Mbappe, Kane, Modric, Hazard, Neymar and Cavani are starting to make their mark on this World Cup. Will one of them be named the coveted Player of the Tournament in Russia?
Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane and Luka Modric have all made their mark so far. Eden Hazard, Neymar and Edinson Cavani have also laid claim.
As the quarter-finals in Russia draw near, the only thing we know for sure is that player of the tournament at the Russia World Cup will not be either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi was voted best player of the last World Cup and Ronaldo finished up a winner in Euro 2016. And those two have dominated football’s individual prizes for the last decade with no one managing to break their grip on the Ballon d’Or/Fifa World Player award since 2007.
But despite that monopoly and the expectation that one of them might make Russia 2018 their World Cup, both were sent home in the last 16 and by players who could now take their crown as player of the tournament.
“I am not surprised what Kylian did. I see it every day,” France and Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris told reporters after Mbappe’s two goals saw off Argentina 4-3, with Messi largely a spectator of the 19-year-old’s brilliance.
And just as Lloris has first-hand experience of Mbappe, so the teenager knows just how devastatingly effective Cavani can be. His Paris Saint-Germain teammate scored twice against Portugal as Uruguay had too much firepower for Ronaldo and European champions Portugal.
He is a doubt for Uruguay’s meeting with France and teammate Luis Suarez told reporters on Tuesday: “Count me among the 3 million Uruguayans waiting (to see if he makes it).”
A muscle tear has been ruled out so even if he misses tomorrow’s quarter-final in Nizhny Novgorod his tournament will not be over so long as Uruguay stay in.
Whoever comes out on top between Uruguay and France could face the third Paris Musketeer, Neymar, in the semi-finals. He is perhaps the most obvious heir to Ronaldo and Messi’s throne and although he started the tournament slowly, finishing up on more social media memes for rolling around on the ground than for scoring brilliant goals, he was key in Brazil’s win over Mexico. Brazil will need to beat Belgium to progress and Hazard was important for them in the last 16 setting up Marouane Fellaini in the 3-2 comeback win over Japan. He already has two goals to his name.
In the other half of the draw Luka Modric has taken up the baton from the eliminated Andres Iniesta of Spain as the midfield master in Russia. Modric flirted with last 16 elimination on Sunday night in Croatia’s titanic struggle with Denmark.
It was the Real Madrid man’s perfect pass that sent André Kramaric through for what looked like being the match-winner.
When Kramaric was fouled by Mathias Jorgensen, Modric missed the subsequent penalty but showed huge mental strength to take another spot-kick in the shoot-out and this time score as his team went through.
England’s Kane could be the man to stop Croatia if England overcome Sweden and Croatia see off the hosts Russia.
Kane is the leading scorer with six goals ahead of England’s quarter-final in Samara against the Swedes on Saturday.
He converted a penalty in regulation and another as England won a first-ever World Cup shoot-out in beating Colombia on Tuesday.
“I am extremely proud. As a striker you want to score and help your team. I hope it continues. We want to do better and go a long way,” Kane said.
Former England full-back Gary Neville has already predicted England going all the way and meeting Belgium in the final.
That would set Kane against Hazard. Neither played in Belgium’s tame final group game with England.
World Cup heavyweights have been dropping daily in Russia and some of the tournament’s leading lights have gone with them.
But Kane, Mbappe, Modric, Neymar, Hazard and Cavani are six of the best, all in with a chance of going down as the player who most lit up Russia 2018.