Ranked: 10 Unexpected Stars Of The World Cup – And What It Means For Their Futures
10) Andreas Granqvist
Sweden defended superbly throughout the 2018 World Cup – up until they faced England’s set-pieces, that is – and for that they have 33-year-old Andreas Granqvist to thank. He commanded that ultra-deep back four with an aggressive, no-nonsense approach, completing 7.4 clearances per match – the fifth most in the tournament.
Granqvist is probably too old to be given a chance at the highest level of club football. He currently plays for FC Krasnodar in Russia and has done ever since leaving Genoa in 2013. It is not out of the question that Serie A sides will be looking at Granqvist, although the absence of transfer rumours surrounding the centre-back is hardly surprising.
9) Diego Laxalt
The 25-year-old Genoa left-back was a revelation for Uruguay during their run to the quarter-finals, putting in consistently solid defensive performances and encapsulating the feisty spirit of Oscar Tabarez’s side. Having slowly forced his way into the first 11 during the group stages, Laxalt was inspirational against Portugal, helping to keep Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva quiet.
Genoa will struggle to hold onto their left-back; Laxalt’s self-assurance under pressure will attract the attention of bigger clubs across Europe. West Ham, Roma, and Fiorentina have been linked with Laxalt, among others, while Chelsea have admired him for a long time.
8) Hirving Lozano
Mexico were easily beaten by Brazil in the second round, although by then their right winger Hirving Lozano had already secured his place as one of the tournament’s breakout stars. He was a constant menace in the 1-0 victory over Germany, swapping positions with Carlos Vela and, with Javier Hernandez, creating a front three that caused havoc on the counter-attack.
The PSV winger is still pretty raw, as he showed with some poor decision-making against Brazil, and so his mooted move to Manchester United probably won’t happen. At 22, Lozano has time to develop in the Netherlands before transferring to the Premier League.
7) Cho Hyun Woo
On the world stage it can take just one good performance to make or break a career. South Korea’s goalkeeper Cho Hyun Woo, who plays his football in his home country for Daegu FC, was inspirational against Germany in the 2-0 victory that sent Joachim Low’s side home. It wasn’t just his exceptional shot-stopping either, with an all-round commanding display helping South Korea to a shock clean sheet.
Jurgen Klopp was reportedly sent a message by a friend six months ago urging him to look at Cho, and certainly Liverpool FC fans are now keen for the German to make an approach. Cho should be available pretty cheaply, too, meaning a transfer to one of Europe’s top five leagues is highly likely.
6) Harry Maguire
Harry “Slab-head” Maguire has become a cult hero in England after his phenomenal aerial display against Sweden in the quarter-finals. He scored the opening goal from a corner before winning virtually every header against the two Swedish forwards, Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen.
Leicester City might just struggle to hold onto him. Maguire was relatively unknown prior to the World Cup, even to some Premier League fans, but his assured performances under pressure will likely garner the attention of top clubs, especially those that hold a deep line. Liverpool have been linked with the 25-year-old, although more by the fans than the club itself.
5) Aleksandr Golovin
The CSKA Moscow midfielder was tipped to star this summer and he hasn’t disappointed. The 22-year-old scored once and assisted two more during Russia’s run to the quarter-finals, providing flair and creativity for the hosts from attacking midfield.
Juventus were widely tipped to sign Golovin before the tournament began, but in the last few weeks Chelsea have emerged as the most likely destination. A £27 million fee has already been agreed, according to reports.
4) Jose Gimenez
Although plenty was made of Uruguay’s Atletico Madrid pair of centre-backs before the tournament began, most people expected Diego Godin to be the star. After all, Jose Gimenez only started 17 league games last season, with Stefan Savic often preferred by Diego Simeone. But the 23-year-old was exceptional in Russia, completing more tackles, interceptions, clearances, and headers than Godin.
Atletico is the perfect home for Gimenez, so he isn’t likely to leave this summer, even though Arsenal and Manchester United are reportedly interested. However, he can expect to start more regularly in La Liga.
3) Yerry Mina
Colombia’s start centre-back in Russia was 23-year-old FC Barcelona centre-back Yerry Mina, a rock at the heart of defence. He made up for Davinson Sanchez’s surprisingly sloppy tournament to help Colombia concede just one goal in their final 300 minutes of football at the World Cup. He also scored the 94th minute equaliser against England in the second round.
Mina is held in high regard by his current club but made just five appearances in La Liga for Barcelona last season. Unless he is guaranteed more game-time in 2018/19 Mina might want to move on while his stock is high. Everton are reportedly close to securing a deal.
2) Kieran Trippier
England’s stand-out performer on their historic run is Tottenham Hotspur’s Kieran Trippier, whose deliveries from dead-ball situations have been invaluable to Gareth Southgate. But Trippier has also been crucial defensively and threatened continually during open play, providing a wide outlet for England after long periods of narrow possession.
Spurs are unlikely to let Trippier leave, although it is certainly possible that a big club will come after him. Barcelona have been searching for a right-back for some time, and should England win the World Cup he might just be seen as the man to replace Sergio Roberto.
1) Denis Cheryshev
The most improbable hero of the 2018 World Cup was 27-year-old Denis Cheryshev, a bit-part player at Villarreal who arrived in Russia expecting to spend most of his time on the bench. But an injury to star player Alan Dzagoev in the first match gave Cheryshev a chance that he took with both hands. The midfielders scored four goals in 304 minutes of football, including wonder-strikes against Saudi Arabia and Croatia.
Cheryshev has since been linked to Liverpool and Real Madrid, although currently these are only rumours. The considerably shortened transfer window in the Premier League – clubs have just three weeks once the World Cup ends – makes it more likely a top ten team will take a gamble on Cheryshev. It certainly paid off for Russia this summer.