Very few of the world’s best players won’t be appearing at the World Cup. The highest ranked nations not to qualify are Italy and Holland and neither team has a standout player. The award is decided by a panel of judges and the winner receives the Golden Ball. It makes sense that the best player represents one of the best teams. The best player will create and score goals so his team will win matches and progress deep into the tournament. It will be difficult for an individual to make an impact if his team does not progress from the groups. The Golden Ball is more likely to be a forward or midfield player than a defender or goalkeeper.
The obvious starting point is Lionel Messi who is considered to be the best player in the world. However, his goal scoring record for Argentina is inferior to the goals he has scored for Barcelona. Only Germany and Brazil have won the World Cup outside their own continent and Argentina have never won the World Cup in Europe. However, Messi and Sergio Aguero play in Spain and England so are familiar with European conditions. Argentina would almost have to win the World Cup with goals from Messi to give the player a chance to win the Golden Ball.
Neymar was the poster boy of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He was injured in the quarter-finals so did not play against Germany in the last four. Neymar had to watch from the sidelines as Brazil were humiliated and lost 7-1 which represents the biggest winning margin of any semi-finals tie. His presence would not have made much difference but fours later he has a score to settle. However, he is now playing for PGG in the uncompetitive French league so may have lost an edge. Brazil are the favourites to win the World Cup but other nations are preferred including France.
Antoine Griezmann is potentially their best player and France are good enough to win the World Cup. The Atletico Madrid striker was the leading scorer at Euro 2016 and scored both Atletico’s goals in the 2-0 win over Marseille in the final of the Europa League. France have a number of world class players and are solid all around the field. Paul Pogba could be a major influence and will create plenty of scoring opportunities for Griezmann who could win the Golden Ball. The pool of players is good enough to leave Anthony Martial out of the squad.
Portugal won the European Championships two years ago but Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t exceptional and didn’t contribute in the final. Portugal rode their luck and scored a single goal after Griezmann and other players missed chances to win the trophy. Portugal will need Ronaldo at his best to reach another final. If they do qualify for the final tie Ronaldo will have been influential so he is a leading contender to win the Golden Ball awarded to the best player at the 2018 World Cup.
In the 2018 a player who plays in seven fixtures and averages a goal a game should win the Golden Boot. However, if it’s a low scoring tournament five goals may suffice again. The tone is usually set in the group stages but the rate of scoring slows down as the tournament progresses. In 1994 Oleg Salenko scored five goals in Russia’s final group fixture and shared the title with Hristo Stoichkov. Salenko is the only winner or joint winner playing for a side that did not play any knockout matches.