5 Piping Hot Breakout Stars Of Russia 2018

World Cups have a funny habit of making or breaking careers. Just ask Rob Green.

But as ever, this summer's World Cup saw a host of players burst into the limelight and shine in ways not seen before. Here's a rundown of 5 lads who grasped the nettle and took their game to the next level in Russia.

1. Kylian Mbappe

Ok, sure you’d heard of the world’s second most expensive player. You might have even heard he was good, but good in the way Neymar is good: tremendous at keepie-uppies, dabbing and tearing it up against Angers. Thought he might be one of those young players steeped in hype, forged in nothing but potential and transfer fees. His matching Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain fade-cut did nothing to dispel that impression. 

Before the tournament, nobody looked guaranteed a space up top in a France team truly blessed with world-class firepower and Olivier Giroud. Your man became the only member of the first XI to represent Ligue Un, where defences fall into two categories: Absolute Garbage, or In The Shop Window Waving Frantically At Pep.

But if anyone underestimated him before, now there's not a defender on the planet who wouldn't have screaming nightmares about playing against the young lad. He wasn't born when France last won the World Cup – expect their next world-beating side to contain at least 50% Kylians. It's a bad-ass name.  

Magic moment 

Take your pick from every effortless step he took on his quicksilver path to superstardom. The head says scoring in the final, the heart says those two telekinetic backheels to spin Ollie Gyro through against Belgium whilst the loins suggest that devastating burst from his own half against Argentina to draw a penalty. He’s had a blinder.

2. Yerry Mina

Alright, Barcelona’s scouts had heard of the gigantic defender, and they snapped him up from Palmeiras in January for just 10 bob. Looks like a tidy bit of bidniss for the Catalans, who need to balance their books this transfer window and could well cart him off for a juicy return.

Young Yerald battered home three World Cup goals from centre back, equalling the record for goalscoring defenders set by Germans Paul Breitner and Andreas Brehmer.  

In a deliciously intercontinental group he kept some of the world's top strikers quiet, no mean feat against the diverse challenges posed by Sadio Mané (fast) and Bob Lewandowski (deadly). Clean sheets against both will have inflated his transfer fee larger than a Trump Baby Balloon. 

Magic moment:

Fighter jets scrambled as a gargantuan yellow object launched into the airspace over Moscow in the 93rd minute against England. Picked the one spot the keeper couldn't get to on a night when Jordan Pickford looked capable of saving the Chilean miners, the Thai kids and the NHS over 90 minutes. Proceeded to really mug it up for the cameras afterwards for a good 3 minutes, which we can all agree is excellent stuff.

3. Domagoj Vida

Could have picked a bucketload of Croatia players, but the head goon from Die Hard gets the nod here for epitomising the gladiatorial spirit that got his team to the final. Not that Croatia were mad solid at the back mind - conceding 9 in 7 games - they just refused point-blank to accept defeat. 

Vida’s 100th minute header against Russia had the hosts on the ropes, and his penalty in the shootout was rocket-powered by pure spite. 

Nearly got himself suspended during the celebrations for the finest bit pro-Ukraine Kremlin-baiting we saw all tournament, the rowdy orc escaped punishment to restrict England to one measley shot on target, and even bagged an assist in the final. 

Currently playing in Besiktas’s rag-tag bunch of FIFA 2010 renegades: hello, Pepe, Wagner Love, Ricardo Quaresma, Beastie Negredo, Ryan Babel; 29-year-old Dom should have caught the eye of any manager lacking a defensive leader.  

Also played every minute of the tournament with a turnip for a head. Fair play, son, fair play. 

Magic moment:

He’ll be dead chuffed to be the first Croatian samurai to ever reach the final, but his “Glory to Ukraine” comment got his assistant coach sacked and could have landed him in much hotter water. Or, maybe, Novichok. (I'm already in hiding.) 

4. Denis Cherychev

Only got in the starting line-up for the tournament’s lowest-ranked side after Alan Dzagoev twanged a hammy against Saudi Arabia. He promptly came on and bagged two worldies, the second of which pinged in on the half-volley with the outside of his left boot. 

The generously foreheaded winger continued his goalscoring hot-streak against Egypt and got his name on the scoresheet against Uruguay, albeit at the wrong end.

He saved his best contender for goal of the tournament till last, against Croatia, where he gave Modric and Rakitic the slip in central midfield before wrapping his dong around a red-hot scorcher that zipped into the top corner.

Magic moment:

His penalty in the shootout against Spain, the country he grew up in and now plays his club football for Villarreal. Sold Dave de Gea the old lazy eye and rolled it down the middle. Saucy.

5. Jo Hyeon-woo

Football hipsters, where was our heads up on this dude? Before the World Cup, nobody had heard of Jo Hyeon-woo – not even his own parents. They used to simply call him “that tall boy,” or “Hey, Buddy!” to get his attention. Going into the competition as South Korea’s third choice keeper, it would take something pretty special for the anonymous lad to get noticed.

To the delight and astonishment of all concerned, the 24-year-old kept out six German efforts on target to help his team send the holders home early in probably the biggest giant-killing of the entire World Cup.

Now they call him ‘Dae-Hair’ – a hugely big and clever 3-way pun on his ginger quiff, the Korean word for ‘great,’ and David De Gea. Incidentally, you can spell his name Cho Hyun-woo if you prefer; he doesn’t mind, he’s just happy to finally have one.

Magic moment:

A spider-save from Goretzka’s header to keep South Korea in the game at 0-0 was the pick of an amusingly exciting bunch. Certainly got the Korean commentators vibing:

George Utley
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All images - PA