Ranked! The 10 breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup
5. Juan Quintero (Colombia)
Juan Quintero had a point to prove in Russia. The Colombian 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.
Yet the diminutive playmaker will no doubt have made the Portuguese side sit up and take notice with his dazzling group-stage display. The 25-year-old played a part in three of his homeland’s five goals, setting up Radamel Falcao and Yerry Mina against Poland and Senegal respectively, and scoring the tournament’s cheekiest free-kick in Colombia’s shock 2-1 defeat to Japan.
4. Ante Rebic (Croatia)
Ante Rebic will undoubtedly have enjoyed his second World Cup experience far more than his first. 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. 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.
3. Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Aleksandr Golovin will have already been familiar to Arsenal fans – the CSKA Moscow midfielder scored an absolute screamer against the Gunners in the Europa League earlier this year. But now the rest of the world is fully aware of the Russian’s talents.
The 22-year-old netted a similarly spectacular free-kick, and provided two assists, in the World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia before going on to run the show in the host’s 3-1 victory over Egypt. He then proved to be Russia’s key man in their surprise second-round win over Spain, also coolly netting a penalty in an unbearably tense shootout.
It’s little wonder that incoming Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is expected to make Golovin his first signing.
2. Takashi Inui (Japan)
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 magnificent group game performances and a monumental 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. All this from a player who had barely made a ripple outside the mid-tables of the Bundesliga and La Liga.
1. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Mexico may have once again failed to break their second-round curse, but they did at least produce the tournament’s brightest star. Winger Hirving Lozano was an instrumental figure in his side’s qualification from Group F, setting up Javier Hernandez’s decisive strike against South Korea with an impressive mazy run, having already scored a career-defining winner against Germany in Mexico’s opener.
The man nicknamed Chucky was just as influential during PSV’s Eredivisie triumph last season, netting 17 goals in 29 appearances. But with the likes of Barcelona now circling around, it seems unlikely the 22-year-old will be around to help the Dutch side retain their title.