World Cup 2018 Awards: Luka Modric was a deserving Golden Ball winner

World Cup 2018 is over, and France are champions. FanSided’s soccer staff hand out their awards.

The 2018 World Cup was one of the most surprising and exciting in years, from Russia’s opening 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia to France and Croatia’s six-goal thriller in the final. The big teams, and their biggest stars, mostly flamed out early, while a host of outsiders made deep runs. With all 64 matches complete, it’s time to hand out some awards.

Player of the Tournament: Luka Modric

FIFA has been known to hand out its Golden Ball award to the big name rather than the best player (see: Lionel Messi, 2014), but it got the decision right this year by selecting Luka Modric, who has been the best midfielder in the world for some time, and finally got some overdue global recognition in Russia this summer.

Croatia were far from a one-man team — indeed, it is one of Modric’s defining features that he plays always and only for his team — but their captain led by example, particularly in the three consecutive extra-time periods they played on the way to the final. This tournament was very much about the collective, but in his ability to elevate his team, Modric stood above the rest.

Young Player of the Tournament: Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe wasn’t exactly a secret heading into this tournament, but even so this felt like something of a coming out party. The 19-year-old scored four goals overall, two behind top soccer Harry Kane, destroyed a ragged Argentina in the round of 16 and played a key role in the final against Croatia.

Didier Deschamps’ safety-first approach shackled him somewhat, but Mbappe still found a way to shine, becoming the highest scoring teenager in a World Cup, and the first to score in the tournament’s final, since Pele in 1958. Even if there were more competition for this prize, Mbappe would have been a deserving winner.

Golden Glove: Danijel Subasic

There were questions about his fitness in the final, when he failed to even attempt to make a save on two of France’s goals, but Danijel Subasic was crucial in his side’s unlikely run, not least in penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia, when he played on despite picking up an injury at the end of regular time.

Subasic also made arguably the save of the tournament against England in the semifinals, when after denying Harry Kane one-on-one he recovered to deflect the the rebound off the post with his foot. Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris (final gaffe notwithstanding) and Jordan Pickford were also excellent, but Subasic gets the edge.

Most pleasant surprise (team): Croatia

This was very much the tournament of the dark horse, with perennial dark-horse candidates Belgium and Croatia finally living up to their talent on the biggest stage. While Belgium were among the pre-tournament favorites, however, little attention was paid to Croatia, who finished behind Iceland in qualifying and were dealing with scandal back home.

They began the tournament with a so-so win against Nigeria, but burst into life against Argentina and fought their way to the final via three extra-times (and two penalty shootouts). They may have had an easy draw, but they showed in the final they could go toe-to-toe with the world’s best. If this is the last we see of this generation on the world stage, it was quite the exit.

Most pleasant surprise (player): Dejan Lovren

“I’m one of the best defenders in the world,” said Dejan Lovren following Croatia’s win against England in the semifinals. The Liverpool center-back, who has made a high-profile mistake or two in his time on Merseyside, received plenty of ridicule for that claim, but for at least the past month in Russia, he was absolutely right.

Lovren joined Modric and Raphael Varane as the only players to play in both the Champions League and World Cup final this year, and while he lost both, he improved significantly after a poor first half of the season. Whether or not he’s as good as he thinks he is, he can look back on a superb tournament.

Biggest disappointment (team): Germany

World Cup champions have made a habit this century of falling at the first hurdle. France did it 2002, Italy did it in 2010, Spain did it in 2014 and Germany joined the club in Russia this summer. Joachim Low’s side were awful — tactically naive, unfocused and lacking in quality in the final third. The opposite, in short, of everything we’ve come to expect from Germany.

This being Germany, they will almost certainly learn their lessons quickly. Low will stay on as manager for now, and he has as talented a pool of players to choose from as any national team manager in the world, but this exit will sting. They weren’t unlucky. They weren’t beaten by great teams. They were simply bad.

The best player on every team at the World Cup

Biggest disappointment (player): Neymar

This was supposed to be Neymar’s World Cup, redemption for the Maracanazo part two, Brazil’s return to the summit of world soccer. As it was, the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s tournament will be remembered not for his immense skill, of which there were more than a few flashes, but his diving.

To be fair, Neymar’s one of the most fouled players in the world, but there’s exaggerating contact and there’s whatever he did against Mexico. Brazil were mostly very good in Russia, and were perhaps slightly unfortunate against Belgium in the quarterfinals, but without a trophy to show for it, few people will remember Neymar’s positive contributions.

Goal of the Tournament: Nacer Chadli vs. Japan

There were some stunning individual goals this World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick was among the most dramatic of his career. Nacho hit a stunning first-time half volley earlier in the same game that Benjamin Pavard scored a better version of in the round of 16 against Argentina, while Lionel Messi produced a three-touch masterpiece against Nigeria.

But in terms of the stakes and the level of execution in the most high-leverage moment. Belgium’s counter-attacking winner against Japan was the best of them all. Kevin De Bruyne’s pass, Thomas Meunier’s overlap, Romelu Lukaku’s run and dummy, Nacer Chadli’s finish. A wonderful finish to one of the best games of the tournament.

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