Four of the best: who will win the Golden Ball?

After much debate, discussion and contention, Seb Hassett narrowed the contenders for the 2018 World Cup Golden Ball down to four top chances.

Mbappe Modric Griezmann

Source: Getty Images

Of course, with the final and third-place play-off still to play, one of these players could vault themselves above all others. 

Very little separates these mercurial men and it may come down to a stroke of genius on the biggest stage, with all four in action this weekend – albeit only three of which are in the final.

Kylian Mbappe

Nation: France
Goals: 3
Assists: 0 

Even money with most bookmakers to win the Golden Ball, the 19-year old has smashed all expectations at this World Cup to become arguably the best player in the world.

Of course, Lionel Messi and Neymar may have something to say about that in the coming year, but the Frenchman has ignited the sport in the way that no teenager has at this competition since Pele in 1958.

That may sound extreme, but to perform the way he has, in this era, in such a defensive World Cup, is quite extraordinary.

Luka Modric

Nation: Croatia
Goals: 2
Assists: 1

The sentimental favourite, Modric is the embodiment of a Croatian team and a favourite everywhere for his wonderful play.

He’s been largely excellent throughout the tournament – his team’s best player on almost every occasion.

He had just the one poor match, against Denmark, where he also missed a penalty.

Exhaustion nearly overcame him against England, but he found his last reserves of energy to help his side to an exceptional victory.

At 32, he looks set to deliver a grand farewell performance to the World Cup stage. Would be a popular winner.

Antoine Griezmann

Nation: France
Goals: 3
Assists: 2 

A second-straight World Cup of magnificence from Griezmann.

He emerged as a star for Les Blues off the bench in 2014 in Brazil before becoming the talisman as France hosted the 2016 European Championships.

The most confident player in the world right now, Griezmann’s justified arrogance oozes in every touch.

Every touch is so good, so slick and so damaging that sometimes nobody on the pitch can get near him.

In his floating, free role, he’ll be so calm and relaxed heading into the final and looms as the player most likely to make the difference.

Eden Hazard

Nation: Belgium
Goals: 2
Assists: 2 

Diego Forlan won the award for the best player in 2010, despite Uruguay only making the semi-final, so there is a precedent for Hazard to lean upon.

The Belgian wizard has enjoyed a brilliant tournament, emerging from a superstar team as his side’s most effective player.

The way he single-handedly fought France in the semi-final was a joy to watch, even as others on his side didn’t quite measure up.

A starring performance in the third-placed play-off may vault him into contention for the overall prize.

Honourable mentions

N’Golo Kante has enjoyed a spectacular tournament. I can’t recall a defensive midfielder who works as hard as Kante – but what’s more amazing is that he does not fatigue.

That makes him even more valuable as a match wears on, as he continues to mop up every loose ball, before setting France away on fresh attacks. A marvellous player, France couldn’t have gotten this far without him. 

Uruguay’s José Nasazzi is the only defender in history to win the Golden Ball – at the very first tournament in 1930 – which shows just how much emphasis has been on attackers.

However, Raphael Varane has been a clear defensive standout at this tournament and should be right in contention.

Unfortunately, the judges appear too skewed by a bias towards forwards, which may unfairly rule the Frenchman out. 

Jordan Pickford was England’s player of the tournament and if England had held onto their 1-0 lead against Croatia, he’d be in contention for the big prize.

Despite conceding in every game except one (against Sweden), his goalkeeping was, at times, superhuman.

No goalkeeper bailed out his country more and some of his saves in the knockout stages – featuring world-class efforts against Colombia, Sweden and Croatia – were beyond belief.

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4 min read
Published 14 July 2018 at 2:39am
By Sebastian Hassett