Who will win World Cup Golden Ball 2022? Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe among top 5 candidates

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World Cup Golden Ball 2022 - Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric
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They will not give out the Golden Ball award that honors the best player at the World Cup until after all the games at Qatar 2022 have been played.

After all, the most important ones are still to come.

The field of legends, stars and newcomers chasing this award, though, surely recognize they have a target to chase.

Through the first four rounds, one player dominated the World Cup, and though England succeeded in keeping Kylian Mbappe quiet in the quarterfinals, France's star winger will challenge Morocco’s defense during Wednesday’s semifinal in ways it hasn’t yet been.

So who else has a chance? There are more good candidates than we can fit on this list:

MORE: Past FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners

5. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)

Achraf Hakimi

If you’re looking for a candidate among the Atlas Lions and looking anywhere but on defense, you’re doing it wrong.

This team is alive because of its defense, the one that has not allowed a goal to any opposing player through five World Cup games: not Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, Alvaro Morata or anyone else.

Hakimi has played more minutes at the World Cup than anyone on his team save Sofyan Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech. Hakimi leads Morocco in tackles, and 13 of his 19 tackles resulted in his team gaining possession and 12 of them came in the defensive third. He hasn’t once made an error that led to an opponent’s shot.

He’ll probably need to make at least one big attacking play — and Morocco will need to win the World Cup — for Hakimi to have a genuine chance at this award.

MORE: How Africans and Arabs are rallying behind Morocco's World Cup run

4. Luka Modric (Croatia)

Luka Modric of Croatia
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Here they are again. There may never have been a more resilient team in World Cup history, given all the times they’ve come back from deficits to remain alive — not just in this tournament, but also the one in 2018.

There are a lot of reasons they persist, but Modric is a good place to start. If we’re being honest, the job done by Marcelo Brozovic in the center has been even more impressive, and probably Mateo Kovacic on the opposite side of midfield.

Modric remains consistently accurate as a passer. He is, at age 37, apparently tireless; he keeps playing huge minutes, and they’re busy minutes because he’s so often on the ball and being challenged or fouled.

While Croatia were blown away by Argentina in the semifinals, Modric bowed out of the World Cup with his head held high after another strong tournament.

MORE: The story behind Croatia's famous checkered jersey

3. Antoine Griezmann (France)

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Griezmann became France’s career assists leader in the victory over England, and that was the only designation he took from the game, because someone shockingly gave the Man of the Match trophy to Olivier Giroud.

Did those people watch the game? Griezmann was an absolutely dominant player, constantly tearing into the England defense and with six duels won, five passes into the box and two assists. England were preoccupied with Kylian Mbappe, but it was Griezmann marauding through the middle and firing crosses into the box.

If Griezmann plays two more games like this one, he could be the Golden Ball winner even if Mbappe strikes for another goal or two.

2. Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Lionel Messi scores vs Netherlands
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Messi has consistenly delivered for Argentina at the 2022 World Cup and once again starred with a goal and assist in their 3-0 win over Croatia in the semifinals. 

His assist on Argentina’s first goal against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals was a work of art, and then he converted two penalties — one in regulation to momentarily put his team ahead by two goals — and then another to start off Argentina’s successful penalty shootout.

Messi scored the crucial, game-winning goal against Mexico in group play — a powerful strike from 28 yards —  and did the same job in the Round of 16 against Australia, opening the scoring with a perfectly placed, rolling shot inside the far post.

The 35-year-old Messi seems not to create as many significant chances as the version of a decade ago, but he keeps defenses constantly busy. He ranks among the leaders in the World Cup in expected goals, shots and shots on target.

If Argentina wins this, you know who’s leaving with a trophy in each hand.

MORE: Everything to know about Lionel Messi from family to fortune

1. Kylian Mbappe (France)

Kylian Mbappe celebrates a France goal
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Injury robbed France of three players who likely would have started for them in this World Cup, but they do have the best player in the world playing like the best player in the world.

They’ve won every game Mbappe has started – he was rested in a meaningless third group game — and he has scored in all but one of those games.

He is equal top in the Golden Boot race with five goals, which is one short of the number Harry Kane scored to grab that trophy in 2018, and Mbappe still has two more games to play.

Mbappe is the biggest reason we all should have known that even with the incumbent curse — the past three reigning World Cup champs all failed to get out of their groups in the subsequent cycle — and with so many massive injuries, France still would be a threat to leave Qatar with the winner’s trophy.

The statistical model at FotMob.com rated Mbappe a 9.3 in the Round of 16 victory over Poland, a game in which he put three of his four shots on goal and successfully completed 31 of his 35 passes. He was not as effective against England, but the threat he provided allowed Griezmann to do more damage.

Mbappe is 23 years old. You want to know how crazy it is, what he’s doing at this age? By the end of the year Cristiano Ronaldo turned 23, he had 42 caps and 19 goals. Lionel Messi had 35 caps and 7 goals. Mbappe has 64 caps and 33 goals. Yikes.

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Mike DeCourcy is a Senior Writer at The Sporting News