Race for the Golden Ball: Every World Cup semi-finalist’s strongest contenders for the top individual prize

Race for the Golden Ball: Every World Cup semi-finalist’s strongest contenders for the top individual prize

We’re deep into the business end of this summer’s World Cup.

Sweeping aside pre-tournament fears of racism and violence, the Russians have put on a feast of football that many in the future will struggle to match. The 157 goals scored at the tournament so far already leave it as the fourth most prolific World Cup of all time, with four matches still to be played.

As we head into the semi-finals, many players from all four remaining teams will have an eye on lifting the Golden Ball award for best individual player, as well as the coveted Jules Rimet trophy.

Squawka analyses the best players for each nation and their chances of coming away as the World Cup’s best player:


Harry Kane

FIFA don’t like to hand out the Golden Ball prize to the Golden Boot winner, but it would be wrong not to include England’s top marksman in this list.

With six goals already at this tournament, Harry Kane has been on fire.  Yes, three of his goals have been penalties and one was a fluke, but he has put those penalties away with unerring accuracy. His other two, against Tunisia, were poacher’s goals carrying all the hallmarks of a player who constantly turns up in the right place at the right time.

Not quite the all-conquering forward we see for Spurs, which is the product of a more defined role and far from a criticism, Kane is an outside bet for this award.  However, with two games to go, the Tottenham striker might just sneak his way into contention for a double individual prize as well as the ultimate dream of World Cup-winning glory.

Key stat: Harry Kane has scored six goals at the 2018 tournament, the joint-most scored by an England player at a single edition of the World Cup (6).

Kieran Trippier

Kyle Walker’s move inside as a centre-half has been a revelation for Kieran Trippier. The Tottenham full-back has been one of England’s most creative outlets and his delivery, which has been compared to that of David Beckham’s, has caused opposition defences no end of trouble as England optimise their set-piece threat.

Not the first or most fashionable name on a lot of people’s lips, but Trippier has to be a strong outside contender for the Golden Ball.

Key stat: Kieran Trippier has created 13 chances at the 2018 World Cup, more than any other defender at the tournament.

John Stones

One of the key components of Gareth Southgate’s side, John Stones is enjoying a stellar World Cup. He is the main ball-player at the back for England, setting up their attractive, possession-based style.

The Manchester City centre-back has been one of the most intelligent players in England’s march to the semi-final and has also chipped in with two goals against Panama, as well as being solid and dependable in defence.

Key stat: John Stones has completed (339) and attempted (319) the most passes for England at the 2018 World Cup.

Strongest Challenger 

With his deadly delivery, Kieran Trippier has been a constant threat for England on the right. As Harry Kane looks set to take the Golden Boot, his Spurs teammate is perhaps the stongest claim England have.


Luka Modric

Luka Modric has enjoyed a hugely succesful few years at Real Madrid and is bringing all the guile and craft he shows there into his play for Croatia.

He has been one of the best midfielders at the tournament so far and, if he continues his fine form to help Croatia reach a first ever World Cup final, expect more people to jump on the bandwagon.

Key stat: No player has attempted (19) or completed (13) more dribbles for Croatia at this World Cup than Modric.

Ivan Rakitic

One of Modric’s fiercest rivals on the pitch when playing for Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic is the perfect partner for the Real Madrid star when playing for the national side.

Rakitic is an ultimate box-to-box midfielder who is just as able to play a killer pass as his compatriot – he is also fearless in the tackle when Croatia come under pressure. His late goal to complete Croatia’s rout of Argentina in the group stages has been a highlight, Rakitic will be looking to add to his claim when he comes up against England on Wednesday.

Key stat: Ivan Rakitic converted the winning penalties in both of Croatia’s shootouts so far in the 2018 World Cup.

Danijel Subasic

As a goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic is more likely to be challenging the likes of Jordan Pickford for the Golden Glove, but his contribution for Croatia cannot be understated.  The Monaco stopper has made a string of top saves at the tournament so far and his for in penalty shootouts has been vital in getting Croatia to the semi-final.

Key stat: Danijel Subasic is just the second player to save four or more penalty shootout spot-kicks at a single World Cup, equalling Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea record from 1990.

Strongest Challenger

Subasic has been good, Rakitic has been very good. However, Luka Modric has been the main man for Croatia throughout the tournament so far. Without him, they may not have cruised to nine points in the groups and they perhaps would have struggled to negotiate tough knockout matches against Denmark and Russia.


Kylian Mbappé

This World Cup has been a giant breakthrough at international level for Kylian Mbappe – reminiscent of Michael Owen for England in 1998. His individual performance as he dismantled the Argentine defence in France’s last-16 victory was the stuff of dreams – or nightmares if you’re Nicolas Otamendi.

The 19-year-old currently stands on three goals and will be looking to rival Harry Kane for both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot as he continues to build his substantial world profile.

Key stat: Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals so far this tournament – he’s the first teenager to score this many in a World Cup campaign since Pele netted six for Brazil in 1958.

N’Golo Kanté

Many would argue that N’Golo Kante has been the best central midfielder in the world over the past three years: he has shown exactly why in Russia this summer.

A lot of fans and pundits wrongly consider Kante to simply be a holding midfielder, screening the defence against counter attacks.  He is so much more than that and his box-to-box play has been vital as France have slowly grown into this World Cup.

Key stat: N’Golo Kante has made 40 recoveries at the 2018 World Cup – the previously mentioned Luka Modric (42) is the only outfield player with more.

Antoine Griezmann

By Antione Griezmann’s own lofty standards, the Atletico Madrid forward has had a relatively quiet World Cup so far.  That being said, he has still managed three goals and an assist and, with his sharp mind and wonderful technique, remains one of Les Bleus’ main attacking threats.

If Griezmann hits top gear in France’s remaining two games he could stake a real claim for the Golden Ball.

Key stat: Antoine Griezmann has scored seven goals in his last six appearances at knockout games in major tournaments.

Strongest Challenger

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Its hard to look past Kylian Mbappe, given his performance against Argentina where he totally eclipsed Lionel Messi. Three goals so far, the prospect of his pace going into battle against a talented Belgium side is mouth-watering and could see Mbappe throw down the gauntlet to win the Golden Ball.


Eden Hazard

Often told he is too inconsistent to be considered ‘world class’, not this summer. Eden Hazard has been in stunning form in Russia as Belgium have stormed to their first World Cup semi-final since 1986.

His ability to hold the ball in the tightest spaces, eye for goal and ability to move across the ground at lightning speed have caused no end of trouble for the Red Devil’s opponents. Hazard completely outshone Neymar as Belgium beat Brazil 2-1 to book their place in the semi-final on Friday night.

Key stat: Eden Hazard completed all 10 of his take-ons against Brazil, the most dribbles attempted by a player with a 100% success rate in a World Cup match since 1966.

Romelu Lukaku

With four goals already and two games still to play, Lukaku is Harry Kane’s closest challenger for the Golden Boot award. If he continues to spearhead the Belgian counter-attack so effectively, Lukaku may find himself lifting the Golden Ball at the end of the tournament too.

Key stat: Lukaku has scored 18 goals in his last 13 appearances for Belgium – scoring four at the 2018 World Cup.

Kevin De Bruyne

Since his £55million move to Manchester City from Wolfsburg, and especially in the season just gone, Kevin De Bruyne’s form has been unbelievable.

Possibly the best passer of the ball in the world, De Bruyne has enjoyed an immensely successful World Cup with two assists and a lethal strike against Brazil on Friday. There is no team in the world at the moment that De Bruyne couldn’t walk his way into and, if he keeps up this form for the next two games, is a very strong contender for the Golden Ball.

The only possible snag is he if reverts to a deeper role and is not fully unleashed as he was in the false nine position against Brazil.

Key stat: Kevin De Bruyne has created more big chances than any other player at the 2018 World Cup (4).

Strongest Challenger

You could probably go through Belgium’s team and form a 10 man shortlist for this award.  However, with just one Golden Ball to give out, Eden Hazard has to be the biggest Belgian contender.

He made Neymar look like something you would grab out of the bargain bucket rather than the most expensive player in the world on Friday. Once Hazard gets momentum behind him, few in the world can stop him.