin has covered more ground in a single game than Lingard at this World Cup, such has been the sprightly, ebullient nature of his performances in Russia. He is a live wire; a player constantly running in behind or carrying the ball forward or creating space for others.
And he will need to do that relentlessly in what promises to be a cagey game in Samara – against a Sweden team whose strength comes in their immense organisation. Another sumptuous curling effort into the top corner would not go amiss.
The Englishman faces a race to be fit for Saturday’s game having picked up an ankle injury against Colombia. His set-pieces, strangely overlooked at Old Trafford, have been crucial for England building pressure at this tournament.
He may not be everyone’s ideal left wing back – there is a serious case to state that Danny Rose should start against Sweden given the need to speed the game up – but Young possesses a big game nous you can’t really buy. The 32-year-old understands big games, hostile atmospheres, ridiculous pressure. Southgate will want him fit for the quarter-final.
Supporters will hope that Jones does not get any time on the pitch. Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker are doing just fine.
The Brazilian is yet to see any minutes on the pitch but could, as injuries and suspensions start to mount, play an important role, with most expecting Tite’s side to reach the final.