Art by Gian Nicdao
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has been an emotional rollercoaster, with dizzying highs and heartbreaking lows. Every World Cup comes around with a lot of hype, but both the casual and hardcore sports fan can agree that this particular edition has been gripping from the group stages to the knockout phase. Traditional international footballing powers like Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain have disappointed, but that hasn’t taken away from how fun this tournament has been. Teams like Belgium, Japan, and Croatia have given the fans some of the tournament’s heart-stopping moments and left fans craving for more.
Let’s highlight some of the top performers who, in my opinion, used this opportunity to show the world just what they are made of.
The World Cup will culminate on July 15, at a relatively humane kickoff time of 11 p.m., Philippine Standard Time. So there is no reason not to be part of the grandest celebration of the beautiful game. Let’s highlight some of the top performers who, in my opinion, used this opportunity to show the world just what they are made of. I wouldn’t be surprised if these players were in the running to be named part of what is the equivalent of a 2018 FIFA World Cup All-Star team at the end of the tournament.
There is a joke that goalkeepers are some of the craziest people on the field because of their mental toughness in dealing with pressure. The name that sticks out this tournament is Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa. You may recognize Ochoa from a meme, which made fun of his resemblance to Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother. Mexico didn’t make it far this year, but Ochoa did his best to keep his team alive with 25 saves after four games. The Mexican keeper’s last game was the most impressive, where he weathered a barrage of shots from Brazil to keep his team in the game. Brazil eventually won that game, but not without a gallant stand from Ochoa.
Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois and Denmark’s Kaspar Schmeichel also deserve special mention, but this time around let’s give Ted, er, Guillermo Ochoa the limelight.
The mantra “defense wins championships” is also true for football. Defending can be a thankless job with defenders asked to prevent what the crowd really wants — goals. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their shining moments as well.
The 23-year-old defender Yerry Mina of Colombia has literally and figuratively stood head and shoulders above the competition. At 6’4” and playing at the center of the Colombian defense, Mina is more than just physical presence. Mina displayed the smarts and skill to be solid at the back while still being a goal-scoring threat, which is very difficult. The Colombian finished his tournament with three goals, the most of any defender.
Diego Godin of Uruguay did a great job marking opposing stars, while Benjamin Pavard of France scored possibly the best goal of the tournament. But Mina’s all-around contribution leaves the biggest impression.
Midfielders are the heart of any football team. Players in the midfield are responsible for facilitating the attack, retaining possession, and slowing down their opponents’ offense.
Attacking midfielder Eden Hazard has been a key cog in what has been a very entertaining Belgium team. Hazard has been a hazard (pun intended) to his opponents, as evidenced by his two goals and two assists after four games played. The Belgian has also been great at passing the ball, completing 80 percent of his passes, and looks immune to pressure. Hazard has provided the best return in terms of assists and goals from the midfield, but there are so many who could stake a claim to be the best midfielder in the tournament.
Croatia’s Luka Modric and Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho have also played important roles in their respective team’s successes this year, but haven’t arguably been as impactful as Hazard.
These are the guys who normally steal the limelight because they typically score the goals.
Harry Kane has been the driving force for his team, with a commentator labeling him as “the crown jewel of England.” The commentator was right. Kane leads the race for the golden boot, the award given to the highest goal scorer, with six goals to his name. Three goals came from penalty kicks, but any player will tell you how nerve-wracking those can be.
Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku has been a monster for his team with four goals and an assist, and France’s 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe has blessed us with the exuberance of youth and Hanson jokes on social media as well as three goals. But Kane has arguably been the most impactful forward in the tournament so far; in fact, he may be the reason why the English believe football is “coming home.”