With the first round of the FIFA World 2022 Cup coming to a close on Thursday evening, it seems like the ideal time to look at the best players of the first of the group stage games.
Despite a few shock results thus far, there have been some standout performers from the elite as well. Let’s get into it!
Goalkeeper – Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Guillermo Ochoa has become somewhat of a legend synonymous with the FIFA World Cup. He has gained the reputation among fans for ‘disappearing’ for four years, popping out of nowhere at every World Cup to put in stellar performances on the global stage.
This year was no different as Ochoa was imperative in Mexico’s goalless draw with Poland earlier in the week, where the shot-stopper saved a penalty from one of, if not the best striker in world football, Robert Lewandowski.
The Mexican will certainly have a further say in the remainder of his nation’s World Cup 2022 campaign.
Right-back – Angelo Preciado (Ecuador)
Ecuadorian right-back Angelo Preciado was instrumental in his nation’s opening game victory over hosts Qatar.
Preciado grabbed the assist for the Valencia’s goal that effectively killed off any hope of a Qatari comeback. He was imperious in stopping any attacks launched by the hosts and proved to be a constant threat going forward.
Preciado currently plays for Belgian outfit Genk, however, the list of suitors for the 24-year-old may lengthen dramatically should he continue this form throughout the World Cup.
Centre-back – Toby Alderweireld (Belgium)
Former Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld is still starting for his country at the ripe-old age of 33.
Alderweireld was integral in keeping out a Canada side during Belgium’s 1-0 win over the North Americans earlier this week. Canada looked very threatening throughout the entire encounter, and it was Alderweireld that was the standout performer in keeping Johnathan David and co at bay.
Centre-back – Diego Godin (Uruguay)
Another veteran defender joins Alderweireld in Diego Godin. The former Atletico Madrid stalwart is still going strong, despite being 36-years-old.
Godin is a prime example of how some defenders get better with age. His performance in Uruguay’s goalless draw with South Korea depicts that, not giving top-attacking talent Heung Min-Son a sniff the entire game.
Given that his first-choice partner Ronald Araujo is injured, Godin’s importance has never been this high, especially considering the expectations put on this Uruguay team. However, Godin has certainly done his part for his nation during the first round of fixtures.
Left-back – Jordi Alba (Spain)
33-year-old Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba really rolled back the years with his performance during Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica on Wednesday.
Alba registered an assist but proved to be a constant threat bombarding down the left-flank throughout the entire game. It felt like Alba during EURO 2012, where he really announced himself on the world scene.
Given that the former Valencia defender has lost his place in Barça’s starting eleven this campaign, his performance on Wednesday is even more impressive.
Centre-midfielder – Jude Bellingham (England)
Jude Bellingham is further showcasing his argument for being the most exciting young talent in world football. The Dortmund star grabbed a goal in England’s 6-2 win over Iran on Monday, becoming the second-youngest goal scorer for England at the FIFA World Cup, behind Michael Owen.
Furthermore, Bellingham simply ran the show, dictating the game from deep and making lung-busting runs into the box, proving to be a consistent threat.
He plays with maturity way beyond his years, and if England are to go far in this tournament, you can be certain that Bellingham would have a massive part to play in it.
Centre-midfielder – Gavi (Spain)
The second Spaniard in this eleven, Gavi became the third-youngest scorer in World Cup history after bagging a brilliant goal in Spain’s 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica on Wednesday.
The Barcelona star has bags of energy which meant the Costa Ricans couldn’t live with him as he moved between the midfield and attack with such elegance.
Many questioned whether Gavi was a wise inclusion in Spain’s starting eleven, given Rodri, Koke and Marcos Llorente were all on the bench, and Thiago Alcanatara wasn’t selected for the World Cup at all. However, Gavi has shut his doubters up in style and will almost certainly be in the team of the tournament should his form continue.
Centre-midfielder – Federico Valverde (Uruguay)
Fede Valverde keeps going from strength to strength this campaign and has seemingly taken his club form with Real Madrid with him onto the international stage.
The Los Blancos star has a great engine and is particularly press-resistant, as well as great technique. Above all, Valverde is notoriously hard-working, depicted by his celebration after stopping a late counterattack during their goalless draw with South Korea.
Valverde embodies the Uruguayan attitude and skillset, not showcasing the flashiest skills but being just as effective in simplicity.
Expectations are high for this Uruguay side with the likes of Nunez, Suarez and Bentancur in their ranks. However, Valverde is without doubt the star name and will be integral to any success his nation achieves.
Left- Wing – Antoine Griezmann (France)
Antoine Griezzman showed glimpses of his old self in France’s 4-1 victory over Australia in the week, albeit in a more creative role.
Despite Olivier Giroud equaling the French all-time top scorer tally, Griezmann played the biggest hand in Le Bleu’s comeback against the Aussies, playing 6 key passes and creating 4 big chances.
Griezmann has been a favorite of coach Didier Deschamps since the early 2010s. But with the stark contrast in form at club level as opposed to the national team, it’s easy to understand why.
Given the system deployed by France, Griezmann is set thrive in this new creative role behind Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud.
Striker – Richarlison (Brazil)
Richarlison demonstrated how important he is for Brazil in their 2-0 win over Serbia on Thursday night, bagging both goals as the record World Cup winners opened their campaign with a win.
The current Spurs star had a relatively quiet start, rarely getting involved in any build-up play, but showed exactly why coach Tite trusts him to start. One just has to look at the clinical nature of his finish against Serbia to understand why.
Richarlison scored arguably the goal of the tournament thus far, firing in an acrobatic effort against the Serbs to seal the result.
Given the abundance of attacking talent behind him, Richarlison’s deadly display may just be the first of many this World Cup 2022.
Right-wing – Bukayo Saka (England)
Bukayo Saka has a strong, strong case to be the standout performer of all the players in the first round. The Arsenal star was electric in England’s opening fixture victory over Iran, scoring two outstanding goals.
There was much debate amongst fans prior to the game regarding reports suggesting Saka was going to start ahead of Phil Foden. However, after performances like that, the doubters should now be saying that he’s one of the first names of the team sheet.
Saka ran the Iranian defence ragged all game. His display was encapsulated by his second goal, where he dribbled past countless Iranian players before slotting the ball into the back of the net, albeit with the help of a deflection.
Many international fans began to put Saka among the top 5 right-wingers in world football following Monday’s game. With displays like that, Saka will be a lot closer to the top very soon.