Ranked! The 10 best players of the 2018 World Cup group stage
10. Andre Carrillo (Peru)
If you’d only been paying vague attention, you may be forgiven for thinking that Peru didn’t actually have a football team at the World Cup – simply a set of very enthusiastic fans determined to have a brilliant time.
The supporters and team are on their way home, but a few players deserved better; notably winger Andre Carrillo, who was terrific in their first two games and scored the first in Los Incas’ win over Australia. “We are slightly bitter because we're better than Denmark, and at times we were even better than France,” he sighed.
9. Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Before the tournament we were promised a shambles from Russia; a mess of embarrassing proportions that would make a mockery of the hosts. As it turned out, they blew their first two opponents away and could put their feet up for the third game.
Denis Cheryshev has got the goals, while the giant Artem Dzyuba has caught the eye, but Aleksandr Golovin – perhaps the only genuine individual star in this Russian team – has been at the heart of everything good they’ve done. He scored one and set up two in the battering of Saudi Arabia.
Few expect Russia to go much further, but then again, few expected them to get this far. If they do beat Spain, Golovin – a summer target for Chelsea, according to reports on Friday – will be the man they look to.
8. Takashi Inui (Japan)
“Inui has been performing beyond our expectations,” said Japan coach Akira Nishino before their final group game against Poland. “He has been excellent.”
When your own manager is surprised and impressed by your performances, you know something has gone very right. It’s perhaps an indication of how highly Nishino rates Inui that he was left out of Japan’s final game: a fairly remarkable gamble that only came off because Senegal lost to Colombia.
Nishino rested many of the Blue Samurai’s best players against Poland, despite still requiring a point to ensure qualification. Inui, a busy midfielder who scored in their draw with Senegal, will be crucial in the last-16 game against Belgium.
7. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
“Great things can happen,” was Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney’s assessment of what it’s like to play alongside Christian Eriksen.
When a relatively limited side plays with an outstanding talent, there will always be a temptation to lean on them; to always look towards said star when things aren’t going well. Where Eriksen is concerned, you can hardly blame the Danes for doing so.
His goal against Australia was an extraordinary piece of skill: a half-volley he hit while the ball was still rising; the sort of effort that most players would have been delighted even to get a touch on, never mind send it fizzing into the roof of the net. But then Eriksen isn’t most players.
6. Isco (Spain)
Julen Lopetegui's departure might have impacted Isco the most. Real Madrid’s playmaker was a favourite of the former Spain coach, so apart from anything else in the hours after his dramatic departure, the player must have been wondering how his role would change.
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. With Andres Iniesta’s career winding down and the same fate for David Silva not too far away, Isco was always going to take over as Spain’s primary creative force at some point – and he arguably did that in the group games.
He’s generally found himself in the shadow of more imposing figures for both club and country, but this tournament might be the time he steps out of it.