Top 5 Golden Ball Contenders for FIFA World Cup 2018 with Their Betting Odds
The Golden Ball award will reward the best player at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and with a maximum of three games left per team it is going to be hotly contested.
Voted for by representatives of the media, from a shortlist drawn up by the FIFA technical committee, Lionel Messi was the last recipient of the award but it appears to be wide open this year.
So who should you back to win it? There is plenty to consider as we approach the quarter-finals stage, with Kylian Mbappe emerging as narrow favourite with the bookmakers after his heroics against Argentina in the second round.
Mbappe’s two goals helped France into the quarter-finals and the 19-year-old is 7/2 to win the title. Current top scorer and Golden Boot favourite Harry Kane is 4/1 while Brazil’s golden boy Neymar is 6/1.
As proved by Messi winning last year, and previous winners including Diego Forlan (2010), winning the tournament is not a prerequisite for being crowned Golden Ball winner. In fact, Brazil’s Romario, in 1994, was the last World Cup winner to also claim the Golden Ball.
Likewise, the Golden Boot winner has not won the Golden Ball since Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci claimed the ‘double’ on home soil in 1990.
Here’s a closer look at the leading contenders…
Kylian Mbappe’s two goals against Argentina in the second round proved his undoubted potential as France booked their place in the quarter-finals with a dramatic 4-3 win.
He has now emerged as favourite to win the Golden Ball but the odds are not generous – he was hit-and-miss – as the whole French attack were – during the group stage, and France will have to beat Uruguay and one of Brazil or Belgium if they are to continue their run to the final.
No teenager has ever won the Golden Ball – or been crowned World Cup best player – in the history of the tournament either, so Mbappe would be breaking new ground.
If he repeats the sort of performance he put in against Argentina he is a serious contender, but the fact he is now favourite is very reactionary.
Already leading the way for the Golden Boot with six goals from three matches, England’s captain has been at the heart of their run to the quarter-finals.
No Englishman has won the Golden Ball – or even been in the top three – since England won the World Cup in 1966, but Kane is narrowly behind Mbappe in the current betting.
His goals have included three penalties, however, plus two from set pieces and one fortuitous deflection.
If England go all the way he will be a contender, but as has been shown before, goals alone do not always swing the Golden Ball decision.
Of the three global superstars at the World Cup, Neymar is the last man standing following Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-round exits.
He is leading Brazil’s charge and has scored twice so far but has also attracted criticism for his play-acting in the win against Mexico.
Nevertheless, he is Brazil’s poster boy and star player and if they go all the way at this World Cup he will undoubtedly have played a big part.
He seems to be improving as the tournament goes on too – understandably considering he missed the last three months of the season due to injury.
While Neymar is Brazil’s leading player, Philippe Coutinho has been arguably an even more important figure of the early part of their World Cup campaign.
The Barcelona man was involved in at least one goal in each of their three group games (goals or assists) and scored a brilliant goal in their opener against Switzerland.
Neymar may take the headlines but Coutinho has certainly played his part so far – particularly with Gabriel Jesus yet to find the net up front.
After being instrumental in Croatia’s destruction of Argentina in the group stage, Luka Modric has emerged as a serious contender for the Golden Ball.
He did blot his copybook in the second round, however, missing a last-minute penalty against Denmark – but he did make amends by converting from the spot as Croatia won the shoot-out.
Modric was one of only two players to play all three of Croatia’s group games – which they won all three of – and if they can overcome Russia in the quarter-finals, the Real Madrid man’s chances of winning the Golden Ball will definitely increase.
If he and Croatia can replicate their group-stage form in the quarter-finals (and potentially beyond) the Golden Ball is back on.
Eden Hazard has been instrumental in Belgium’s run to the quarter-finals with a sublime assist for Romelu Lukaku in their first match against Panama and then two goals against Tunisia.
His attacking threat and passing is key to Belgium’s style, and he has managed to outshine Kevin de Bruyne so far despite the latter’s excellent form in the Premier League last season.
Both Hazard and De Bruyne, and four-goal Romelu Lukaku, could be contenders if Belgium go further in the competition, especially if one of them turns in a match-winning performance when it matters.
But to do that, Belgium must overcome tournament favourites Brazil in the quarter-finals. Fail to do that, and their star players’ Golden Ball chances will be over.
The leading contenders from the other nations are as follows:
Uruguay – Luis Suarez (40/1) – Scored twice in the group stage
Russia – Igor Akinfeev (66/1) – Penalty shoot-out heroics in second round
Sweden – Andreas Granqvist (66/1) – Two penalties and helped keep three clean sheets in first four games
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