With long-time fancies such as Neymar, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo all out of the running for the Golden Ball, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Colombia’s James Rodriguez currently head the market at 2/1 and 3/1 to be named best player at the World Cup.
Neither can be tipped with any confidence at such tight odds.
The latter in particular looks without a chance, as no player who failed to reach the semi-finals has taken the prize in the last 36 years, while the former’s inability to find the net since the groups should be of concern.
If not Leo and James, then who? Read on for revelations…
David Luiz @ 5/1
The £50m Chelsea reject has quickly become a replacement talisman for the hosts, which is a stroke of luck for Luiz Felipe Scolari as Neymar was becoming increasingly tightly marked even before being stretchered out of the tournament late on against Colombia.
With two of Brazil’s three knockout-stage goals so far coming from Luiz, plus a coolly-taken first penalty in the last-16 shootout win against Chile, and not a defensive meltdown in sight, the Golden Ball is already within the comedy-haired hero’s hands.
More of the same from herein should see it delivered.
Manuel Neuer @ 14/1
FIFA set a fine precedent when naming Die Mannschaft netsman Oliver Khan as the best player at World Cup 2002, and the heir to Der Titan’s FC Bayern Munchen throne – who looks to have the Golden Glove sewn up – has been terrific form in Brazil.
Neuer has made ten saves and conceded just three times in 480 minutes of World Cup football, with a nifty 78 per cent distribution success rate, but his status as the last, lolloping (high) line of defence and first point of attack has been crucial to coach Joachim Low’s game-plan.
If the 28-year-old keeps up that level of performance, he could go one better than Khan and become the first Germany goalkeeper to lift the World Cup since Bodo Illgner in 1990, a feat that ought to guarantee him a clean sweep of prizes at the samba jamboree.
Robin van Persie @ 18/1
The former PFA Player of the Year has only struck home from the penalty spot in the quarter-final shoot-out with Costa Rica since grabbing three in his first two Group B games, but Van Persie’s numbers are eerily similar to 2010 Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan’s at this stage in South Africa.
Uruguay’s former Manchester United striker had three to his name following his country’s uber-controversial last-eight penalties victory over Ghana, before clinching the prize with strikes in the semi-final and third-place play-off fixtures with the Netherlands and Germany.
Oranje teammate Arjen Robben, who also has three goals, comes in much shorter at 4/1, but if Van Persie can make the difference against a largely untested Argentina backline, watch that 18/1 plummet off a cliff.