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