World Cup 100: Ranking the Top Players in Russia After Every Team's Opening Game
The first round of fixtures at the 2018 World Cup is in the books. Is it just us, or did that fly by? We've had sixteen games, hundreds of players taking to the pitch and plenty of action to sink our teeth into.
Now that we've had a fair sample of every player, it's time to rank the best competing in each position. Just like our serial, weekly EPL100, which ran after every Premier League week in 2017-18, we have a World Cup 100 for you to digest.
We watched every game, rated every player and constructed a top 10 or 20 for each position and crowned the kings of each. It will update after every round of matches, so keep your eyes peeled for future editions.
Please bear in mind: Only performances at these World Cup finals are considered for these rankings. Reputations count for nothing. Play well in Russia and be rewarded; don't, and you won't find your name here.
The standard of goalkeeping across the first round of fixtures was pretty polarising. It seemed either varying degrees of good, or inexplicably bad.
Among the very best of the lot was Kasper Schmeichel, who kept Peru at bay in Saransk with a string of superb saves, while also perhaps having a hand in Christian Cueva's missed penalty, as he cut a large, imposing figure.
On the same day, Hannes Halldorsson actually did save a penalty—from Lionel Messi, of all people!—ensuring he marked his and Iceland's first-ever World Cup match in style. He goes top.
|4||Jo Hyeon-woo||South Korea|
|6||Keylor Navas||Costa Rica|
The right-backs came out to play in Round 1!
Carlos Salcedo vs. Mario Fernandes was a tight call for top spot, with Salcedo getting the nod having played the superior opposition. Peru's Luis Advincula looked great bombing down the flank, combining pace and strength to great effect.
Kieran Trippier's six key passes made him England's most influential player not named Harry Kane, while the surprise of the round might have been Nordin Amrabat's flying performance for Morocco from a position he wouldn't generally call home.
Left-back performances don't get much more complete than Aleksandar Kolarov's against Costa Rica: Not only did he defend well and keep a clean sheet, but he netted a beauty of a free-kick to win Serbia the game.
Jesus Gallardo of Mexico ran him close for the No. 1 spot but ended up settling for second, then Aziz Behich (impressive against France), Yuri Zhirkov (belied his age in the opener) and Yuto Nagatomo (energetic and combative) fill out the rest of the top five.
The stream of quality dries up a little once we get to ninth. Jordi Alba and and Martin Caceres were decent but hardly spectacular.
Uruguay duo Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin were imperious against Egypt, the former scoring a powerful header to win the game and the latter keeping attackers under lock and key at the other end.
They're both pipped to the No. 1 spot by Andreas Granqvist, though, who not only defended well against South Korea, but converted the penalty that won them the game. Captain fantastic.
Some lesser-known names such as Kim Younggwon, Nikola Milenkovic and Roozbeh Cheshmi really shone here.
|12||Kim Younggwon||South Korea|
Defensive Midfielders/Central Midfielders
The standout central midfield performance in Round 1 came from Hector Herrera, who played a superhuman role for Mexico against Germany. So much running, tackling and tracking; it looked like he had a third lung hidden away somewhere at times!
We've rewarded other incredibly hard workers—Aaron Mooy, Omid Ebrahimi, Aron Gunnarsson and Emil Hallfredsson among them—but also some finesse players, like Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne.
Perhaps the most surprising showing came from Russia's Roman Zobnin, who played so well in the opener, no one's talking about the fact that the hosts left arguably their best defensive midfielder (Igor Denisov) out of the squad.
|12||Kevin De Bruyne||Belgium|
Aleksandr Golovin made the most of a wide-open Saudi Arabia defensive approach, weaving in between the lines, creating chances and controlling the game. His cross for Artem Dzyuba's header was perfectly flighted, as was his free-kick to get himself on the scoresheet too.
Golovin's compatriot Cheryshev falls in just below him—his two Round 1 goals genuine works of art—and then a slew of influential or game-winning midfielders follow.
Christian Cueva missed a penalty (and felt very bad about it) but generally played superbly, creating relentlessly for Peru. His performance felt the complete opposite to Dries Mertens', who had quite a bad first half, missing every chance that came his way, but then netted an absolute peach in the second period.
Picking the No. 1 here was easy. Several strikers hauled their teams through the first round, but only one did it by scoring a hat-trick against Spain. Cristiano Ronaldo was on another level in Portugal's opener, playing the best all-round game he's managed in years.
His opponent on the night, Diego Costa, takes second, while Harry Kane edges Romelu Lukaku for third because of the timing and importance of his second goal—right at the death, to snatch a win!
Yuya Osako deserves tremendous praise for not only playing a hand in both of Japan's goals but also making a last-ditch block on James Rodriguez to preserve the win.
That sort of work-rate was present in Alfred Finnbogason's performance, who not only netted Iceland's first-ever World Cup goal but also hustled hard and chased Argentina's midfielders relentlessly.