Five Star Performers from the 2018 World Cup

Just two games remain unplayed in what has been an extraordinary World Cup. Football may not be coming home this time, but Gareth Southgate’s young lions achieved beyond what many expected of them before a ball had been kicked on Russian soil. England’s extra-time heartbreak means it will be Croatia who face France in Sunday’s showpiece final for the right to be called world champions.

Meanwhile, Belgium’s so-called ‘golden generation’ failed to shake of their ‘nearly men’ tag, as they too fell at the semi-final stage, narrowly losing out to France. Roberto Martinez’s side will now face England in the much-maligned third place play-off.

So, with four teams still participating in the greatest show on earth, which individual players have carried the hopes of their nation best? Below are my top five standout performers from this year’s competition.
 
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Jordan Pickford

England’s young goalkeeper has shown the world what a fantastic talent he is. The Everton man answered his critics – notably his opposite number Thibaut Courtois – with a string of fine saves throughout the knockout stages to ensure England’s passage to the semi-finals.

The 24-year-old’s finest moment of the tournament came when he sent the nation into raptures by saving Carlos Bacca’s penalty in the round of 16 penalty shootout against Colombia, enabling Eric Dier to banish the demons of tournaments gone by.

I expect France’s Hugo Lloris to win the coveted Golden Glove, but this tournament has cemented Jordan Pickford’s place in English football folklore, and his place as England’s undisputed number one.
 
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Harry Maguire

Staying with England, Harry Maguire has been a real surprise package for many. The Leicester City defender has showed excellent composure in possession, an ability to defend doggedly, and an eye for goal.

What’s more, his manager Gareth Southgate spoke of his immense mental resilience, which is what often separates the very top players from the rest.

At just 25, the Sheffield-born defender is arguably yet to reach peak maturity, and could be a key figure in Qatar in four years’ time along with fellow Yorkshireman John Stones.
 
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N’Golo Kante

While the likes of Griezmann and Mbappe grab the headlines, N’Golo Kante’s role has been equally as pivotal in France’s march to the final, providing balance and a sense of composure to a highly talented squad.

The Chelsea man keeps his game incredibly simple, breaking up the play and feeding the match-winners, allowing Paul Pogba to show his best form.

There’s currently no one better in world football at the traditional holding midfielder role, and if France go on to lift the trophy on Sunday night, N’Golo Kante will have been a major reason why.
 
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Luka Modric

Pre-tournament, Croatia were outsiders to many, dark horses to some, but favourites to nobody – yet they are just one game away from completing the job, with the talismanic Luka Modric emerging as one of the stars of the tournament.

The Real Madrid man is perhaps the one world class talent among a highly capable unit of Croatian stars, possessing an unrivalled ability to dictate the pace of the game and make probing passes.

As if that wasn’t enough, the 32-year-old has covered more distance than any other player at the tournament, and was one of the favourites to win the Golden Ball prior Sunday’s final, with odds across new betting sites UK suggesting he should have won.
 
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Kylian Mbappe

The boy with the world at his feet – you cannot help but marvel at the sheer ability possessed by Kylian Mbappe. The teenage forward has been France’s most eye-catching performer of this World Cup, and his side are now firm favourites to win the competition for the second time in their history.

Perhaps his most dazzling display to date came in France’s semi-final victory over Belgium, where his amazing pace and trickery came to the fore, under the watchful eye of his childhood hero Thierry Henry.

If he can repeat the trick in Sunday’s final, it is difficult to see how the Croats can halt Les Bleus in their charge to glory.

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