Hundreds of players will line up in Russia for the 2018 World Cup Finals and we take a look at who will be crowned the best of the lot and take home the coveted Golden Ball.
Only two of the last five Golden Ball Awards and none of the last three have been won by a player from the tournament’s winners, so this goes deeper than just picking the best player from the best team.
Lionel Messi – 8/1
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was the somewhat unexpected recipient of the Golden Ball award in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Despite scoring four goals in the group stage, Messi did not score a goal in the knockout stages. After losing to Germany in the final, the Argentine looked slightly embarrassed when collecting the award.
This season has been considered a somewhat reserved one by Messi's standards, but the truth is he has still finished ahead of Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo as Europe’s top scorer. Such is the little man’s brilliance we are no longer blown away by a season in which he has scored 45 goals in 54 games.
No player has ever won two Golden Ball Awards and Messi may have to guide Argentina one step further than four years ago in order to be crowned the tournament’s best player.
Neymar Jr – 8/1
Neymar is facing a race to be fit for Brazil’s opener against Switzerland and even if he does recover in time he will not have played a competitive match since suffering a broken metatarsal in February.
Brazil have been heavily reliant on Neymar for the past five years but now boast a squad of players worthy of wearing the famous Samba shirt. Stars such as Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, and Philippe Coutinho outline their shift away from being reliant on the PSG frontman.
Joint-favouritism for the Golden Ball Award may be an overestimation of the role Neymar will play after his injury problems and better value can be found elsewhere.
Antoine Griezmann – 16/1
Transfer talk surrounding the Atletico Madrid frontman has been relentless in recent seasons with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona all linked with securing Griezmann’s signature.
The Frenchman scored 29 goals in all competitions this season, helping Atletico to second place in La Liga and to the Europa League title. The only season in which he scored more goals was in 2015/16 – the year he was voted Player of the Tournament at Euro 2016.
With France’s starting forward as yet undetermined, it is possible that Griezmann could lead the line for Les Bleus. It is also worth noting that he will be on penalty duty, which could add an extra goal or two to his final tally, putting him firmly in contention.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 16/1
Instrumental in Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph despite leaving the field injured early in the first half of the final, Ronaldo may have been up for Manager of the Tournament following his antics on the sidelines.
In what is likely to be his last World Cup, Portugal’s talisman will be just as determined to collect a personal accolade as a team one.
After a slow start to the season, Ronaldo ended the campaign with an astonishing 44 goals from 44 games, level with Mohammed Salah and just one behind Lionel Messi, who had played more games.
The trouble Ronaldo is facing is that, while he has support from the likes of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and AC Milan’s promising youngster Andre Silva, the Portugal team is suffering from a severe lack of quality. If Ronaldo is going to justify his price of 16/1, he is going to have to have one mighty tournament.
Gabriel Jesus – 20/1
Since his retirement in 2011, Brazil have been left with a Ronaldo-shaped hole that they have yet to fill. The Phenomenon really was just that and the likes of Adriano, Fred and Julio Baptista were, in all honesty, never really fit to lace his boots.
Although he is not a striker in the mould of Ronaldo, in Gabriel Jesus, Brazil believe they may have found the answer to all their problems. For all their technical and exciting footballers, they have been crying out for a player to link play and score goals. More than a clinical poacher but also more than a Robinho-esque show pony.
The Brazil forward scored seven goals in qualifying despite only playing 10 games and if things click in Russia he could very easily be walking away with both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.
Best of the Rest
Harry Kane – 25/1
The new England skipper has never scored at a major tournament for England but has bagged 41 goals in 48 games for Tottenham this season. Kane will need to transfer his club form to the international stage if he has any chance of winning the Golden Ball.
Having said that, Kane has developed a knack of scoring hat-tricks against poor quality opposition - he has eight in total. Should he claim the match ball against either Panama or Tunisia, which is not too unrealistic, his price for the Golden Ball – and Golden Boot – would tumble.
Kevin De Bruyne – 28/1
PFA Player of the Year runner-up Kevin De Bruyne will undoubtedly be at the heart of everything good about Roberto Martinez’s team this summer and should Belgium’s golden generation realise their true potential in Russia, the Manchester City playmaker would be in with a good chance of becoming Belgium's first ever Golden Ball recipient.
Diego Costa – 40/1
Any one of David Silva, Andres Iniesta or even Isco could potentially win this award with the outstanding technical ability they possess, but Diego Costa is a headline grabber, a big game goalscorer and a controversial figure.
Maybe that will contrive against him winning the Golden Ball, but one thing is for sure, his performances will be memorable and 40/1 seems a big price for a striker who could easily be advancing from the group stage with three or four goals already to his name.
Paul Pogba - 40/1
The player everyone loves to hate - the hairstyles, the foot-rolls, the price tag.
Whatever your opinions on him, the fact remains that Paul Pogba is a hugely influential player for France where he is afforded the freedom he needs to roam forward and support Griezmann. France could go deep in Russia and if they do Pogba will no doubt have played a crucial part.
Edison Cavani – 40/1
Top scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifiers ahead of Lionel Messi, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar, the PSG striker also finished the season as Europe’s seventh-top scorer with 40 goals from 48 games. Cavani is a goalscorer and against the defences of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Egypt he should not be short of chances. Should he be awarded the Golden Ball he will join fellow countryman Diego Forlan who was its recipient in 2010.
While the Danes are not the strongest team in the tournament, they are resolute and have a player in Christian Eriksen capable of providing a moment of inspiration. Were they to cause an upset or two in Russia, 66/1 for the Tottenham player may prove to be good value.
World Cup 2014’s top scorer James Rodriguez has not had an easy time since showcasing his talents on the biggest stage of them all. He was bought by Real Madrid shortly after his brilliant performances in Brazil before being loaned out to Bayern Munich last summer. He is far and away Columbia’s best player and is a supremely talented individual. Group H is possibly the tournament’s weakest group and James could take full advantage of poor opposition, rocketing himself up the shortlist for player of the tournament and defying his odds of 66/1.
Never before has the Golden Ball been won by a goalkeeper but it seems the football world is currently having a bit of a love-in with David De Gea. The Manchester United keeper is arguably the best in the world at the moment and his agility and reactions make him an interesting proposition for the Golden Ball at 80/1.
Odds correct as of 14:00 BST 30/05/2018
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