Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Lionel Messi’s Argentina, a Spain team containing Isco and Asensio: all eliminated in the round of sixteen. Every team remaining faces the challenge of the dreaded knockout process and will be looking to their star men to come up big. With the removal of so many superstars, the stage is set for someone to come and haul their country to the ultimate trophy, and perhaps earn a big-money move in the process.
With a plethora of talent, Belgium may not be as reliant on superstardom as the rest of the competing nations. Yet above all others, it is Chelsea’s attacker Eden Hazard that stands to gain the most from his position in his squad, and in the competition. Midfield wonder Kevin De-Bruyne presents the only tangible rivalry in terms of ability, but as the tournament unfolds it becomes clear to see who has fitted their club’s system, and who has had their club’s system fitted around them. One of the strongest contenders out of the remaining, sit would be surprising if Real Madrid were not to redouble their efforts to sign the Chelsea wizard. A strong campaign this summer in Russia would perhaps catapult the Belgian onto a podium finish for the Ballon D’or; a trophy he never wanted but surely one he is capable of contending for.
Deposing of Argentina in style, France showed their teeth in the round of sixteen. With an assist to Antoine Griezmann’s penalty and two goals, Kylian Mbappe was the standout performer on this occasion. His blistering pace, impressive close-control and deadly finishing will have drawn the attention of any who did not already know his name. The 19-year old has shown his ability on the biggest stage, not least against the 2014 World Cup runners up, and is paving his way to a gold-studded career. With again, Real Madrid known to be interested in bringing the young man out of France, and his destination club Paris Saint-Germain allegedly in trouble with those in charge of financial fair play rules, it could be that anyone with the funds will pay over the odds for this undoubted superstar. Should he inspire the France team (already full of talent) to a World Cup win, then you would expect a host of clubs attempting to sign him and break the bank in the process.
England have a clear focal point: Harry Kane. The top scorer across all European leagues in the calendar year of 2017, Kane had already put his name on the map before becoming the highest scorer in the group stages at this World Cup. Yet if he continues to smash the goals in and, perhaps, does the unthinkable with England, Kane may just make himself a must-have target for the game’s elite. Neither Ronaldo nor Benzema are getting any younger, with the latter in clear decline. Higuain also approaches his descent as does Luis Suarez, while Robert Lewandowski has an unclear future at best. Harry Kane would plug any of these gaps for certain and would do so for the next six years at least. Daniel Levy is a shrewd business man, but surely the England striker is not priceless. Will he be pried from the north-London club? That’s a question for another time.
For the trans-American nation, it is simple. The one to watch is PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano – the man who was instrumental in the beating of currently champions Germany. If Mexico can overcome long-hated rivals Brazil they could surely do so to anyone. Already linked with Everton and a host of other clubs, Lozano could propel his future into motion with some key performances.
Luka Modric, as always, has spearheaded his team’s over-performances with absolute serenity from the midfield. Missing a penalty in the dying moments of extra time but still progressing, Croatia now stand with England as favourites to make the final on their side of the knockout tournament. Already attracting attention as the underrated lynchpin in the killer Real Madrid side, a deep foray into the knockout stages would surely put Luka Modric in contention for a podium finish in the Ballon D’or given his successes already this season.
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