There is no bigger stage in football than the World Cup. The world’s biggest players use the opportunity to showcase their talents, whilst many players use it as an occasion to thrust themselves into the limelight.
The likes of James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas and Divock Origi all earned themselves big transfers after the 2014 tournament came to an end, whilst 2010 saw the emergence of many young German stars.
Many of the best players struggled in the opening games, which allowed many lesser-known players to shine. Whilst players such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Hirving Lozano and Aleksandr Golovin have all impressed, they will not be included on this list, as they are already subject to some major transfer rumours.
Here, we take a look at the six players who may just have kick-started their breakout tournament.
1. Honourable Mentions
There have been a lot of standout players from the first round, and unfortunately some of them had to be overlooked for this list.
Iran’s Roozbeh Cheshri gave a solid performance at centre back against Morocco, but has reportedly been ruled out of the tournament after suffering an injury training.
Japan’s attackers Takashi Inui and Yuya Osako both impressed in their 2-1 victory over Colombia, creating multiple chances for themselves and their teammates. Osako even managed to get on the score sheet.
Australia defender Trent Sainsbury excelled against France’s attack, despite losing 2-1. Many news outlets, including Marca, are reporting that Sainsbury’s agent received 26 offers as a result of his client’s performances.
Mexico full back Carlos Salcedo was fantastic as his side shocked reigning champions Germany. His defensive ability, coupled with his dangerous attacking runs, meant Germany could not contain him.
2. Christian Cueva – Peru
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Current Club: Sao Paulo
Cueva has quietly been linked to the likes of Tottenham and Paris Saint-German in the past, but has never left South America on a permanent basis.
He is a technically gifted attacker, who is usually responsible in linking Peru’s defence and attack. This was evident in his side’s opener against Denmark, as he continued to make dangerous runs and appeared to beat players with ease.
Unfortunately for Cueva, he missed a penalty during the game, which ended up costing the country a point, but this was the only mark on his otherwise impressive display.
A potential issue with Cueva is his discipline. He has been known to argue with his managers, and has also been guilty of skipping training. Sao Paulo are reportedly looking to sell Cueva as a result of this issue, meaning clubs could sign themselves a bargain if they are prepared to risk Cueva’s disciplinary issues.
3. Denis Cheryshev – Russia
Position: Left Midfielder
Current Club: Villarreal
Cheryshev didn’t start Russia’s first game against Saudi Arabia, but was brought on to replace the injured Alan Dzagoev after 24 minutes. He came on and scored two goals, including a stunning effort at the end of the game.
He came through the youth ranks at Real Madrid, but only made a handful of appearances for the club, before loan spells at Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia. He returned to Villarreal on a permanent basis in 2016.
A direct winger with strength and finesse, Cheryshev managed to replicate his form in his side’s second game against Egypt, meaning Cheryshev could be on the cusp of a breakout campaign.
4. Artem Dzyuba – Russia
Current Club: Zenit St Petersburg
Dzyuba suffered a challenging season this year. After clashing with the management at Zenit, he was sent on loan to mid-table side Arsenal Tula, and managed to net six goals in ten games.
Like Cheryshev, Dzyuba did not start his side’s game against Saudi Arabia. After he was introduced, Dzyuba instantly set about using his 6’5 frame to bully the Saudi defence. He scored after only 90 seconds on the pitch.
The striker constantly looked a threat, with the defenders unable to deal with his size and physicality. In his side’s second game, Dzyuba bullied the Egyptian defence and scored once again.
Dzyuba could be a bargain for any team this summer. He may look to force an exit from Zenit after falling out of favour, and his ability to create opportunities out of nothing should mean there will be no shortage of suitors.
5. Hannes Þór Halldórsson – Iceland
Current Club: Randers
A lot has been said already about Halldórsson, who works primarily as a filmmaker. He denied Lionel Messi from the penalty spot as his side held Argentina to a 1-1 draw.
Halldórsson made nine saves throughout, including a fantastic save to deny Pavon which required incredible reflexes.
The 34-year-old has spent one season of his career outside Scandinavia, and may earn himself a move to Europe once again. Despite being in the latter stages of his career, Halldórsson proved that he still possesses fantastic reactions, and would surely command a very minimal transfer fee.
6. Hector Herrera – Mexico
Position: Central Midfield
Current Club: Porto
He dictated play with his passing abilities, whilst also disrupting wave after wave of German attacks. He also started the build up to Lozano’s goal with a crucial challenge. The German midfield could not get away from Herrera, who appeared to have limitless stamina and tenacity.
He dictated play with his passing abilities, whilst also disrupting wave after wave of German attack. He also started the build up to Lozano’s goal with a crucial challenge. The German midfield could not get away from Herrera, who appeared to have limitless stamina and tenacity.
Herrera is the captain of his club side, but is entering the final year of his contract. Porto have been known to sell their key players if they receive an appropriate offer, but any interested clubs may be able to capitalise on the Mexican’s contract situation and find themselves a bargain.
7. Alfreð Finnbogason – Iceland
Current Club: Augsburg
Another of Iceland’s heroes from their 1-1 draw against Argentina, Finnbogason scored his country’s equalising goal and was a constant threat throughout.
Finnbogason has played in a variety of different countries around Europe, and has always had a keen eye for goal. He uses his physicality and his technical ability to harass defenders, and scored 12 goals for Augsburg last season.
A threat with his head as well as both feet, Finnbogason finally has the chance to showcase his abilities on the global stage that is the World Cup, and may find himself subject to interest from multiple clubs around Europe, especially if he can continue his scoring form.