The trajectory of how attacking players are perceived as their careers progress almost always includes the one pivotal phase, where a player has shown enough potential to be considered a future great but faces criticism until they play up to that potential when it matters most.
Real Madrid target Eden Hazard has been through that, delivering full seasons of consistent excellence but still facing questions about how reliable he can be on the biggest stage. This summer, however, he blew those doubts away with a series of starring displays at the World Cup.
Even in Belgium’s last defeat, to France in the semi-final, Hazard was arguably the best player on the pitch, as he often was for the Red Devils. He was thus a shoo-in for top spot in our World Cup attacking midfielder rankings – here’s the full top five.
1. Eden Hazard, Belgium
Eden Hazard was a man transformed at this World Cup. He was consistently Belgium’s best player, and if his side had overcome France in the semi-final he would have rivalled Luka Modric for Golden Ball honours – indeed, he did end up winning the Silver Ball as the tournament’s second-best player.
The Chelsea man was constantly torturing defences, showcasing the dribbling ability that’s always been a trademark and showcasing his elite vision and passing to lead Belgium’s attack. And speaking of leading, who knew Hazard would make such a good captain?
2. Isco, Spain
It’s a shame that Isco‘s tournament ended as early as it did. It’s hard to fault him for Spain’s Round of 16 exit against Spain, when he’d been his team’s best player until that game and led their charge against hosts Russia in that encounter, too.
There’s no doubting that the Real Madrid star is one of the best at his position. One can only wonder if he’s missed out on Spain’s golden era purely by accident of birth, as he’s come along right as Spain have been pulled back into the pack they’d left behind eight years ago.
3. Aleksandr Golovin, Russia
No one gave Russia any hope of making a mark on their home World Cup. But everyone also agreed that if they were to show any sort of progress, it would depend on the performances of their young star.
Well, Golovin delivered, right from the off. His superlative display in the tournament opener gave Russia momentum that carried them all the way to the quarterfinals – and the CSKA Moscow man continued to shine throughout.
4. Philippe Coutinho, Brazil
Philippe Coutinho‘s form at this tournament was so good, it prompted discussions about whether he was a better candidate to be Brazil’s leading star than Neymar. And while such talk may still seem somewhat fanciful, consider his impact: his two goals included a stunning strike in a 1-1 draw and an injury-time goal that was Brazil’s first in a 2-0 win.
Add that to his assist during his side’s thrilling, if ultimately futile, attempt at a comeback from 2-0 down against Belgium in the quarter-final, and it’s safe to say that no player was more crucial to Brazil’s hopes at the tournament.
5. Christian Eriksen, Denmark
Being marked as the single-greatest threat for an underdog team is never easy – just ask Gylfi Sigurdsson and Iceland – but Eriksen handled the responsibility with composure, guiding his side through to the knockout stages.
Ultimately, he was outshone by a transcendent Luka Modric during Denmark’s Round of 16 loss to Croatia, but he left Russia with his head held high.
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