With Argentina eventually emerging victorious and Lionel Messi rightly taking most of the acclaim, there were several standout performers in this winter’s World Cup who might have flown under the radar.
Declan Rice proved once again to be Gareth Southgate’s stalwart in midfield, playing all but 30 minutes in Qatar before England’s last-eight exit to France. The West Ham man’s positional brilliance and ability to break the lines from deep allowed Jude Bellingham to shine in his breakout tournament. However, the Borussia Dortmund starlet would not have been able to dazzle without the groundwork put in by his midfield partner further back on the pitch.
Rice was back in action for the Hammers after the international break, whose slow start to the season gives them odds of 9/4 to secure a top-10 finish. While Rice’s side may be far off the top four, his performances in Qatar will likely secure him a move to one of Europe’s elite-level sides in the summer.
France came within a handful of penalties of retaining their title thanks to a Mbappé-led resurgence in the final. Had Les Bleus won their second successive World Cup in Qatar, Antoine Griezmann would have likely received all the plaudits. Given how it finished, though, the efforts of the Atletico Madrid man have largely paled in insignificance to his Argentina rivals.
In reality, Griezmann was one of the best players of the entire tournament, especially according to sites such as theguardian.com/football. The 31-year-old recorded three assists in Qatar, including two in a vital 2-1 victory which saw Rice and England eliminated in the quarter-finals. Playing much deeper than in previous tournaments under Didier Deschamps, Griezmann was able to pull the strings of France’s midfield while also providing defensive cover. Everything Les Bleus did came through their midfield man, which so nearly brought them glory once again.
Rodrigo De Paul
Rodrigo De Paul experienced very differing fortunes in the final but got off to an underwhelming start in Qatar with a dismal 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia on matchday one. De Paul played the full 90 minutes of that game as well as Argentina’s next three games, as Lionel Scaloni’s side found their form just at the right time.
Despite not recording either a goal or assist all tournament, De Paul was a large part of his side’s resurgence and eventual triumph. In a midfield that included two breakout stars in Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister, the efforts of De Paul can easily be overlooked. However, his constant tenacity and high work rate as well as defensive cover were pivotal to Scaloni, as the midfielder’s leadership both on and off the pitch aided Argentina’s eventual victory in Lusail.
The joint-worst placed player on this list in terms of tournament finishes, Portugal’s elimination from the quarter-finals of the competition to World Cup minnows Morocco means it is easy to forget their successes in Qatar. However, Fernando Santos’ side finished top of Group H before bulldozing Switzerland 6-1 in the round of 16, boasting offensive firepower which Bernardo Silva played an unsung part of.
Like De Paul, the Manchester City man didn’t grab a goal contribution all tournament, but was a constant nuisance throughout, particularly in his side’s better displays. Silva started in wins against Ghana, Uruguay and Switzerland, and was afforded the freedom to roam with William Carvalho as the defensive rock. His standout performance came in the aforementioned demolition of the Swiss, in which almost every attack came through the City midfielder.
Forever the unsung hero of Croatia’s star-studded midfield, which includes the seemingly eternal Luka Modric and vibrant Mateo Kovacic, the performances of Marcelo Brozovic were finally rewarded with a Bronze medal in Qatar. Having made the final four years earlier in Russia before being defeated by France, the Croatia powerhouse, like his nation, continued to overperform on the biggest stage in 2022.
As expected, neither goals nor assists were recorded for a defensive-minded player such as Brozovic. Instead, quality can be appreciated by the 30-year-old’s instinct to quell opposition threats, as well as maintaining a near-telepathic connection as part of the Kovacic-Modric trio. Brozovic will undoubtedly go down as one of Croatia’s greatest-ever players, and his performances in Qatar went a long way to cementing his legacy, as stated by Sam Wallace to telegraph.co.uk/world-cup/2022.
After a tournament like no other in Qatar, the World Cup hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico in four years’ time looks set to be another dazzling affair. As the game’s big-name players will likely grab the headlines, the unsung heroes will continue to do the groundwork behind the scenes, which is where real tournaments are won and lost.