World Cup stars
Every competing nation has now played at least once in the World Cup, with over 400 players from 32 different countries having tasted action in the opening week of the tournament.
In this slideshow, we pick out the 13 top performers in Russia so far – including free-scoring strikers, tough-tackling defenders and all-action midfielders…
13. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Much has been written about the Belgians’ so-called golden generation – largely mostly their ability to come together as a team and shake off the perception that they’re a group of brilliant individuals rather than a great side.
If Lukaku continues playing as he did against Panama, particularly in the second half, those questions could be silenced. Eden Hazard was quoted as saying that Lukaku was “hiding” in the first half, and that he told him so at the break. Some may consider this further evidence of disharmony in the Belgian camp, but it may actually be the opposite: a captain encouraging one of his major players with some tough love. It worked, as the Manchester United man netted twice in a 3-0 win.
12. Aleksandar Kolarov (Serbia)
Serbia skipper Kolarov enjoyed an excellent season with Roma and scored the goal that took three points for Serbia in their opener against Costa Rica. Their Central American opposition had only lost twice in 16 qualification matches and took some breaking down, requiring Kolarov’s thunderous free-kick shortly after half-time which gave Serbia the win – vital with Switzerland and Brazil to come in Group E.
Kolarov’s goal was the 11th for his country, having netted twice in qualification for this World Cup and four on the road to Brazil 2014 – but this was his first at an international competition.
11. Kieran Trippier (England)
In the first round of group stage matches, nobody made more key passes than England wing-back Trippier. Of the 14 chances England crafted against Tunisia, the Spurs man was responsible for six of them. To put that into perspective, only one Three Lions player – David Beckham – has carved out more opportunities in a single World Cup match since England lifted the trophy in 1966.
It was also Trippier who stayed within the confines of the pitch as the rest of the team celebrated Harry Kane’s winner – meaning Tunisia weren’t able to kick off unopposed and grab an equaliser (a strange rule, apparently, which nobody seems able to find evidence of).
10. Alfred Finnbogason (Iceland)
Iceland continue to go from strength to strength, and have long proved that Euro 2016 was no fluke. Just qualifying for that tournament two years ago was an exceptional achievement for a nation with a similar population to Coventry; to reach the quarter-finals was utterly remarkable.
They were typically disciplined and well organised in their World Cup debut against Argentina, although they also showed quality in attacking areas. Lone striker Finnbogason grabbed the goal that earned them a famous point, while his link-up play was brilliant throughout.
9. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Lozano top-scored for Mexican side Pachuca as they won the CONCACAF Champions League a year ago, raising his profile sufficiently to get a move to Europe with PSV. His first season in Eindhoven was spectacular, with the 22-year-old’s 17 league goals from a wide position helping firing PSV to the Eredivisie title.
If the opening group stage match is anything to go by, Lozano has carried his club form into the World Cup. The livewire forward kept his composure brilliantly to score the winner against Germany, taking a touch and firing the ball beyond Manuel Neuer. His countrymen back home did anything but keep their composure, with the celebrations in Mexico City measuring on the Richter scale – literally, according to seismologists.
8. Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Russia were written off before the tournament, with few experts giving them a chance of even making it out of the group. Yet Stanislas Cherchesov’s side have begun brilliantly, dispatching Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Egypt 3-1 to qualify for the knockout phase with a game to spare.
Golovin has been central to their fantastic start, with much of the hosts’ play running through the CSKA Moscow scheme. The 22-year-old created two goals and scored another in the thrashing of the Saudis, before pulling the strings to great effect against Mohamed Salah & Co. a few days later.
7. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
‘Memo’ Ochoa made nine saves in Mexico’s 1-0 defeat of Germany, making him the busiest net-minder in the first round of games. His almost single-handed thwarting of the holders’ attack brought back memories of his man-of-the-match performance against Brazil in the group stage four years ago, when he kept the tournament hosts and overwhelming favourites at bay in Fortaleza.
If he’s able to maintain the outstanding form he seems to always find for the national team, Mexico may make the coveted quarter-finals for the first time on foreign soil.
6. Harry Kane (England)
In one match, Kane scored twice as many World Cup goals as England’s record goalscorer managed in 11 matches on the biggest stage. Wayne Rooney netted only once at international football’s showpiece event – in a loss to Uruguay four years ago.
That Kane has surpassed Rooney’s total means little, of course, but it bodes well for the rest of the tournament and for England going forward. If international football was a step too far for Rooney – or maybe more reasonably, for England at that point – we already know it isn’t the case for England’s new captain who has taken his club form to Russia.
5. Hector Herrera (Mexico)
Mexico have taken part in the last six World Cup tournaments, making it out of the group stage but no further than the first knockout round every single time. The quinto partido - fifth match - has become an obsession in Mexico, and the quarter-finals are a barometer for success among fans and media alike.
An opening 1-0 triumph over holders Germany has raised optimism back home, particularly as the margin of victory could have been even wider. Herrera was key to El Tri’s famous success, patrolling the midfield and getting the better of Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos in a magnificent display.
4. Diego Costa (Spain)
Former Chelsea man Costa was at his belligerent, irritating and devastating best against Portugal, scoring a brilliant first goal to level the scores and then finishing off a sweeping team move for a second. If it weren’t for Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible performance, Costa would have been the catalyst for a vital victory over La Roja’s closest rivals.
Either way, he’s giving a good account of himself in Russia after a nightmare 2014 World Cup in his birth nation of Brazil, and even seems to have luck on his side – the winning goal against Iran came after Ramin Rezaeian hacked a clearance off Costa’s shins and in.
3. Jose Maria Gimenez (Uruguay)
Pre-tournament talk focused on attacking duo Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez tormenting defences, and Uruguay easily qualifying for the knockout stage from the World Cup’s weakest group.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way; although the Celeste are indeed through with two wins and no goals conceded, their pragmatic approach has stifled their attacking prowess. For many sides that would be a big problem, but less so for Uruguay, who boast arguably the best centre-back partnership in the competition. Gimenez has been brilliant thus far, with his headed winner against Egypt the icing on the cake.
2. Denis Cheryshev (Russia)
Cheryshev began Russia’s World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia among the substitutes, and on the fringes of Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russia side. Ninety minutes later, the Villarreal winger had helped himself to a record: the first substitute to score in a World Cup opener, which he added to with another in the 91st minute.
Both goals were superb finishes and earned him a start against Egypt a few days later. He again got his name on the scoresheet as the hosts ran out 3-1 winners, with Cheryshev a constant threat with his speed and trickery.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Portugal weren’t particularly great against Iberian neighbours Spain in their opening game, and they scraped a 1-0 win against Morocco having been the inferior side for much of the contest. But neither opponent could cope with Ronaldo, whose development from being one of the game’s best wingers to its foremost penalty-box predator is nothing short of remarkable.
Ronaldo was perfect against Spain to the tune of a hat-trick; the difference between a point and a hammering. His headed winner from a corner against Morocco means only Iran legend Ali Daei has scored more international goals than the Real Madrid man.
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