There were so many wonderful performances this World Cup, and plenty from players who are already established as the world’s best. But there were also several breakout performances at this tournament, from young players, or those who were just looking for a chance ... and seized it. Here are five players who earned massive contracts at this World Cup and broke out in a big way.
1. Denis Cheryshev
Cheryshev was one of the big breakout stars of this World Cup after an unfortunate injury to Alan Dzagoev only minutes into the first match of the tournament forced Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov to bring in Cheryshev off the bench.
That decision led to an absolutely shining performance from Cheryshev throughout the tournament, scoring four goals and helping drive Russia all the way to the quarter-finals before the hosts were knocked out.
Cheryshev didn’t have the best season for Villarreal, mostly working as a substitute, but this World Cup showed just how good he can be under the right circumstances.
2. Kylian Mbappe
An odd choice, sure. Mbappe, pre-tournament, was already valued as one of the most expensive players in the world. But it says something about his World Cup performance that he’s only increased his value over the last few weeks. That’s how brilliant Mbappe has been, leading France’s attack at just 19 years old to a place in a World Cup final.
Mbappe has scored a trio of goals in this World Cup, but he’s also shown off an absolutely elite ability to run effectively, both with and without the ball.
While “running effectively” may sound odd considering just how much running there is in this sport, just watch how Mbappe runs — the angles he picks and the timing on when he starts his runs or changes direction consistently leaves defenders off-balance if not completely lost.
Mbappe’s runs are such an effective playmaking tool on their own that it’s almost unfair that he’s also really really good with the ball at his feet, whether shooting or passing.
3. Christian Cueva
Christian Cueva may best be remembered at the 2018 World Cup for his stunning penalty miss against Denmark, but that one low moment should not undercut what was an incredible performance for the 26-year-old Peruvian. Cueva currently plays for Sao Paolo in Brazil, but with that creativity and passing ability, it’s all but certain that bigger European clubs will come calling soon. (Though he’s also being linked to a move to MLS?)
4. Harry Maguire
The Leicester City defender was not thought of as a strong feature of the England squad when it was announced for the World Cup, but the end result showed how much quality the young player has. He was a consistently strong defensive presence for the Three Lions all the way through the tournament to their eventual semi-final exit, and his headed goal against Sweden showed how effective he can be on set pieces as well.
Maguire certainly had a good enough season for Leicester this season, but after Maguire showed just how good he can be at the international level, bigger clubs will certainly be looking at him.
5. Hirving Lozano
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano not only had the best nickname at the 2018 World Cup, he also had one of the true breakout performances, as the 22-year-old Mexico star led his country to thrilling wins over Germany and South Korea before eventually falling to Brazil in the Round of 16.
Lozano plays club ball for PSV, and had a big year for them this past season in the Eredivisie. Combine that with this tournament performance, and the giants of Europe are going to be calling soon.
Honorable Mention: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo already got a big-money move, making a shocking transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus after Portugal were eliminated from the World Cup. But he certainly put on a good showing during his time in the World Cup, tying Cheryshev and Romelu Lukaku for the second-most goals in the competition with four.
It was arguably Ronaldo’s best World Cup showing in his storied career, though if it’s his last he’ll still be disappointed to not have gotten his country past the Round of 16.