Ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals, we have picked out six players who will have designs on winning the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player after the final in Moscow next Sunday.
Mbappe delivered the outstanding individual showing of the World Cup so far last time out, scoring twice and terrorising the Argentina defence during France’s thrilling 4-3 triumph. It is impossible not to be blown away by the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s pace, but it’s his speed of thought and execution which really set him apart from many other promising young players.
Antoine Griezmann was the star of this French side at Euro 2016, but it now feels like Mbappe is the main man. Les Bleus and their teenage sensation may find things tougher in the quarter-finals against a Uruguay outfit who will deny them space in behind, but it is clear to see why Mbappe is the 15/4 (888sport) favourite to win the Golden Ball at this stage of the competition.
Neymar has not been his country’s best player this summer – that honour falls to Philippe Coutinho – but he remains the Brazilian most likely to win the Golden Ball. The Paris Saint-Germain forward was exceptional in the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the round of 16 and appears to be hitting form at just the right time, with doubts over his fitness having been left behind in the group stage.
Despite all the antics, Neymar is a phenomenal footballer who possesses the ability to conjure up moments of magic from nothing – and it is those flashes which could make the difference between glory and failure for the Selecao in Russia. Available at 5/1 (Ladbrokes), Neymar looks a good shout to be voted the tournament’s best player.
It seems strange to say given the fact he has scored six times in Russia, but Kane’s best work this tournament has come outside the penalty area. The Tottenham striker’s ability to link the play and hold the ball up to invite midfield runners beyond him has been a key part of England’s game plan under Gareth Southgate, and his all-round contributions will not have gone unnoticed both inside and outside the camp.
Ultimately, though, Kane is on the pitch to score goals – and he’s done exactly that so far, albeit via three penalties, two finishes from corners and a fortunate deflected effort. His price is quite short at 4/1 (888sport), but the England captain may only need a couple more strikes to pull to the front of the race for the best player award.
Modric spurned a golden opportunity to send Croatia through to the quarter-finals in extra time of his side’s last-16 meeting with Denmark, but his failure to convert a penalty meant the game went to a shoot-out. The Real Madrid man redeemed himself by scoring this time (albeit with another poor effort), as the Vatreni squeezed through thanks to goalkeeper Danijel Subasic’s heroics.
Modric was not at his best throughout that match, but he was exceptional in the group phase and remains Croatia’s key man. Victory over Russia and then either England or Sweden means a place in the final is a realistic ambition for Zlatko Dalic’s men; if Croatia get that far, the influential Modric (10/1 with Karamba) will surely be in contention for the esteemed prize.
Lukaku’s intelligent role in Belgium’s breakaway winning goal against Japan was duly noted after the game, as replays showed his movement and dummy had been essential to the move’s success despite the fact he did not actually touch the ball.
Lukaku showed throughout that epic 3-2 victory over the Samurai Blue that he has plenty to contribute even when he is not scoring, but he’s also been in fine form in front of goal this World Cup, netting four times in his three appearances. Belgium will probably need to beat Brazil in the quarter-finals for Lukaku to stand a chance of winning the Golden Ball, but expect his price to rise significantly from its current 22/1 at top football bookies if Roberto Martinez’s men manage to do so.
It is worth noting that the Golden Ball – like all individual awards in football – tends to go to an attacking player. Uruguay centre-back Jose Nasazzi may have claimed the prize in 1930, but he remains the only defender to finish on top of the pile (Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was also voted the tournament’s best player in 2002).
Yet if Uruguay go all the way this summer, it is likely to be because of their defensive resilience more than their attacking flair, regardless of the fact that Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani form a fearsome strike partnership. Godin has been one of the standout performers in Russia up to now, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could win the award if Uruguay at least reach the final.