And so, the end has been reached. After one month, 64 games, 169 goals, four red cards and a lot of VAR consultations, the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup has come to a close. And like every World Cup, this one has its standout performers, its big-name let-downs, and its breakout stars, the latter of which we’ll focus on:
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia):
The CSKA Moscow midfielder came into this World Cup on the back of leading his club to a quarter-final place in the UEFA Europa League, but he was still a relative unknown going into the tournament. After the first game, however, he was the name on everyone’s lips, his standout display saw him play a role in four of Russia’s five goals against Saudi Arabia, two direct assists and a goal from a free-kick. In a tournament where Russia had key names injured before it began, and were seen as likely to under-perform on home soil, Golovin was central in their charge to the quarter-final. He has already been linked with moves to Chelsea and Monaco, it’s bound to be a busy summer, transfer rumour wise, for the 22 year-old.
Denis Cheryshev (Russia):
A national teammate of Golovin’s, Cheryshev began this tournament on the bench, known for being that substitute that knocked his own Real Madrid team out of the Copa Del Rey in 2015 as a result of a technical fault. But when Alan Dzagoev got injured midway through the opening game of the tournament, Cheryshev was given his chance, and he barely put a foot wrong. Two goals in that first game, followed by another in the second against Egypt, and capped off with that brilliant opener against Croatia in the quarter-final defeat, the Villarreal man made his mark in this tournament.
Benjamin Pavard (France):
So much has been made of France’s plethora of quality in every position, so much so that Les Bleus could name an entire 23-man squad of players left out, who’d challenge virtually every other side. But no one foresaw that a relative unknown like Pavard would cement a starting place in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup side. Despite being an ever-present for Stuttgart in their return season in the Bundesliga, Pavard was nowhere near a household going into this tournament. But he was a regular in Russia, appearing in every game in France’s route to World Cup glory. His wonderful tournament was capped off by that gorgeous volley in the second round win over Argentina.
Lucas Torreira (Uruguay):
Torreira took some time to get going in this, the midfielder didn’t start any of Uruguay’s first two games. But his presence in the final group match proved to be the final piece in Oscar Tabarez’s midfield jigsaw, and his performance against Portugal in the last 16 was simply outstanding. Has already been snapped up from Sampdoria by Arsenal.
Ante Rebic (Croatia):
Before this World Cup, Ante Rebic was known for being the man who got sent off in Croatia’s final game in Brazil four years ago and has spent his past five seasons at five different clubs, so many would have been forgiven for not having high hopes for him ahead of Russia 2018. But he surprised all, his energy and drive on the flank were exemplary, typifying Croatia’s never-say-die attitude that took them to the final. Plus, there was the added bonus of a brilliantly taken goal against Argentina in the group stage.
Cho Hyun-Woo (South Korea):
The goalkeeper probably wouldn’t have expected to start much games, or any game, in this tournament, having played no part in the qualifiers. But Hyun-Woo did play a part in the World Cup, his performance in the opening game against Sweden kept their defeat at just 1-0. His showing against Germany, however, was the one that stole the show. His saves against the erstwhile World Champions was the principal reason why the Asians claimed that famous scalp in that game. Surely some scouts would have had their interests piqued.
Moussa Wague (Senegal):
Senegal had a width problem ahead of the World Cup, two decent right-backs but no left-back to call upon. Coach Aliou Cisse opted to move Youssuf Sabaly to the left of the defence, and deploy Moussa Wague on the right, the latter which caught the eye. Wague’s performances were exemplary at the back, especially against Poland in the first game, and it was topped off with a goal in Senegal’s draw with Japan.
Yerry Mina (Colombia):
The Colombian defender had started less than a handful of games for Barcelona since joining the Spanish champions in January, so was still a bit of an unknown going into this World Cup. His defensive play still has much room for improvement, but his contributions up front stole the headlines, with three goals for Los Cafeteros, half their overall tally for the tournament.