As we pull down the curtains on the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup, it’s time to draw out the analysis sheets and mull over a few things. France joined Argentina and Uruguay as the teams to win the World Cup twice, while Harry Kane became just the third Englishman to finish as the most prolific player in the competition.
The tournament witnessed a total of 169 goals being scored in 64 games, and only one of those ended goal-less. We also saw how smaller sides like Russia, Iran, Sweden, Japan and even Croatia, punch above their weights, but the competition was also lit up by some talented youngsters making an indelible mark on the biggest stage.
Some of these have impressed with the clubs, while some announced their arrival to the world with eye-catching exploits in the competition. Here are the 5 best youngsters of the FIFA 2018 World Cup:
#1 Kylian Mbappe (France)
The French sensation hasn’t looked back since bursting onto the scene with AS Monaco two seasons ago. He only went onto raise his game after the expensive move to rivals PSG, and after his heroics in the World Cup, has genuinely established himself as the next big thing of world football.
Even though he did manage to score a goal in the group stages, the real Mbappe showed up in the knockout rounds when he dismantled Argentina in the last 16 with a brace. He was at his prolific best again in the semis against Belgium, running the rings around the Red Devils with his nimble feet and supersonic speed, before scoring in the showpiece clash against Croatia to join Pele as the only other teenager to score in a World Cup final. Picking up the Best Young Player award in the aftermath of the triumph was just the frosting on the cake he helped Les Blues bake.
Day by day he’s making us poorer for superlatives, but Mbappe knows no stopping. At this rate, the 19-year old is on course for more glory and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him lift the Ballon d’Or in near future.
#2 Benjamin Pavard (France)
You’d be excused to admit you’ve never of this name before, or at least until France began their preparations for the World Cup with a spate of friendlies. For Pavard was a relatively unknown player in this French roster of superstars, and quite frankly, also an untested quantity on the international stage. He only made his debut in November last year and came to Russia with just 6 caps under his belt.
But Didier Deschamps was aware of his potential and pinned faith in him by starting him in all but one game – the dead-rubber versus Denmark in the final group fixture. And suffice to say Pavard more than repaid that faith. He was an indomitable presence at the right-back, skillfully blocking the passing lanes on the flank whilst also bursting forward at will.
The Eintracht Frankfurt defender averaged 3.7 clearances per game – behind only Varane and Umtiti, and an excellent game awareness saw him average another 2 tackles. But his best moment of the campaign was the long-range piledriver versus Argentina in the last 16 that’s got a prominent place in the montage of the best moments of this competition.
#3 Yerry Mina (Colombia)
Given Mina’s tumultuous debut season with Barcelona since the turn of the year, few would’ve expected him to pull up tress with Colombia in the tournament proper. But Mina didn’t just make a mark, he became one of their biggest stars of the campaign, particularly during the set-pieces.
With James Rodriguez struggling with recurring injuries, the 23-year old took over talismanic mantle upon himself and returned as the most prolific Colombian of this World Cup! Yes, he outscored everybody else in the team with 3 goals – all headers and established a Sergio Ramos-esque reputation. The most crucial ones were perhaps the winner against Senegal in the final group game and the stoppage time equalizer versus England in the last 16 to force extra-time.
Defensively too, he was sound. He may have bats in his belfry, but Mina turned in encouraging shows at the back with his vigilance and terrific work rate. He averaged over a tackle per game but his 7 clearances rank the seventh best in the World Cup.
#4 Jose Gimenez (Uruguay)
Gimenez has been that mortar to Diego Godin’s brick that together formed an impenetrable wall for their club and country. The 23-year old has grown from strength to strength alongside his experienced centre-back partner and put in a great shift at the back for the Celeste in this World Cup.
With a great positional awareness and excellent reading of the game, Gimenez didn’t put a wrong foot forward. He threw his entire bulky frame in the firing line at times to block shots whilst also drove the ball out with purpose whenever Uruguay tried to hit on the break. He averaged 5.3 clearances in 4 appearances and also made 3.3 interceptions per game.
His communication with Godin was just fine as ever but his rather surprising contribution came at the other end of the field when he headed the last minute winner in Uruguay’s opening game against Egypt to save his side the blushes and pilfer all three points.
#5 Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Mexico’s Hirving Lozano finished as the top scorer of the Dutch Eredivisie last season with 17 goals, but it’s his performances in the World Cup with El Tri that truly thurst him in the limelight. The 21-year old announced himself by scoring the winner against Germany in the opening game, before laying an assist in the next game against South Korea.
Lozano turned heads with his electrifying pace and a keen eye for pass made him dangerous in the attacking third. He left defenses in the knots with his magical dribbles – he averaged 3.5 per game – as he also maintained an incredible 87% passing accuracy. His 6 key passes in the World Cup were second only to Carlos Vela in the team.
Lozano possesses a terrific ball control and has shown the potential to become a prolific goalscorer in future. Won’t be long before we seen him plying his trade in the upper echelons of Europe.