Stars of the Summer: 7 Contenders to Win the Golden Ball After Sunday's World Cup Final

The World Cup trophy is not the only prize which will be handed out after Sunday's World Cup final between France and Croatia - many of the individual gongs already have a predictable recipient.


Harry Kane is sitting pretty in the race for the golden boot, Kylian Mbappé is nailed on to be named best young player at the tournament and Hugo Lloris is looking good for the golden glove, but there's another prize which remains very much in the balance.


The race for the golden ball - the award given to the best player at the tournament - is more unpredictable than ever, at a tournament where many big name players have floundered while those with a good team ethic have prospered.


The accolade has never been won by a player who didn't finish in the top four of the competition, but which semi finalist will be named the best of the best on Sunday? Here are the seven runners and riders.

7. Raphaël Varane (France)

Raphaël Varane's semi final performance against Belgium was a masterclass in defending on the biggest stage. A team that had scored 14 goals in their previous five matches could find no way past the Real Madrid centre back, who stood firm against waves of pressure to keep France's fourth clean sheet of the tournament.


Varane also headed in the crucial opening goal in Les Bleus' quarter final victory against Uruguay. He has been a colossus at both ends of the field and probably the best defender at the tournament. No defender has ever won the golden ball though, so it's unlikely Varane will be adding his name to the roll of honour on Sunday.

6. Harry Kane (England)

Barring a Romelu Lukaku brace (or more!) in the third place playoff on Saturday, Harry Kane will become the first Englishman to win the award since Gary Lineker in 1986. Five goals in his first two World Cup matches set the tone for an impressive tournament from the Spurs man.


However, the quality of the opposition and of the goals must be considered. Kane scored two against Tunisia, three against wooden spoon winners Panama and one against Colombia. Three of those were penalties and one was a complete fluke. They all count, but scoring spot kicks doesn't make you the best player at the tournament.


To take nothing away from Kane, he was fairly anonymous against Sweden and Croatia in the latter stages of the competition, when England needed him most. He probably wasn't even England's best player, but FIFA's focus on goals means that Kane is more of a contender than Kieran Trippier.

5. Hugo Lloris (France)

Unlike defenders, goalkeepers do have a bit of pedigree when it comes to winning the golden ball. Oliver Kahn picked up the award in 2002, and Hugo Lloris has shown consistency and agility of which the great German would be proud.


Only once before has a goalkeeper kept a clean sheet in the quarter final, semi final and final of a World Cup (Iker Casillas in 2010), but Lloris is one more shutout away from achieving exactly that.


He's not just been a bystander either. In the quarters he made an incredible diving save to keep out Martin Caceres' header, and he did the same against Toby Alderweireld in the semis. Goalkeepers rarely get the credit they deserve, but nobody would resent it if Lloris was the surprise winner of the golden ball.

4. Eden Hazard (Belgium)

Belgium's attacking pair of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in full flight was one of the most joyous sights of the tournament, even more so when they were joined by a liberated Kevin de Bruyne in the quarter final win over Brazil. 


Lukaku has four goals to his name but Hazard has been the standout performer with his tireless running and eye for a pass. The two players linked up to devastating effect against Panama and Tunisia, but even when Lukaku was nullified against France, Hazard continued to lead the Belgian search for a goal until the very end.


If he'd managed to get that goal and take Belgium to the final, he would be a strong contender to win this award. With so many outstanding contenders from the finalists, Hazard will probably have to settle for the bronze ball at best.

3. Kylian Mbappé (France)

Set to become the first teenager since Michael Owen to win the best young player of the tournament award, Kylian Mbappé has burst onto the international scene with some incredible performances in Russia, becoming the youngest player ever to score for France at the World Cup when he netted against Peru.


His performance against Argentina in the last 16 was arguably the best individual display of the tournament. He ran the ageing Argies ragged, winning a penalty with an Owen-esque run as well as scoring two classy goals of his own.


It is fitting that in the tournament where Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi left the world stage for probably the final time, a worthy successor seems to have emerged. However, the best young player has never won the golden ball at the same tournament, and FIFA will probably decide that one award is enough to recognise Mbappé's performances.

2. Antoine Griezmann (France)

Antoine Griezmann scored six goals at Euro 2016 and just three at this World Cup, but in many ways it's been a more impressive tournament from him this time out. Only Harry Kane has been involved in more goals than Griezmann, with the Frenchman also providing two assists.


The most crucial of these was the corner which was headed in by Samuel Umtiti for the semi final winner, and it was also his free kick which was glanced into the net by Raphael Varane against Uruguay. Despite Mbappé's emergence, Griezmann has proved that he is still France's talisman with his involvement in so many crucial moments.


If France win the final and Griezmann continues with the level of performance to which we have become accustomed, he will surely be a front-runner to add the World Cup Golden Ball to the Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament double he won at Euro 2016.

1. Luka Modric (Croatia)

Barring a match-winning contribution from Griezmann or Mbappé on Sunday, the winner of the golden ball should be Luka Modric. An unassuming personality but a player of imperious ability, Modric has enjoyed the tournament of his life to lead his nation to the brink of an historic triumph.


Croatia will be second favourites against France on Sunday, but they thrive on being underdogs, as they were against Argentina in the group stages and after going behind to England in the semi finals. On both occasions, Modric was at his mercurial best, commanding the midfield as he has done throughout Real Madrid's recent dominance of the Champions League.


His missed penalty against Denmark aside, Modric has hardly put a foot wrong all tournament. At the age of 32, his best years should be behind him, but he continues to outwit much younger opponents. Long may he continue to dominate the midfield.