TOP 10 PLAYERS
06
FIFA handed out a number of awards on the conclusion of the World Cup in Russia. The prize for the best player at the tournament, the Golden Ball, was awarded to Luka Modrić; the Silver Ball to Eden Hazard; and the Bronze Ball to Antoine Griezmann. Of course, in reality the World Cup produced many more heroes. Some of them, like Kylian Mbappé, ended with a winner's medal, while others, such as Artem Dzyuba and Yerry Mina, bowed out at an earlier stage. What they all have in common, however, is the significant contribution they made to their countries' performances, and they deserve to be recognised for that. Our expert Alexander Golovin has selected the ten players who, for him, left an indelible mark on the world's premier football tournament.
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DENIS CHERYSHEV
Barcelona considered signing him; he was given a huge reception when he returned to Villarreal; he had a Merited Master of Sport medal presented to him by the Russian President; he gained half a million new Instagram followers. Cheryshev emerged from the World Cup to find himself in what must have felt like a parallel universe.

Denis probably shouldn't have been in the team at all following an injury-plagued season in La Liga which had taken its toll. He started the first match of the World Cup on the bench but came on in the 24th minute after Alan Dzagoev sustained an injury. A man-of-the-match performance made it impossible to leave him out of subsequent games, and he would go on to become Russia's top scorer at the tournament and achieve gradually more as the event progressed.

Some attributed this to the initial stroke of good fortune, and it is true that, without it, he would not have reached the heights he did. But at the same time, he finally delivered, producing precisely what he was actually capable of. The team worked hard, both individually and as a unit: they ran, they tackled, they showed incision – and Cheryshev was an integral part of that. His life in Spain, competing against top opponents, had given him a European-type mentality, not just in character but in his style of play.

Which other Russian would have been able to produce that sublime curler from outside the box in the quarter-final? Or, in the opening game, leave two Saudi players in his wake before thumping home a rising left-foot shot? Cheryshev invariably scored special goals rather than ordinary ones and he will be remembered for lighting up the tournament with the type of skills few thought he possessed.
WHY CHERYSHEV IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
The most capable player of his generation who developed his skills in the Real Madrid academy, he made his senior international debut in 2012 but had only nine caps before 2018, in part because of a string of serious injuries.
Scored four goals at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, one of which was shortlisted for FIFA's Goal of the Tournament award
RUSSIA //// MIDFIELDER //// 27 YEARS OLD ////
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СБОРНАЯ КОЛУМБИИ //// ЗАЩИТНИК ////
23 ГОДА ////
YERRY MINA
Some people say individual players do not win matches, but there are always exceptions. Yerry Mina proved this in Russia, both in repelling opponents' attacks and going forward himself. Mina shares the record for most goals scored in a single World Cup by a defender with three in Russia, two in the group phase and a third to equalise in the 93rd minute against England during their last-16 tie and take the game into extra time. Not bad going for a centre back, the first defender to achieve the feat since 1966.

The qualities of the man nicknamed "Mouse" (his mother named him Yerry, or Jerry, after her favourite cartoon character) had been evident for a long time, not least as a regular goalscorer. Going into the World Cup he had already netted quite a few times, helped by his height (1.95 metres) and the jumping skills he honed in his years as a goalkeeper (a tradition in his family). That's actually the position in which he started out in the game but when, on one occasion, he let in five, he switched position on his father's advice.

Ironically, he became a global star when people were beginning to write him off. The season before the World Cup was a difficult one for Barcelona, particularly in defence.

But the World Cup transformed Mina, both in terms of goals and defending. Millions saw how well he handled Poland's Robert Lewandowski and England's Harry Kane, both mature strikers and leaders of their respective teams. Hungry for more, Mina even skipped his post World Cup holiday and immediately resumed training with Barcelona, his confidence and motivation restored after his eye-catching Russian experience.
WHY MINA IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
A sublime talent courted by many top clubs the previous winter, the Colombian eventually signed for Barcelona, who reportedly inserted a release clause in his contract of a hundred million euros. Yet despite the 'not for sale' message this sent out, when Everton came calling after the World Cup, the Catalan giants agreed to sell him for 30 million euros.
Goalscoring defender found the back of the net
three times at Russia 2018
COLOMBIA //// DEFENDER //// 23 YEARS OLD ////
CRISTIANO RONALDO
Ronaldo made his mark just four minutes into Portugal's opening group match against Spain, winning a penalty and converting it himself to become only the fourth player in history to score in four World Cups. Before him, only the great Pele, and the Germans Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose had performed such a feat.

According to the tournament statistics, in one of his counterattacks, Ronaldo officially recorded the top speed at the 2018 World Cup, outpacing the other 735 players there by hitting 34 km/h. He also bagged a hat-trick at the age of 33, entering the record books as the oldest player to do so at the World Cup finals.

As we know, Ronaldo is almost fanatical in his quest to stay healthy and fit. But, as he has got older, he has developed other qualities as well. The Portuguese has a profound understanding of the game and works for his team, using his movement to help his teammates create the space they need. Just by going out onto the pitch, Ronaldo in effect acts as the team's second coach.

Sceptics say that he makes the team more predictable, claiming that if you stop him, you stop Portugal. But that's easier said than done because, if it takes two players to stop Cristiano, that means the opponent is numerically weakened, giving other Portuguese players extra freedom.

It looks as if Cristiano has no plans to retire from international football, which is good news for coach Fernando Santos, who can count on him for the next major tournament at least. Santos believes Portugal's younger players need Ronaldo around to look up to. Besides, he still has challenges ahead of him: to win the World Cup for Portugal, to overtake Iran's Ali Daei and become the world's leading men's international goalscorer and to play and score in a fifth World Cup.
WHY RONALDO IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
Voted World Player of the Year (2008, 2013, 2014,
2016, 2017), a living legend.
One of the world's greatest players, was in fine form,
scoring four goals
PORTUGAL //// ATTACKING MIDFIELDER / STRIKER //// 33 YEARS OLD ////
PORTUGAL //// ATTACKING MIDFIELDER / STRIKER //// 33 YEARS OLD ////
ROMELU LUKAKU
He matched Diego Maradona's 1986 feat by scoring twice in each of his first two World Cup games in Russia, albeit against possibly weaker opponents. According to the Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, Lukaku wasn't originally supposed to lead the line. "He came here to help the team," said Martinez. But he did a lot more than that.

An archetypally strong centre forward, Romelu was equally effective in the air as on the ground but never neglected his defensive duties. Moreover, he frequently surged forward to set up the counterattacks that Belgium were so good at. At times he single-handedly put them on the front foot, and was just as exemplary off the ball when helping out his more nimble teammates.

In the round of 16 against Japan, instead of hogging the ball, he invariably laid it off to a teammate and dragged the Japanese out of position. In the quarter-final against Brazil, he expertly won the ball with his back to goal, then accelerated past two opponents, before finally delivering a pass that led to a goal. In the third-place playoff against England, he gained possession almost in the centre circle and with one pass dissected the entire English defence.

Lukaku has a special set of qualities and can create danger with virtually any touch. As well as being dominant on the pitch, he is also a leader off it. Before each match in Russia, it was he, and not the coach, who gathered his teammates in a huddle and prepared them for the challenge ahead. He did this alone, on behalf of the whole team.

Lukaku deserves even more respect when you consider how much hardship he endured as a child. His family were so poor that their typical lunch was just bread and milk. One day, when little Romelu saw his mother diluting the milk with water, he realised things were really bad. It was then that he made himself a promise: his mother would not have to live like that and he would overcome adversity. In the World Cup this great striker made good on that promise.
WHY LUKAKU IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
Chelsea once sold him for £28 million. By the summer of 2017 he was already worth £75 million, and his value probably went up to £100 million after the World Cup.
The rampaging excelled as Belgium's attacking spearhead
and deserved his Bronze Boot
BELGIUM //// STRIKER //// 25 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ БЕЛЬГИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
25 ЛЕТ ////
BELGIUM //// STRIKER //// 25 YEARS OLD ////
KYLIAN MBAPPÉ
Sometimes it's easy to feel sorry for Mbappé. France have 10 men behind the ball and Mbappé is up front on his own, hoping for a long pass. But then Kylian gets possession of the ball and it's his rivals we feel sorry for, as this young man creates a chance out of nothing. The semi-final against Belgium was a prime example. During that game Mbappé touched the ball just 56 times, yet he set up six goalscoring opportunities for his side and on seven occasions breezed past an opponent while maintaining possession. Deadly efficient.

In the disciplined French team, where every player knew their role and stuck to it, Mbappé was the standout performer, the young kid who developed his love for the game in the school playground. He dribbled more often than Neymar and was so quick-thinking he bamboozled opposing defenders, who could not get near him.

"Mbappé's speed - it's illegal. You can't let him calmly take possession of the ball and take on defenders one on one," said former England defender Rio Ferdinand, now an insightful television pundit. The only way to stop that is to deprive him of space, but even that doesn't always work. Croatia tried it in the final but he still managed to score France's fourth goal, sealing the 4-2 victory by opening his body as if to bend the ball into the far post, only to drill it into the opposite corner.

Instead of partying after France's win, Mbappé went to get some sleep. It was typical of his approach. According to his mother, Kylian had talked about nothing but football since he was a child. There's little risk that he'll let fame go to his head, though, even after being named Best Young Player of the tournament.
WHY MBAPPÉ IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
The young prodigy for whom Paris Saint-Germain paid Monaco
180 million euros was born in the year that France first won
the World Cup.
With his supersonic pace and mazy dribbling,
wreaked havoc among opposition defences
FRANCE //// STRIKER //// 19 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ ФРАНЦИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
19 ЛЕТ ////
FRANCE //// STRIKER ////
19 YEARS OLD ////
ARTEM DZYUBA
The stats will tell you that he was one of the most effective players at the tournament. After Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, he was the third best in terms of goals and assists (3+2) and had the highest rating for the average number of aerial duels won per match (8.2).

But in order to understand the Dzyuba phenomenon, we need to look beyond the figures. Artem's story is one of overcoming obstacles. As recently as early 2018 the striker was a long way away from being considered for the national team. However, he was determined to prove his critics wrong and, after showing almost obsessive dedication during the months before the World Cup, managed to gain a place in the squad. Although he played for just 20 minutes in the opening match against Saudi Arabia before coming off injured, Dzyuba had nailed down the position of main striker and, importantly, became a key leader in the dressing room. It was Artem who made an impassioned speech before the quarter-final penalty shootout with Croatia, which Russia's proud and single-minded coach Stanislav Cherchesov listened to.

Dzyuba not only inspired his teammates off the pitch, on it he set an example for everyone, taking on defenders such as Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos and Dejan Lovren as if his life depended on it. Artem knew better than anyone how to whip up support from the crowd. He was all over the pitch. One moment he could be defending a corner kick near his own goal, the next battling valiantly in midfield, where on one occasion he dispossessed three Spanish players before setting up a teammate with a killer pass. He was like a knight in shining armour, rising out of nowhere to save his country. And who was confident enough to take a penalty in the dramatic last-16 tie with Spain when Russia were fighting for survival? Dzyuba, of course.
WHY DZYUBA IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
A cheerful guy who always has strong opinions,
he has scored more than 100 goals in his career but
has yet to win a Russian league championship.
Russia spearhead, won 78 duels in attack, more
than anyone else in the tournament
RUSSIA //// STRIKER //// 29 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ РОССИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
29 ЛЕТ ////
RUSSIA //// STRIKER ////
29 YEARS OLD ////
EDEN HAZARD
In the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, Belgium were among the favourites, only to be eliminated before the semi-finals on each occasion and criticised for being simply a collection of individual stars. This time, they really came together as a team, led from the front by one player who stood out from all the rest. Hazard, according to the fans, was man of the match in three of Belgium's six fixtures. Against Tunisia, who presented few problems, he played a blinder and scored twice. Above all, though, he was able to pull his team through some difficult moments. In the semi-final, when France were doing everything in their power to keep Belgium out, it was Hazard's feints and flicks that seemed most likely to unlock their defence.

Over the course of the last four European Championships and World Cups, in which detailed technical stats have been available, Hazard has the highest average in terms of dribbles per game (6.7). In the quarter-final in Russia against Brazil, he actually made 10, without ever appearing selfish. Instead he uses his talent for the benefit of his team to win penalties, create opportunities for others and set up lightning-fast counterattacks.

Hazard was a leader who never looked for the referee's help, only going to ground when seriously fouled. He also demonstrated his iron nerve when it came to penalty kicks. The Belgian has a special technique in this regard: he watches the goalkeeper right up until he strikes the ball, waiting to see which way he goes and making his decision at the last possible moment. "It takes a very confident guy to do that," said Southampton's former penalty-kick master Matt Le Tissier admiringly. Le Tissier was himself known for adopting a similar approach and only missed one spot kick out of 48 in his distinguished career. It was this kind of confidence that enabled Hazard to have such a fantastic World Cup.
WHY HAZARD IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
The best of the Hazard brothers who has amassed
an array of silverware in recent years.
Picked up the Silver Ball for his fine tournament
BELGIUM ////
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER ////
27 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ БЕЛЬГИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
27 ЛЕТ ////
BELGIUM //// ATTACKING MIDFIELDER //// 27 YEARS OLD ////
MARIO MANDŽUKIĆ
It is hard to believe that Mandžukić is already 32. Even younger strikers of a similar build can sometimes take it easy in the second half of matches, but Croatia's much-loved frontman played throughout the tournament in Russia, including three games that lasted over 100 minutes, and never stopped working.

"Mandžukić is one of the three greatest strikers in the world.
He works really hard for his team," said German footballing legend Stefan Effenberg. In the World Cup he constantly pressurised defenders with his electric pace, always finding space to latch onto
a low pass or cross, getting into the right place at the right time and freeing up teammates in the process. At the same time, he kept up his scoring record with three goals and one assist, and deserves special credit for the fact that his most important contributions came during the knockout rounds. The most valuable of these was his goal against England in the 109th minute of the semi-final, when he kept his concentration and slipped between two defenders to fire a firm, low shot beyond an unprotected Jordan Pickford. Earlier, in the round of 16 match against Denmark, he hit the net after just four minutes.

Mandžukić lit up the World Cup, despite the misfortune of scoring the first ever own goal in a final. However, he later redeemed himself by netting for his own country to reduce the deficit to 2-1, before France ran out 4-2 winners. Off the pitch, he never forgets his roots, buying beers for residents of his home town of Slavonski Brod who watched a live broadcast of the quarter-final. He even had the name of the town written on his boots and, after the semi-final, he walked across the pitch with a flag bearing the same name.
WHY MANDŽUKIĆ IS IN THE TOP 10
FOR THIS WORLD CUP
0:25
WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
One of the best strikers in the world, he was the joint top scorer at EURO 2012 with three goals. When he announced his international retirement a month after the World Cup final, he was the second highest goalscorer in the history of the Croatia national team, with 33 goals.
Scored three goals and was a willing provider
for his Croatia team-mates
CROATIA //// STRIKER //// 32 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ ХОРВАТИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
32 ГОДА ////
CROATIA ////
STRIKER ////
32 YEARS OLD ////
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
After the final, journalists had a question for French coach Didier Deschamps: After the Michel Platini generation and later that of Zinedine Zidane, could the current one be called the Griezmann generation? Deschamps answered that, while he had a lot of good players at his disposal, Antoine was definitely one of those special talents, potential match-winners.

Statistics can be misleading. His four goals and two assists that resulted in goals were the most by any player at the tournament. True, three of his goals were penalties, but to have the nerve to score all three is not inconsiderable. Even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi missed from the spot. But the most important thing was not his stats but his overall game.

His forte has always been that he is an all-rounder. And at the World Cup those qualities really came to the fore, especially in the knockout rounds. Each time he went onto the pitch, he had a different task and accomplished it perfectly by neutralising his opponents' strengths. In the match against Argentina, for instance, he often took on two of their players at the same time. As a result, Javier Mascherano found himself completely cut off with no one to pass to, while Messi was almost invisible because Griezmann, looking far more dangerous, was helping to stop the supply line to the mercurial maestro.

Whenever France went on the attack, Griezmann's role changed. He would confuse the opposition by roaming around the pitch and dragging two opponents with him, thereby freeing up more space for his teammates, who sometimes took their instructions from Griezmann rather than the coach. Those directions were not ego-driven but borne out of his excellent tactical awareness and ability to analyse opponents and identify strengths and weaknesses during matches themselves.
WHY GRIEZMANN IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
He enjoyed a stellar year, winning the Europa League and Super Cup with Atlético Madrid before helping France seal their second World Cup triumph. Surprisingly, he was not even nominated in the top three for FIFA's Best Men's Player award. In terms of finals, it was third time lucky for the Frenchman, having lost the deciding games of both the 2016 Champions League and the European Championship, when France were beaten by Portugal – two reasons for his determination to succeed in Russia.
Consolidated his status as France's most important player by scoring four goals and winning the Silver Boot
FRANCE //// STRIKER //// 27 YEARS OLD ////
СБОРНАЯ ФРАНЦИИ ////
НАПАДАЮЩИЙ ////
27 ЛЕТ ////
FRANCE ////
STRIKER ////
27 YEARS OLD ////
JORDAN PICKFORD
English goalkeepers used to be the envy of the world, but it is a position the team has struggled with in recent decades as the Three Lions continually flattered to deceive. But Pickford was undoubtedly one of the best keepers in Russia, having seemingly emerged from nowhere. He only made his full England debut in November 2017 and had played just three internationals before the World Cup.

Prior to this World Cup, the Three Lions had a woeful record in penalty shootouts, but Pickford helped change all that as the team won a shootout for the first time since beating Spain at EURO 96. In doing so, Pickford joined David Seaman and Paul Robinson as the only English goalkeepers to save a penalty in a World Cup shootout.
Pickford was hailed as a hero when he stuck out his left hand to deny Colombia's Carlos Bacca. He also produced one of the saves of the tournament late into normal time, when Mateus Uribe unleashed a vicious volley from at least 30 yards.

He himself doesn't consider he did anything extraordinary. "I just analysed our opponents' game. I studied the way they strike," he said. In the quarter-final, Sweden had just three shots on target, but each time Pickford pulled off an incredible save and was deservedly named man of the match.

England coach Gareth Southgate said of his keeper's brilliant displays: "Pickford is an almost ideal goalkeeper. He can do it all – it's not just his reactions and his saves. He studies the game really closely, reacts to the situation and feels confident enough to use his feet." The man himself has a simpler view: "After visiting places like Wrexham and Southport earlier in my career, I'm not afraid of anything."
WHY PICKFORD IS IN THE TOP 10 FOR THIS WORLD CUP
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WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT HIM BEFORE 2018
Until 2016 he played in the relative obscurity of England's lower leagues. When he finally reached the Premier League, it was with struggling Sunderland, but a transfer to Everton catapulted him into the limelight and into the English national team.
Became a national hero thanks to his consistent displays between the posts, making 17 saves in all
ENGLAND //// GOALKEEPER //// 24 YEARS OLD, ////
СБОРНАЯ АНГЛИИ ////
ВРАТАРЬ ////
24 ГОДА ////
ENGLAND //// GOALKEEPER ////
24 YEARS OLD ////