There is a long way to go in this World Cup, but already the best performers from this tournament have been scribbled onto the shopping lists of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. There have been a number of breakout stars from the group stages, some expected and some less so. Here, we look at five players who have seen their stock rise the most in Russia.
Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
22-year-old Hirving Lozano was one of the ‘ones to watch’ in almost every World Cup preview, and the PSV Eindhoven winger has lived up to the billing. Having netted 19 goals, and set up 11 more, for PSV last year in what was his first season in Europe, the Mexican clearly has the potential to be great and he has been showing his skills in Russia too.
His electric performance in the opener against Germany will be remembered for some time by Mexican football fans, with Lozano scoring the only goal of the game and also leading counter attack after counter attack, fizzing forward like a half-blown-up balloon which somebody let go in the world champions’ direction.
Against South Korea in Mexico’s second match, he conjured up an assist so brilliant that he made it look simple, gliding through the entire South Korean half before feeding Javier Hernández for the finish. The Sweden defeat may not have been a highlight for any Mexican, but Lozano’s overall group stage performance was one of the very best.
Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
Yes, he may already be 25, but the World Cup group stages saw Juan Quintero finally stand up and display the talent that he has always possessed. The languid playmaker has already been given a chance in Europe, but he struggled at Porto and has been repeatedly loaned out by the Portuguese club, returning to his native Colombia and then to River Plate in Argentina. Now, the 5ft 6in master of la pausa will surely be given another shot at the elite level after helping to steer Los Cafeteros to the knockout rounds.
With one goal – a cheeky under-the-wall free-kick against Japan – and with two assists, one against Poland and one against Senegal, Quintero was directly involved in three of Colombia’s five group stage goals, while he was also the one who slid in James Rodríguez to assist Yerry Mina’s opener against the Polish.
He has stood up and driven this Colombia attack when James Rodríguez’s fitness issues have prevented the Bayern Munich man from doing so. Quintero has simply been excellent.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
This World Cup has gone much better than expected for Russia and part of the reason for this is that Aleksandr Golovin has delivered on the big stage. With 22, he now has as many caps to his name as he does years on this planet, having come a long way since making his international debut at 19 in a summer friendly against Belarus.
With a superb free-kick goal – which was similar to one he’d netted against Arsenal for CSKA Moscow in this year’s Europa League – and with two assists in Russia’s opening match against Saudi Arabia, Golovin was the one most people in Russia were excitedly talking about after the 5-0 victory, even more so than Denis Cheryshev and Robbie Williams. He followed that up with a very useful showing against Egypt, before being rested – and being missed – in the 3-0 defeat against Uruguay.
He has certainly put himself in the shop window with his group stage performances, much like Andrey Arshavin did at Euro 2008 a decade ago.
Lucas Hernández (France)
Had it not been for his consistent diving and rolling around on the floor, Lucas Hernández’s journey might have been one of the most uplifting stories of this World Cup. At the start of 2018 he’d never played for France, but a stellar second half of the season with Atlético Madrid, where he did an excellent job of filling in at left-back for Filipe Luís, meant that the 22-year-old made Didier Deschamps’ France squad. Benjamin Mendy’s long-term injury meant the Atlético man was even made Les Bleus’ starter on the left and he has done an excellent job so far.
As a starter in each of France’s group matches, he was able to fulfil his defensive duties at the same time as he offered an attacking option on the left wing. In fact, the man whose natural position is centre-back was so attacking that his average position in each of France’s group stage matches was beyond the halfway line and into opposition territory.
His brother Theo may have made all of the headlines with his move to Real Madrid last summer, but Lucas has had an incredible few months and has become one of European football’s rising stars.
Cho Hyun-woo (South Korea)
Germany players will still be having nightmares about Cho Hyun-woo. The South Korean goalkeeper was in sensational form as he took on the world champions in the third round of matches in Group F, making six total saves to deny Joachim Low’s men. He had made a further six saves across the previous two matches in the group, finishing the group stages with more parries than all other goalkeepers except Guillermo Ochoa and Kasper Schmeichel.
On just three occasions did the 26-year-old have to pick the ball out of the back of his own net and two of those goals conceded were penalties. There really wasn’t much more Cho Hyun-woo could have done for his country in Russia.
What’s most amazing about these performances is that the Daegu FC shot-stopper only made his international debut last November and he wasn’t expected to be the Asian nation’s starter at this tournament. Yet his rapid rise saw him take the team’s goalkeeping gloves and then take over the world’s headlines too.
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Also published on Medium.