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Stars, flops of Russia 2018 World Cup

Stars, flops of Russia 2018 World Cup

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Idris Adesina takes a look at the players and teams who lived up to expectations and others who failed to dazzle at the Russia 2018 World Cup


 Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe left the tournament as a shining star with four goals, thus justifying pre-tournament hype. He forced himself into global reckoning in Russia after helping France destroy a hapless Argentina side 4-3 in their round of 16 clash.

He set three records at the tournament – he became France’s youngest goalscorer at the World Cup when he scored his first goal in the 1-0 win over Peru in the group stage. He also became the first teenager since Pele in 1958 to score multiple times in the same World Cup game and he also became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pele, when he scored France’s fourth goal in their 4-2 win over Croatia in Moscow. He won the tournament’s Best Young Player Award.

 Luka Modric

Modric was the focal point of the Croatian team’s success at the 2018 World Cup.

The 32-year-old along with Ivan Rakitic marshaled the Croatian midfield as they reached their first World Cup final. Although they lost 4-2 to France in the final, Modric won three man-of-the-match awards before the final.

He scored a stunning strike in the 3-0 thrashing of Argentina in the group stage. He also bounced back from missing a penalty in extra-time against Denmark to make amends in penalty shootout wins against the Danes and Russia. He won the Best Player Award. According to the World Cup statistics, Modric had the most dribbles per game in Russia and completed more passes in the opponent’s half in his team.

Eden Hazard

Belgium defeated England in the third-place match to finish third in Russia after they lost 1-0 to France in the semi-final. But they have the craftiness of Chelsea forward Hazard to be grateful for. The Chelsea forward scored three times and was instrumental in both the 3-2 comeback win over Japan 3-2 in the round of 16 and the 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarterfinal. He won the Silver Ball at the tournament.

Antoine Griezmann

He scored four goals and won the Bronze Ball in Russia as France won their second title. Griezmann was a thorn in the flesh of the opposing defenders especially in the win over Argentina – where he combined with Mbappe to inflict pain on the Argentine defence – and in the 2-0 quarterfinal win over Uruguay, in which Fernando Muslera spilled his shot into the net for France’s second goal. He converted all the penalty kicks awarded to France at the tournament.

Harry Kane

England captain Kane won the Golden Boot after scoring the highest goals of Russia 2018. He won three man-of-the-match awards as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals for the first time in 28 years. Although he failed to score after the round of 16 stage of the competition, his six goals helped the team to finish second behind Belgium in their group.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Although Portugal exited the World Cup in the round of 16, Ronaldo was one of the stars of the tournament in Russia after he scored the first hattrick of the competition in their opening 3-3 draw against Spain. He also became the first Portuguese player to score at four World Cups – and one of the four players to do so in the history of the competition. His hat-trick also drew him level with Ferenc Puskás as the highest European goalscorer of all-time, with 84 international goals – which he extended to 85 to break Puskas’ record in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Morocco. He however missed a penalty in their last group match against Iran to finish second behind Spain.

Danijel Subasic

Another standout performer in the Croatia team, he made some important saves for the team in their win over Russia despite suffering an injury late in the match. In the penalty shootout, Subasic saved the first penalty from Fyodor Smolov – thereby becoming just the third goalkeeper in World Cup history to have made four or more saves in penalty shootouts at the World Cup finals and equalling the record made by Sergio Goycochea and Harald Schumacher.

Thibaut Courtois

Goalkeeper of the tournament in Russia, Chelsea’s Courtois stood out in Russia as Belgium finished third. Courtois conceded only six goals in seven games. His saves kept the team up for most times in their match against Japan, Brazil and also in the semi-final loss to France. His ball distribution skill helped Belgium score the winner in the 3-2 comeback win over Japan. Statistics showed he blocked more than 25 attempts from his opponents – the most by any goalkeeper at the tournament.

Kevin De Bruyne

Another standout performer for Belgium in Russia, he earned plaudits for playing deeper in the Belgium team than he does at Manchester City. Scoring a goal and providing two assists, De Bruyne was deployed by Belgium coach Roberto Martinez as a false striker in their three-man attack. His ball distribution and speed helped the team get crucial goals in the knockout stages of the competition.

 Yerry Mina

Colombia defender Mina was an unheralded star of the tournament. He made history as the first defender to score in three consecutive matches at the World Cup. His three goals were important for Colombia as they exited the competition after losing on penalties to England in the round of 16. Mina headed home the equaliser in additional time against England. The Barcelona defender, who did not enjoy playing time at the club last season, would have convinced his employers of his potential with the displays he put up in Russia.


Hosts Russia surprised many of their fans as they reached the quarterfinal of the competition where they lost 4-3 to Croatia after a spirited performance. Underrated by their fans before the start of the tournament, Russia shocked many pundits when they finished second in their group with only a loss to Uruguay and they defeated Spain on penalties in the round of 16. They were the lowest ranked country at the tournament.


Lionel Messi

He missed out on another chance to win the World Cup following a lacklustre performance by Argentina. Messi could only score a goal in Russia – against Nigeria – as Argentina crashed out in the round of 16. The 31-year-old was missing in action in their 3-0 loss to Croatia and he missed a penalty in their 1-1 draw with Iceland.


Although he scored two goals before Brazil crashed out in the quarterfinal, Neymar did little to please his fans who had expected him to do more in Russia. Following the exit of Messi’s Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the round of 16, Neymar was expected to be one of the biggest names in the tournament but the PSG star failed to shine. He was often criticised for diving and falling while also guilty of selfish play.

Robert Lewandowski

Polish striker Lewandowski was another star who failed to shine with his team in Russia. The Bayern Munich striker failed to score a goal as Colombia finished last in their group following only a win over Japan in their last match.

 David De Gea

Much was expected from the Manchester United goalkeeper at the World Cup following a wonderful season with the Old Trafford club. But the 27-year-old failed to impress as he made only one save before Spain crashed out in the round of 16. He was widely criticised for failing to effectively deal with a shot which resulted in Portugal’s second goal in their opening 3-3 draw in the group stages of the competition.


The defending champions went out the same way as Spain in 2014 and Italy in 2010 as holders who failed to get out of their group. Defeats to Mexico and South Korea saw the four-time world champions finish bottom of their group and fall at the first hurdle for the first time in 80 years.

African teams

For the first time since 1982 no African team made it beyond the group stage. Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco won just three matches between them, sparking concerns over the competitive balance of the tournament, which was dominated by European sides. Bad luck also played a part in Africa’s downfall as Senegal missed out on second place in Group H to Japan because of a marginally poorer disciplinary record, while Egypt’s talisman Mohamed Salah’s impact was limited by injury.


An ageing but star-studded Spanish team struggled at the 2018 World Cup. They needed a last day 2-2 draw with Morocco – which could have ended in a loss save for the VAR – to progress from their group. They lost on penalties to Russia, who defeated them 4-3 on penalties after Koke and Iago Aspas missed for the 2010 champions. The presence of such stars as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, David De Gea and Gerard Pique in the team did little to help them stamp their presence on the competition. They however were awarded the Fair Play award of the tournament.

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