The massive global reach of today’s game means it’s almost impossible for someone to make that journey from obscurity to international stardom within a single World Cup. Although these 5 players weren’t complete unknowns before Russia 2018, their performances in the competition have or will have elevated their careers to another level.
The World Cup final four is almost decided and with only a couple of crucial games left to go in the tournament, the competition is close to its conclusion. The 2018 Russia World Cup has been a treat to watch thus far and a number of top players of all ages have broken out and etched their names in World Cup history. Unsung heroes are vital to teams’ successes and a bunch of players have stepped into the role, while these players could fit into the category, they have received a lot of recognition for their work.
Records have been shattered, tears have been shed and a number of fans from around the world have flocked to the tournament to watch the greatest spectacle in the world. Here we take a look at the top 5 breakout stars of the competition.
#5 Ante Rebic
Ante Rebic will definitely have enjoyed his second World Cup experience far more than his first four years earlier. The pacy winger was only deployed as a late substitute in Croatia’s disappointing showing in Brazil, but still found the time to get sent off and was subsequently banished to the international wilderness.
However, the 24-year-old hasn’t looked back since being recalled by new boss Zlatko Dalic. Rebic has been excellent for Croatia this tournament, down either wing displaying great work rate, passion and smooth footballing decisions.
Capitalising on Willy Caballero’s jaw-dropping howler, his acrobatic volley against Argentina helped set Croatia on their way to a commanding 3-0 victory. He would also have settled the second-round tie against Denmark before penalties had he not brought been down while clear on goal, four minutes from time. Rebic will be crucial to the nation’s progress as he has fit into the main XI very well.
#4 Juan Quintero
Juan Quintero had a point to prove in Russia as he carried the mantle for Colombia. The midfielder was inevitably overshadowed at Brazil 2014 by teammate James Rodriguez and has spent the subsequent four years bouncing around from club to club on loan from Porto trying to prove his worth.
Yet the diminutive playmaker has squished all possible doubts and has made the Portuguese side sit up and take notice with his brilliant group-stage displays.
The 25-year-old played a part in three of his nation’s five goals, setting up Radamel Falcao and Yerry Mina against Poland and Senegal respectively, while he scored the tournament’s cheekiest free-kick in Colombia’s shock 2-1 defeat to Japan. Quintero has finally etched his mark on the world stage and proven his footballing worth.
#3 Takashi Inui
Real Betis appear to have bagged this summer’s best bargain, having signed Takashi Inui on a free transfer just weeks before his star-making showing in Russia. By far the oldest outfield player on this list, the 30-year-old proved that it’s never too late to make a major impression at a World Cup, with two outstanding group game performances and a sensational display against Belgium.
Indeed, the winger shell-shocked the latter with his dazzling close control, exquisite passing technique and a powerful 25-yard drive which briefly had Japan with one foot in the quarter-finals. But it was not enough to drag Japan through to the next round, however, Inui excelled at the tournament and will enjoy his spell in the La Liga.
All this from a player who had barely made a ripple outside the mid-table of the Bundesliga and La Liga in the years gone by. Although Inui at the World Cup has proven to the world his abilities on the field and will be hard to stop in Spain.
#2 Viktor Claesson
Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden has proved that strong teamwork can be more valuable than an egotistical superstar. The small country has progressed further than they have in any World Cup, since a third-place finish in 1994. There have still been several impressive individual performers, including the previously unremarkable Viktor Claesson.
Claesson has proved to be a worthy attacking force for Sweden and a real threat for opposition off the left flank. With a vicious left boot, he loves to dart in and cause problems.
Having enjoyed a glorious first season with Russian Premier League side Krasnodar, the 26-year-old winger has thrived on familiar turf – earning a penalty against South Korea, setting up two goals and rivalling Emil Forsberg as Sweden’s most creative force. Claesson has been a revelation for the country and a dynamic force with a skill set and nerve for special occasions.
#1 Benjamin Pavard
Young French right full-back and 22-year-old defender, Benjamin Pavard’s inclusion in the French squad for the World Cup drew a lot of criticism from fans across the globe. Didier Deschamps faced a lot of heat for his inclusion, but the player has come up with the goods in the tournament with some excellent displays.
With sound positioning and good attacking play including a special goal against Argentina, Pavard has exceeded expectation in the national team. The player has become a valuable addition to the team and important to the manager putting in a good shift against Uruguay as France progressed to the semi-final of the World Cup.
Pavard will be a threat for Belgium in the semi-final and the European minnows will have to contain and not overlook him, as he could cause the golden generation some problems.