On the latest episode of our daily World Cup podcast, we discuss who was the best player of the group stage, look ahead to the first two, star-studded matchups of the knockout round and are joined by ex-U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

By Grant Wahl and Brian Straus
June 29, 2018

The World Cup group stage is over and the knockout stage is on the horizon and we do a bit of looking back and ahead on the latest edition of our Planet Fútbol World Cup Daily Podcast from Russia.

The group stage yielded a number of surprises and star performances, but which individual stood out the most? We're also treated to a pair of immense last-16 matchups on Saturday, when France plays Argentina and Uruguay faces off against Portugal, and we preview both of those games. Finally, we're joined by former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who discusses the successful North American World Cup 2026 bid and what's next for him after a difficult year that included the USMNT's failure to qualify for this World Cup.

Listen to the full episode below, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to hear each and every episode throughout the 2018 World Cup.

Here's a selection of the latest episode, which can also be listened to in its entirety in the podcast console above:

GRANT WAHL: It's a lopsided bracket, and obviously Spain and Croatia, a lot of people are looking at that as a potential quarterfinal game. Croatia, if you're doing power rankings on performance on the field might be right at the top. 

BRIAN STRAUS: I think Luka Modric might be my group stage Golden Ball winner. Just very influential. Three wins in a group that was probably one of the two most balanced groups at the competition. I just thought of that just now, so I haven't gone through the list of potential rivals, but on first instinct I give it to Modric. 

GW: Why is it that Modric seems underrated even though he plays for Real Madrid?

BS: That's a really good question. Because I guess, anyone standing next to the "look at me" Cristiano Ronaldo supernova is by definition–no one can get a word in. That must be it. I don't know. But he's wonderful. And I think anyone who watches Madrid realizies how important he is. But so is Toni Kroos, and Kroos had a terrible World Cup.

GW: He had the best goal of the World Cup, some people would say!

BS: He may have, but overall did not play well. Had a great moment. But Modric has been fantastic, and he pulls the strings for Croatia. They beat Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. Who am I overlooking? I'm sure someone.

GW: Not really. At this point, Cristiano Ronaldo was the figure of the tournament for the first two games. Failed to convert a penalty in the third.

BS: The other two 3-0 teams are Belgium and Uruguay, and they both were in groups–those were the two most imbalanced groups of the competition. The other name that pops to mind maybe is Philippe Coutinho. Maybe. He was very good for Brazil.

GW: I'm going to throw one out here for you: (Uruguay defender) Diego Godin.

BS: He's awesome. That guy is a machine. He's really good.

GW: Just a tremendous center back.

BS: Yeah. I'm always going to be biased toward the attacking player.

GW: He scores goals, too, not that he's had any in this tournament. But he scores goals.

BS: So yeah. Coutinho, Godin. For me it's Modric. But obviously no one wins any awards based on the group stage. But those are the names that stood out in the first round.

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