FIFA World Cup 2022: Five Potential Golden Ball candidates | THT Opinions

The Hard Tackle draws up the potential five to bag the Golden Ball at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, featuring a previous winner.

The Golden Ball awarded at the end of each World Cup does not necessarily reflect on the winning team. In four of the last five tournaments, the esteemed gong went to a player who represented the runners-up, with none of the five going to a title winner.

The award remains reserved for the best player at the World Cup, who lit up arenas and provided a spectacle the watching audience craves. Luka Modric emerged as the best of the lot in Russia, while Lionel Messi, Diego Forlan, Zinedine Zidane, Olivier Kahn and Ronaldo completed the list of winners since 1998.

Here we are yet again to predict and speculate who might be a probable winner in Qatar. There are the usual names in our list of ‘five potentials’ featuring two former winners of the respected award. For this edition, Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar join the usual suspects Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

We could be spectacularly wrong with these choices in this early stage. To retract our choices, we have an alternate list comprising Harry Kane, Thomas Muller, Pedri and Luka Modric. And we cannot refrain from adding Guillermo Ochoa as the fifth alternate, as nobody can predict what the Mexican goalkeeper can come up with at World Cups.

5. Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian magician comes on our list, despite the Red Devils’ historically patchy form at major tournaments. The Golden Generation is almost at the end of its cycle, but there are still a few left to carry the torch, albeit for the last lap.

It is all about making it count in football, and De Bruyne will be the main focus when Belgium take centre stage. Croatia apart, Belgium have a good set of opponents on their hands in Group F, and the Manchester City man should make the most of it.

An ageing defence is the only hurdle between De Bruyne & co. and glory. Yet, Belgium’s squad has the experience, leaving no room for excuses to take space. Belgium winning the World Cup would not have been a long shot in 2018, but it is now.

De Bruyne needs to be at his best and weave the magic we have seen in the Premier League every week. He will be the key to unlocking his team’s last bit of potential. Much will depend on the form of his teammates, which has been a letdown in the last few big competitions.

4. Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe burst onto the World scene four years ago after a scintillating performance in the Moscow final against Croatia. Not only did the PSG talisman cement his name in World Cup folklore, but he also confirmed his status as a global superstar.

A terrible Euro 2020 aside, there have been a few problems around the star attacker. He has underperformed for France since the 2018 final, but this edition in Qatar could unlock something different.

Mbappe, for his goalscoring prowess, is a favourite for the Golden Boot, but there is a different door for the PSG attacker this time. Following the injury to the in-form Christopher Nkunku, all the focus switched towards Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema.

Benzema could have spearheaded the French attack, but the news of his withdrawal from the tournament will bring Mbappe into the fore. The impetus will be on the 23-year-old to inspire his team in their title defence. While many in the squad can score goals, only a few can become game-changers, and Mbappe is in that mix.

3. Neymar

Brazil is a team full of emotional vigour, and they enter yet another World Cup with the sincere hope of winning it. There is no other aim or target for Tite’s men in Qatar. It is either win or bust for the Selecao, although they look staggeringly different this time.

Tite has ironed out the deficiencies the previous squad showed. The Brazilian side is a tightly knit unit led by the formidable and in-form Neymar. Despite holding an esteemed role in football, the PSG attacker will be yearning to lead the Selecao to glory.

The Qatar showdown brings Neymar into the desert nation with solid players around him in every position. At times, it seemed like Neymar was carrying the entire burden of the team. This time around, he can let go of being Brazil’s saviour and play in his element.

If Brazil are to go deep, Neymar undoubtedly will play a huge role in the progress. In truth, he is better placed than his rivals in Qatar and should go for the kill and grab the Golden Ball.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Only three other players have appeared in five World Cups, and Ronaldo could be the next in line. There is more chatter around the Portuguese superstar than necessary in the background following an explosive interview with Piers Morgan.

Ronaldo said his sole focus is on the World Cup, and as usual, he is very passionate about representing Portugal. A record of seven goals in 17 games at the grand tournament is not too shabby, and the veteran forward will look to improve that.

Ronaldo places records and stats in the backseat when playing for Portugal. This could help the national side propel against their adversaries and bind them together for a successful tournament.

At the ripe old age of 37, Ronaldo is itching to prove a point, especially after recent events in the background. A World Cup Golden Ball will also fit in with the other accolades Ronaldo has stacked over the years. However, he will have eyes on the big prize more than anything else.

1. Lionel Messi

After Ronaldo and three others, Messi can become the next player to feature in five World Cups. It is a terrific achievement for the Argentine, who seems to be hell-bent on winning the grand prize. Qatar represents another opportunity and probably the last one for the superstar to shine.

Like Neymar, Messi remains surrounded by a good bunch of players, and the group seems united following their recent Copa America triumph. Whether they can replicate that on the world stage is a question only they might have the answers to.

Argentina have previously shown they have the mettle to compete with the other elites. They were in touching distance of the grand prize in 2014, only for German substitute Mario Gotze to ruin Messi’s night.

The PSG superstar can break up to seven World Cup records, including two Argentine records. If he wins the Golden Ball, Messi will become the first player to do so twice in the tournament’s history. Luka Modric is the only other player who can beat Messi to that record this year after winning the accolade in 2018.

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