XtraTime Web Desk: Only one team can lift the trophy. Only 23 players leave with gold around their neck. However, this does not mean they were the only winners at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.
With 736 players selected, there’s always those who raise their game on the biggest stage who maybe weren’t expected to steal the limelight.
We take a look at five who stepped up to the plate over the last month.
England, 27, wing-back
England’s run to the semi-finals was built on the back of set pieces and Trippier’s dead-ball ability was fundamental to that. Only a switch information back in March, where a 3-5-2 allowed both Kyle Walker and Trippier to feature, allowed the Tottenham wing-back to find his place in the side. Delivering the corner for Harry Kane’s winner against Tunisia and the sensational free-kick against Croatia in their semi-final, he was instrumental in some of the Three Lions’ most memorable moments.
Trippier’s strengths make for impressive reading. No one delivered more balls into the box than him, while his set pieces were exceptional, scoring England’s first goal from a direct free-kick since David Beckham’s against Ecuador in 2006. When you’re part of a team who have scored nine of their 12 goals from set plays, it’s a useful attribute.
Russia, 27, midfielder
Arguably the only way Cheryshev’s World Cup could have been more of a dream experience were if he had stepped out on the Luzhniki pitch for the Final, 31 days after he announced himself with a sumptuously taken brace in the Opening Match. After failing to break through at Real Madrid and having suffered an injury-disrupted spell at Villarreal so far, this has been his time to shine. His strike in the quarter-final against Croatia was ample evidence of that.
The national team has given Cheryshev the chance at redemption. Finally, luck has gone his way. Having missed the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 squad, he could have easily been omitted from the Russia 2018 squad too if Stanislav Cherchesov hadn’t switched to 4-2-3-1. Even though he started the tournament as a substitute, his arrival against Saudi Arabia was triumphant and he simply dazzled from there.
Japan, 30, midfielder
Snapped up by Real Betis before the tournament, his signing is looking impressively shrewd as Inui drew plenty of admiring glances during Japan’s four games. A disciple of the classic Samurai Blue style of quick passing and non-stop dynamism, he shone brightly as the creative focus for the side, bringing goals, invention and unpredictability.
Despite his short stature, Inui showed that determination, precision and a fierce strike are all weapons in his arsenal. He dazzled against Senegal, scoring one and setting up the other as he made the Japanese midfield tick. However, his goal against Belgium will likely be what his tournament is remembered for – striking viciously to double their lead to leave the eventual bronze medallists on the ropes.
Denmark, 31, goalkeeper
While Schmeichel junior may have earned the right to step out from his father Peter’s long shadow as he superbly helped Leicester City to Premier League glory in 2016, it was rare to hear his name touted among the best keepers in the world. That may change now, leaving Russia with the best save percentage of anyone who played more than one game, stopping 91.3 percent of the shots he faced, not to mention saving three penalties against Croatia.
This World Cup did not suddenly turn Schmeichel into one of the best keepers in the world. He was when he arrived at the tournament. Denmark had gone 14 games unbeaten thanks to his services. If Schmeichel went into these championships under the radar, then it can perhaps be attributed to playing for arguably a smaller club and national team than keepers usually in the conversation. His performances at Russia 2018 should change that once and for all.
Colombia, 23, defender
Picked up by Barcelona in January, Mina’s quality as a rugged-but-classy centre-back had not gone unnoticed but, having earned just a handful of appearances, his talent was far from common knowledge. But towering performances in both boxes have profoundly changed that. Scoring in three successive games, including a dramatic equalizer against England, ensured his hulking figure will stick in the minds of many.
Mina’s superb tackling and aerial dominance gave Colombia tranquillity at the back. That strength in the air transferred into the opposition penalty area as he proved to be a nightmare for all tasked with trying to contain him. His outstanding performances simply reflected the quality that those around him knew he could produce.