The group stage of the 2022 World Cup provided no end of talking points, plenty of late drama and a whole host of high-scoring games.
Several standout performers took centre stage to drag their nations over the line, while others were simply consistent, high-quality and look ready for the challenge of the knockouts.
To select our team of the opening rounds of matches, due to the number of substitutions, rotations and patchy form - not a single nation picked up three wins out of three - we’re effectively looking at those who had two very good outings, or at least effective ones.
In a 4-3-3 system (with licence admittedly taken in one position), plenty of these players will be hoping to go the distance in Qatar.
Here’s our best 11 of the group stage...and a sub.
Wojciech Szczesny, Poland - Can’t really argue after he saved two penalties in three games. The Poles were not impressive, but the Juve stopper played a huge part in sending them through in second.
Achraf Hakimi, Morocco - The excellent African side topped Group F, had the joint-best defensive record and only conceded an own goal. Part of that back line was the brilliant Hakimi, who was also one of his team’s finest attacking outlets. Great assist in game three with a through ball from deep.
Harry Souttar, Australia - Future mountains on planet Earth will model themselves on the performance of Harry Souttar against Tunisia. He was an absolute beast, throwing himself in front of everything and timing every block to perfection. Slightly less magnificent against Denmark, but not by much.
Harry Maguire, England - Freed from the ridicule imposed on him at club level, Maguire has shown consistency and diligence in his defensive work so far. How long he can keep that up might dictate how far the Three Lions can go this year.
Josko Gvardiol, Croatia - With apologies for shifting him from the middle out to the left, where he has frequently operated for his national team, Gvardiol has been immense in two games and untested in one. The difference between Croatia in the last 16 and Croatia going home, with his last-minute tackle on Romelu Lukaku just two yards out. Actually, maybe not.
Casemiro, Brazil - Just as important as ever and just as excellent as ever. His style has not changed: combative, clever, aggressive, perfectly happy to get forward and smash in a brilliant winning goal.
Aurelien Tchouameni, France - Dominated the first two fixtures and has made himself a guaranteed starter at the heart of Les Bleus’ midfield. A must-play for any game they want to win, basically.
Jamal Musiala, Germany - One player of just two in our XI who isn’t going to be involved in the knockouts. Germany might have embarrassed themselves and gone home early but that doesn’t apply to the young attacking midfielder, who was consistently bright, adventurous and capable of unlocking teams.
Mohammed Kudus, Ghana - The second not reaching the last 16, but a massive presence in this newly constructed Ghana team and excellent in leading the attack. Creative, forceful, scored twice and very brave in possession.
Cody Gakpo, Netherlands - Louis van Gaal’s team are not firing on all cylinders yet and it’s not outrageous to suggest they’d have struggled without Gakpo. Has played as a 10 and a centre-forward and scored from both - three in three so far, one of five with that tally.
Kylian Mbappe, France - Another who has three already and he looks a real shout for Golden Boot, Golden Ball, World Cup winner - take your pick. Absolutely electric in his two starts and looks impossible to stop at times. Surely the most feared player in Qatar right now.
Ritsu Doan, Japan - Where else would we put the man who has netted twice off the bench to send his side through?
Ibrahima Konate (France), Ismail Jakobs (Senegal), Kim Young-Gwon (South Korea), Pedri (Spain), Jude Bellingham (England), Enzo Fernandez (Argentina), Bruno Fernandes (Portugal), Antoine Griezmann (France), Hakim Ziyech (Morocco), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Enner Valencia (Ecuador), Breel Embolo (Switzerland)