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How centre-backs survived near extinction to star at the 2018 World Cup

From near extinction to starring at the World Cup, centre-backs are, err... back

Only last year, your favourite worm eater said: “Defending is a dying art, and I think it is a massively important part of the game.”

It was hard to disagree with Sean Dyche, himself a hardened centre-back from a bygone era who would think nothing of repeatedly heading a granite wall for an hour if that’s what his coach demanded.

Centre-backs who could break a line with a pass or work their way out of an intense press with a perfectly executed Cruyff Turn simultaneously broke transfer records and infuriated Yer Das.

Defending was stumbling towards extinction, to be met by the dodo and the Pyrenean ibex.


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Soon to be gathering dust in the corner of a museum

AFP - Getty
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Soon to be gathering dust in the corner of a museum

A World Cup could have been the final nail in the centre-back’s coffin.

After all, Brazilians were still waking up in cold sweats screaming ‘7-1’ and having nightmares about David Luiz earning a late call-up to Tite’s squad.

But, as it turns out, defending is far from dead. In fact it has never been so alive.

Centre-backs are the new rockstars. Everywhere you go in Russia they’re (figuratively) signing boobs and seeing off bottles of Jack Daniels.

England’s waistcoat revolution has been spearheaded by a back three of Harry Maguire, John Stones and converted right-back Kyle Walker.

Long gone are the days when England fans had to deal with the sight of a long ball to Michael Owen.

Now Maguire and Stones are playing triangles with each other, although old habits die hard judging by the amount of panicked ‘GET RID’ shouts from England fans whenever the defensive ping pong starts.

Throwing it all the way back home

PA:Press Association
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Throwing it all the way back home

Uruguay proved you didn’t need to be particularly cute on the ball to earn plaudits thanks to the Goliath duo of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.

It’s no surprise that both were masters of the dark arts given they play their club football under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and have to try and keep Luis Suarez quiet during international duty.

If there’s a better natural defender than Godin out there then he needs to make himself known to Jose Mourinho as soon as possible.

AFP or licensors
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Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez enhanced their reputations despite Colombia’s second round exit at the hand of Jordan Pickford.

While goals aren’t always a perfect litmus test of a defender’s quality, Mina’s aerial dominance over strikers is backed up by the fact he’s got three World Cup strikers to his name- the same amount as Edinson Cavani and Diego Costa.

On the subject of defenders making yellow look good, Andreas Granqvist has lived up to his nickname- the ‘Christmas Tree‘ rather than ‘Dadbod‘- by helping Sweden keep three clean sheets in four games as well as slotting two vital penalties.

Like a veteran Sunday League defender forced to take goal kicks

Getty - Contributor
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Like a veteran Sunday League defender forced to take goal kicks

Miranda and Thiago Silva put memories of That Night In Belo Horizonte to bed before running into Belgium’s all-star attack, who had a field day down Brazil’s vacant left side of Marcelo and Neymar.

Kevin De Bruyne and co are only able to play with such fluidity because of the foundations laid by Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Raphael Varane has kept his head while all others around him, including Samuel Umtiti, have been losing theirs.

The Frenchman doesn’t always get a mention in conversations about football’s best defenders, purely because he’s so Rolls Royce smooth that you sometimes forget he’s playing.

A special mention, too, for Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji. Borussia Dortmund have got themselves another gem in the stylish 22-year-old.

Mr Smooth

Getty - Contributor
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Mr Smooth

Even the Goal of the Tournament award will be handed out to a centre-back.

Benjamin Pavard might have spent the entire tournament playing at right-back for France but he’s fresh off a season in which he played in the middle of Stuttgart’s defence.

Okay, that’s just a cheap excuse to have another look at his NSFW technique.