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WORLD CUP

With Messi and Ronaldo gone, the Ballon d'Or battle is wide open

Cristiano y Messi

Between them, the pair have won every Ballon d'Or since 2008, sharing five each. But this year could see a new name on the trophy, now that Messi and Ronaldo have left the World Cup, leaving other younger stars a chance to take center stage.

Messi and Ronaldo have battled for the nomination of the world’s greatest players for a decade now; and the dominance of the pair has been such that no other player has won the Ballon d’Or since Kaka in 2007.

Cristiano and Leo have both won five awards each since then. But with both players out of the World Cup, the battle for this year’s Ballon d’Or has been blown wide open, paving the way for other worthy candidates – still in contention for the World Cup title – to scoop the coveted individual accolade.

Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe has become the young starlet of the French team, and was largely responsible for his side’s defeat of Argentina in the last 16, winning a penalty and scoring two goals in the thrilling 4-3 encounter. His two goals make him the youngest ever player to score more than one goal at a World Cup, breaking Pele’s record which had been held since 1958.

Mbappe was also one of the stars of the PSG side last season, with 21 goals and 16 assists. He was the third top scorer for the club in Ligue 1, after Cavani (28) and Neymar (19); and was level with Neymar in the highest number of assists (16) in the French league.

After having won the Golden Boy – the award for the best young player in Europe – in 2017, the 18-year-old will be one of the top names on Ballon d’Or judge’s list, should he continue to impress in Russia for ‘Les Blues’.

Antoine Griezmann

Mbappe’s French teammate Antoine Griezmann has also had an exceptional season, and has continued in the same vain in Russia. The Atlético Madrid striker has also scored two goals for France, both from well-taken penalties. With Atlético last season, he was the club’s top performer, with 29 goals and 15 assists, and helped the club to their third Europa league title, scoring two goals in the final against Marseille which earned him the ‘Man of the Match’ award.

Griezmann has already come close to Ronaldo and Messi, after having come in third in the race for the Ballon d’Or behind the Argentinean and the Portuguese in 2016. This year, the Frenchman has a chance to beat them to the top of the podium.

Neymar

Neymar is the undisputed star of Brazil. He has scored one goal against Costa Rica at the World Cup so far, but has played a vital role in each of his team’s performances, and all eyes are centered on him when he has the ball.

The PSG striker is now Brazil’s third top goal scorer of all time with 56 goals, behind Pele (77) and Ronaldo (62). And at just 26 years old, he is likely to surpass the great Pele by the time he hangs up his boots for the ‘Canarinha’. Following his move from Barcelona to PSG for 222 million euros in 2017, Neymar scored 28 goals in his first season in France last season, helping his side to lift the Ligue 1 title, the French Cup, and the French League Cup. If the 26-year-old can go on to help Brazil lift their sixth world cup, he will have put himself in firm a position to lift the Ballon d’Or this year.

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