The 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup is one that will go down in memory as one of the best ever. It has been a tourney characterized by on-field drama, pulsating action played amidst a carnival-like atmosphere.
The Giants have fallen early while the minnows have given a good account of themselves. 2014 champions Germany, 2014 finalists Argentina, 2010 champions Spain and current European champions Portugal are some of the giants whose overinflated egos have been punctured in Russia.
The host team; the Sbornaya gave a good account of themselves while certain teams like Morocco, Senegal, Japan and Mexico acquited themselves brilliantly.
One unique feature of this World Cup has been that some big players have stepped up to the plate for their nations (even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had reasonably ok tourneys).
However, some players have shown more than others and will be in the running for the Golden Ball (award for the best player in the tournament).
Here is a look at 5 players who should be in contention for this prestigious award:
#1 Luka Modric (Croatia)
Captain, creative genius, leader and an all-round good guy, few players have been at the level that Croatia’s captain has been playing at in the World Cup.
Modric’s reputation as one of the best midfielders in the world was already well established before the Mundial began. However, even the pundits and fans who had huge expectations for this amazing Croatian team have been dazzled by the Real Madrid’s man brilliance.
Playing in an unfamiliar number 10 role in certain games and as a partner to fellow creative genius Ivan Rakitic in midfield, Modric’s guile, comfort in possession, hard work and brilliance has seen Zlatko Dalic’s men clearly dominate in all the games they have played.
He was very good in the opening game against Nigeria where he scored a penalty. However, he was phenomenal in the game against Argentina where he outshone his fellow LM10: Lionel Messi and played a blinder. It was a performance that was capped off with a majestic second goal against the hapless Albiceleste.
Though he lost a late extra-time penalty in the 2nd round tie against Denmark, it was his defence-splitting pass that had led to the penalty in the first place. He scored his penalty in the shootout win and repeated the same in the shootout against the Russians in the quarterfinal.
Having won his third UEFA Champions League title in a row for Real Madrid in May, Modric’s sights are firmly fixed on getting what would be a scarcely believable first World Cup title for his nation.
#2 N’Golo Kante (France)
Engine room, tackler, the first line of defence and all-around action hero, Kante’s already well-established reputations as one of the planet’s best defensive midfielders has only gotten better as the tournament has progressed.
The Chelsea star has quietly and efficiently done the dirty work in the centre of Les Bleus‘ midfield with his tackling, marking, ball winning and decision making all being top notch.
With the exception of Sergio Aguero’s goal in the 2nd round match between France and Argentina, Kante has been faultless for the other three goals that the team has conceded so far.
His presence and ability curtailed Christian Eriksen in the last group game against Denmark. He brilliantly marshalled Lionel Messi in the match against the Albiceleste while the entire Uruguayan attack got no change out of him in the quarterfinal clash.
His brilliance has also helped Paul Pogba play a more central role in dictating play for the French and has definitely made the Manchester United star play better than he has been doing for a while.
The centre-back pair of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti have had little to do thanks to his contributions and were France to lift its second World Cup on Sunday, Kante will be a shoe in for the Golden Ball.
#3 Artem Dyzuba (Russia)
Dyzuba’s passion and work-rate have been one of the best features of Russia’s barnstorming runs to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
The gangly striker was not on good terms with the Sbornaya‘s manager Stanislav Cherchesov before the World Cup following the player’s decision to miss the Confederations Cup last year.
They made up and the Russian team was the better for it as Dyzuba’s agility, drive, and strength helped the Russian team especially in games where they had little possession.
He combined beautifully with Aleksander Golovin and Denis Cheryshev in the group games against Saudi Arabia and Egypt where he got two goals and an assist.
He was immense in the game against the highly favoured Spaniards as he kept the centre-back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique singlehandedly occupied despite being isolated as the team played very defensively. He also won and scored the penalty which gave the team its equalizer.
He created the assist for Cheryshev’s wonder goal against Croatia and kept the Croatian defence occupied.
#4 Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Few strikers at the World have put in the miles and work that the Uruguayan front pair of Luis Suarez and Cavani put in.
Cavani, in particular, has put in extra, doing the running, hustling and drudgework that others in the team should have been doing.
The lack of explosive wingers or even an above average playmaker in the Uruguayan team forced last season’s Ligue 1 top scorer to play the triple role of goalscorer, winger and also act as the first line of defence.
He was exceptional in the opening game against Egypt creating lots of chances which his strike partner and fellow native of Salto, Suarez kept missing. He was a bit quieter in the team’s nervy win against a resilient Saudi Arabia team in the second game.
He exploded into life in the last group game against Russia and the 2nd round tie against Portugal as he scored, harried, passed and gave the opposing defences no respite. His brace against the Selecao were two brilliantly taken goals that showed a truly world-class marksman at his very best.
His hard work finally caught up with him in the second half against Portugal as he had to go off injured. He was sorely missed in the team’s meek quarterfinal capitulation to France but left the tournament with his reputation as one of the world’s leading strikers intact and even enhanced.
#5 Danijel Subasic (Croatia)
Nobody would have thought the AS Monaco custodian would be mentioned among the best players at the Mundial. The 33-year-old has at no point been regarded as one of the better goalies in world football.
Subasic only took over following the retirement of former undisputed number one Stipe Pletisoka after the 2014 World Cup.
He has been at the heart of everything good that the Croatians have done defensively in this tournament as his aerial ability, leadership and agility have helped the back 4 be a more solid presence despite the presence of a notoriously shaky Dejan Lovren and the absence of a proper defensive midfielder in the team’s setup.
His qualities have shown most though in the team’s penalty shootout wins against Denmark and Russia as he kept out three penalties against the Danish Dynamite in the 2nd round (equalling a World Cup record held by Portugal’s Ricardo for making three penalty saves in a single game).
He heroically soldiered on against the Russians despite playing with an injury and saved Fedor Smolov’s penalty in the shootout which set the tone for Croatia’s triumph.