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Seven players who could end the Messi-
Ronaldo Ballon d’Or duopoly   

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- The early elimination of Germany, Argentina, Spain and Portugal has raised the prospect of an unfancied team lifting the World Cup trophy at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.

Such a scenario could mean that 2018 will bring a first-time Ballon d’Or winner, given that team success - whether at national or club level - is almost an unwritten pre-requisite for football’s top individual honor.

We identify seven players still involved in Russia that could break the 10-year Ballon d’Or duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Luka Modric (Croatia)

His missed penalty against Denmark aside, Modric has been the driving force behind Croatia’s foray into the last eight.

Playing in a more advanced position to the one he occupies at Real Madrid, Modric has been pivotal to his side’s success with his vision, sense of space and one or two-touch passing.

He has also provided a scoring threat and netted the contender for goal of the tournament with a curling long-range effort against Argentina.

Modric was also the midfield architect in the Real Madrid side that won their fourth Champions League title in five years in May.

Kylian Mbappe (France)

Mbappe started the tournament inauspiciously but has improved with each outing. The 19-year-old’s performance against Argentina in the round of 16 was arguably the best individual display by any player at this World Cup.

Mbappe netted two goals and drew a penalty in an explosive display that has prompted some to compare him with Brazil great Ronaldo.

Not since Pele in 1958 has a teenager scored twice in the same World Cup match.

Like Modric, Mbappe gets extra points for having achieved success at club level last season, though in competitions with less prestige than the Champions League. The teenager was part of the Paris Saint-Germain side that won the Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue titles.

Harry Kane (England)

The last Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or was Michael Owen in 2001. Kane could break that drought this year, having scored 41 goals in 48 matches across all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur in 2017-18. The 24-year-old has brought that form to England’s national team and is the World Cup’s top scorer with six goals from just three games. He is hoping to become only the second England player to win the the World Cup Golden Boot after Gary Lineker in 1986.

Neymar (Brazil)

Despite missing three months with a broken bone in his right foot, Neymar enjoyed a prolific first season for Paris Saint-Germain. The Brazilian scored 28 goals and provided 16 assists for the French club following his world record 222 million-euro move from Barcelona last August. He has already netted twice at this World Cup and according to Brazil coach Tite, the 26-year-old has yet to hit peak form, having only returned from his injury layoff in early June. Neymar has finished third in Ballon d’Or voting twice in the past three years and has made no secret of his desire to win it. If he can lead Brazil to the title here, 2018 might be his year.

Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)

The midfielder is another player who has benefitted from trophies at club level this season, having won the Premier League and League Cup with Manchester City.

Although he hasn’t quite hit top gear yet at this World Cup, De Bruyne is the creator-in-chief in a Belgium side that many believe can go all the way in Russia.

The 27-year-old has mainly been playing in a deeper role here than what he is used to. But Belgium coach Roberto Martinez could deploy him closer to goal against Brazil on Friday, keeping the 3-5-1-1 formation that he used with success late in the round of 16 duel with Japan.

Antoine Griezmann (France)

Griezmann was a part of the Atletico Madrid team that won the Europa League last season. He has yet to be decisive in Russia, but a strong individual finish to the tournament in a triumphant France team would make him a prime Ballon d’Or candidate. The 27-year-old finished third in voting for the award in 2016.

Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)

Coutinho wasted little time in making his presence felt for Barcelona following his 160 million-euro move from Liverpool in January.

The 26-year-old scored 10 goals in 22 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, helping the team secure the La Liga title.

He has arguably been Brazil’s most consistent player at the World Cup, relishing a central midfield role that has allowed him to showcase his full range of short and long passing, deft dribbling and ability to shoot from outside the box.

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