Five stars born in Russia 2018
The World Cup is little more than a glorified shop window — at least from the perspective of the capitalist leviathan that is club football’s transfer market.
It’s a platform for lesser-knowns to advertise their names and for forgotten men to put themselves back on the agenda. This year has been no different. In a tournament of shocks and underdog prevails, it’s only natural that new blips are showing up on our radars.
Here are five players, all in or approaching their prime, who may have already earned themselves a career-defining move.
Takashi Inui forcibly grabbed attention during Japan’s frenetic last-16 run but Gaku Shibasaki was at the anchor of the most productive Samurai Blue strikes.
Alongside captain Makoto Hasebe at the base of midfield, the 26-year-old has demanded a level of freedom often not afforded to such a position in a 4-2-3-1.
In addition to his adept distribution, it’s not rare to see him pop up on a vacant wing or make a late run into the box.
Against Senegal, he routinely threatened as he strayed out wide and sprayed threatening low crosses into the box. His consistently accurate distribution from the back, meanwhile, kept the Africans under pressure until they buckled and conceded a draw, ultimately eliminating them from the group stage with penalties.
His sublime passing would continue against Belgium as his deceptive through ball left the experienced Jan Vertonghen stranded and hobbling. Genki Haraguchi finished the move that would send the more fancied Europeans into panic mode.
After only making 12 starts for mid-table La Liga side Getafe last season, Shibasaki has no doubt used the World Cup to bump up his value and cement a quality reputation before club football kicks off again.
Dominant: Russia’s Aleksandr Golovin has upped his pricetag. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)
Aleksandr Golovin was being courted by a host of clubs before the World Cup but Russia’s odds-defying run has probably added at least a few million to his price tag. Chelsea are reportedly in serious talks for his services but CSKA Moscow are likely to hold out to see just how long the central midfielder can bask in the spotlight.
The hosts have devilishly enjoyed defying those who doomed them to follow in South Africa’s footsteps and stumble out early. Golovin was dominant as they blew away Saudi Arabia — assisting two and scoring one — before his performance in the centre of the park went a long way towards nullifying Egypt’s entire game plan, securing qualification with a match to spare.
Intelligent on the ball and willing to put in the hard work off the ball, it’s likely we’re still to see the best of the 22-year-old. Given that Russia falls on the “easier” side of the knockout bracket, it would be foolish to downplay whatever that could be.
Intrepid: Emil Forsberg’s skill could take Sweden to the semi-finals. (Lee Smith/Reuters)
Emil Forsberg was already ingrained in the minds of Bundesliga watchers. He inspired RB Leipzig to a second place finish in 2017 and gathered plenty of admirers for his intrepid wing play along the way. Now he has stepped up on the global stage.
Aiding his cause has been Sweden coach Janne Andersson’s decision to use the4-2-2Forsberg has perfected at club level. Generally starting on the left, the 26-year-old is able to operate as efficiently on a run down the line or cutting inside. For a winger, he has excellent distribution after coming infield while still maintaining a vicious shot. That power saw his side into the quarterfinal after a deflection punished Switzerland.
Forsberg has been linked to Arsenal for almost two months now and it’s hard to see that or a similar deal falling through after his World Cup.
Confident: Mexico’s Hirving Lozano looks dangerous
Speaking of the Gunners, Hirving Lozano has found himself firmly atop the rumour pile with suggestions that Unai Emery has made him his primary option. The 22-year-old netted 19 times for PSV Eindhoven this season, a superb return for his first season in the Eredivisie. Lozano shone for Mexico en route to Russia and wasted no time once there. In the 35th minute of his World Cup debut, he tore down the left before receiving the ball and faking inside, leaving Mesut Özil to look like a static amateur. His smashing drive into the bottom right corner was a small example of what his right foot is capable of.
Even in defeat to Brazil, Lozano stood out as one of the best players on the pitch. An endless runner, Mexico looked like a menacing threat on the counter whenever he was found in space.
Clearly confident in his ability and at a key development stage, there’s no telling what heights he could travel to.
Potent: Juan Quintero was Colombia’s secret spice in midfield. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
The tournament had barely begun before River Plate had to begin issuing hands-off warnings, such was the excellence of Juan Quintero.
Real Madrid are reportedly interested in taking another shot at a Colombian World Cup star and there’s no room to wonder why. The playmaker controlled everything good for the South Americans in a run that came to an untimely end on Tuesday evening in Moscow.
Positioned as a traditional No 10, an increasing rarity, Quintero has operated majestically, regularly able to find Juan Cuadrado in an open channel or find a pass for Radamel Falcao to bully on to. It also happened to be his corner that sent Senegal packing.
Still only 25, attitude and weight criticisms have never been far in a topsy-turvy career. “I’m not fat, I just have a big arse,” he reportedly blasted back at a journalist in Argentina. He has put a new level of maturity on display now, however, and we suspect a move to Europe — Real or elsewhere — is imminent.