You know you’ve done something right if you’re being mentioned in the same breath as Pele. Then again, Kylian Mbappe has gotten used to lofty comparisons over the last two years – because his explosive talent has earned them.
No one has lit up a World Cup like this at this young an age since the great Brazilian. It was fitting that, just like Pele in 1958, Mbappe’s tournament ended with the Jules Rimet held aloft in his hands following a goal in the final.
The Frenchman, who is being linked with Real Madrid, leaves a trail of established stars in his wake to top our World Cup forward rankings – here’s a look at who else made our top five.
1. Kylian Mbappe, France
What a stunning two years it has been for the 19-year-old from Paris. An instant rise to stardom while leading Monaco to a surprise Champions League semi-final, a big-money move to France’s most powerful club, and now a starring role in a World Cup triumph.
Mbappe joined elite company after becoming the only teenager other than Pele to score in a World Cup final. By then, he was already the tournament’s brightest star. The best young player honour was well-deserved.
2. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay
Cavani has already been thought of as one of the world’s best strikers, but he established himself among the elite during this World Cup. He outplayed fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez, undoubtedly the bigger star.
Who knows how different this tournament would have been had Cavani not injured himself in the very game he shone brightest, after scoring twice in Uruguay’s Round-of-16 win over Portugal. France would certainly have had a more difficult quarter-final.
3. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
Only five players have scored in the final of both the World Cup and Champions League. It’s Mandzukic’s misfortune that for him, both goals have come in losing efforts. Even more so that Mandzukic also scored an own goal in Croatia’s loss to France.
But Mandzukic has long since earned his reputation as one of the world’s most bruising centre-forwards, and he was at his best during this tournament, including scoring a memorable extra-time winner against England in the semi-final.
4. Antoine Griezmann, France
It was a strange tournament for Griezmann. There was never a sense that a player who’s always been considered among the select group right below Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi was truly at his sparkling best during the World Cup.
But although his four goals came through three penalties and one goalkeeping error, his presence as France’s chief creative force in attack was vital to Les Bleus’ ultimate triumph. His contribution was duly recognised as he was named the third-best player at the tournament behind Luka Modric and Eden Hazard.
5. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Lukaku’s tournament ended in disappointment after a quiet display in Belgium’s semi-final loss to France was followed by a similarly ineffective performance in the third-place game against England, when the World Cup Golden Boot was there for the taking. Before that, however, the Manchester United striker showed just how much he’s grown as a player.
He’s always had the work ethic of a player determined to reach the very top, but what was truly impressive about Lukaku in Russia was his emergence as a leader. Rallying the troops, coaxing every ounce of effort out of his teammates – this was a side of Lukaku nobody had seen. And he also scored four goals.
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