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From Mbappe to Foden: Which World Cup quarter-finalists have the best wingers?

12:30 PM IST 09/12/22
Mbappe Di Maria Foden Vinicius 2022 World Cup wingers GFX
There has been a staggering rise in goals from wide areas from Russia 2018 to Qatar 2022, so which nation stands to benefit from this tactical shift?

We've reached the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and certain tactical trends have emerged.

Indeed, Arsene Wenger, the legendary former Arsenal manager who now serves as FIFA's chief of Global Football Development, revealed at a press conference last week that the amount of goals scored from open-play crosses at Qatar 2022 is up a whopping 83 per cent from Russia 2018.

Consequently, the Frenchman believes that "the teams with the best wingers have a higher chance of winning the World Cup.

"Teams are now more compact and they protect the middle of the pitch more, so that's why we see more assists coming from the wingers and that's also why we see fewer long-distance shots."

The stats certainly seem to support this claim. For example, all four goals in Netherlands' 3-1 win over the USA in the last 16 came from open-play crosses.

Two of England's three goals in their 3-0 defeat of Senegal were also from cut-backs from wide areas.

But which of the remaining teams has the best wingers? GOAL breaks down all of the quarter-finalists below...

  • Di Maria Argentina

    Argentina

    Lionel Scaloni's side leaned heavily on Angel Di Maria, their best – and only – winger, to win the 2021 Copa America. During the first few fixtures at Qatar 2022, their game plan once again concentrated heavily on long balls behind the opposition defence for the Juventus winger to attack. However, Di Maria didn’t play against Australia in the round of 16 because of a minor injury. Consequently, most of Argentina's offensive situations were created in the middle of the pitch and Messi finally found some space to make things happen. However, it was made clear during that match, particularly during the opening half hour, that Argentina don't really have a Plan B for when Di Maria is unavailable, as neither Papu Gomez nor Angel Correa are on the same level. Scaloni tried to deal without Di Maria by switching to a 3-5-2 formation so that the wing-backs could provide some width. But there is no real effective alternative to having Di Maria on the pitch. It's good news, then, that he is expected to be fit and refreshed for Friday's quarter-final clash with Netherlands.

  • Vinicius Brasil Suiza Mundial Qatar

    Brazil

    Vinicius Junior is without a doubt one of the best wingers in the world. He’s quick, agile, clever, he can create and he can finish, as underlined by his goal and assist in the 4-1 rout of South Korea. Indeed, The Real Madrid star has now been directly involved in five of the seven goals Brazil have scored in the World Cup so far. Raphinha, on the opposite flank, also impressed in the last 16, but the big thing about Brazil is just how many fantastic options they have out wide. Antony and Gabriel Martinelli can both do serious damage off the bench against tired legs, while Neymar is no stranger to drifting out to the left to weave his magic! If the team with terrific wingers really is going to win the World Cup, then Brazil have every chance of adding a sixth star to their shirt next Sunday week.

  • 20221205 Ivan Perisic

    Croatia

    The Croatian team played against Japan with three men upfront: Andrej Kramaric, Bruno Petkovic and Ivan Perisic. None of them occupied the flanks. They basically played in the middle of the final third, looking for those internal link-ups that could lead to a one-v-one with the goalkeeper. But that strategy didn’t work. Indeed, their only goal of the game – a stunning header from Perisic – came from a cross from a deep, infield position on the right. Croatia are arguably the weakest team left in the tournament in terms of wide players, meaning they will once again rely heavily on the creativity of Luka Modric in midfield to prise open the Brazil defence in their quarter-final clash in Al Rayyan.

  • Bukayo Saka England WC 2022

    England

    The main talking point among England fans to date is whom Gareth Southgate should pick out wide. Indeed, there was uproar that Phil Foden started on the bench for the first two games but he is now firmly established in the Three Lions' first XI after impressive displays against Wales and Senegal. He has added that mix of quality and aggression that England had been missing. Bukayo Saka is also expected to start against France, having already scored three times in Qatar. However, what's most impressive about England is their attacking depth. Even if Foden and/or Saka has a bad day, Southgate can bring on Marcus Rashford, who was harshly dropped after his double against Wales, Jack Grealish or Raheem Sterling, who has rejoined the squad after flying back to England last week to be with his family after a break-in at his home.

  • Kylian-Mbappe

    France

    Does any other country have a better pair of starting wingers than France? Kylian Mbappe has been the player of the tournament so far. The Paris Saint-Germain star seems to be able to do whatever he wants right now. He scored two amazing goals against Poland to take his overall tally to five. He's not just a great finisher, though, his pace is also a lethal weapon when it comes to creating chances for team-mates. Opponents may have to double up on Mbappe but that creates a problem, as Ousmane Dembele on the opposite flank is arguably just as quick as his good friend. This is probably the best version of Dembele we've seen to date and England must be aware going into their quarter-final that France's attacking threat can come from either side of the field. Let's not forget either, that Didier Deschamps also has Kingsley Coman in reserve...

  • Hakim Ziyech.

    Morocco

    Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech have played a pivotal role in Morocco's shock run to the quarter-finals. The pair have played in all four of the Atlas Lions' games to date. Indeed, this is not a side that scores many goals. They've only got four so far, but Ziyech was directly involved in two of them. Boufal, meanwhile, is a tremendous outlet for a side that spends an awful lot of time on the back foot. Portugal, then, will need to be wary of the twin threat out wide, given they, like Spain, whom Morocco upset on penalties in the last 16, prefer to play the ball in central areas.

  • Denzel Dumfries Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Netherlands

    This is not a classic Dutch team. Louis van Gaal likes to play with three at the back, giving his wing-backs the freedom to go forward as much as possible. Consequently, Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind were integral to their 3-1 win over the USA in the last 16. Indeed, Dumfries scored one goal and created two others, including one for Blind. All three goals came from cut-backs, with the passer picking out an unmarked team-mate. Argentina will need to be very, very wary of Netherlands' wing-backs and runners arriving late into the area.

  • Rafael Leao Portugal 2022

    Portugal

    Portugal don't really play with great width up front. Rafael Leao, their only orthodox winger, has started every game so far on the bench, with Frenando Santos instead preferring to deploy the AC Milan attacker late on. It's worked well to date, with Leao netting goals against both Ghana and Switzerland. Portugal's preference for playing inverted forwards is already reaping rewards. Even though Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva like to play more centrally, they're still finding space because of the way in which they regularly switch positions so effectively. So, the question is, do Portugal need to play with proper wingers? On the evidence of what we've seen so far, no, given they get plenty of width from full-backs Diogo Dalot and Raphael Guerreiro.