Four in running for World Cup Golden Ball

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have long been eliminated from the World Cup without making a real impression.

Instead, Croatia's Luka Modric leads a group of four main contenders for the award for best player at the tournament, the Golden Ball.

Messi won the Golden Ball as best player of the 2014 World Cup, although his Argentina team were beaten by Germany in the Rio final.

And the award from the 2010 edition in South Africa went to Diego Forlan from Uruguay, even though his team only finished fourth.

The last player from a World Cup winner to win the award was Brazil's Romario in 1994 in the US, with a player from the title-winning team only taking the award at 10 of the past 20 World Cups.

FIFA's technical study group decides the winner and the award is presented after Sunday's final.

With Messi, Brazil's Neymar and reigning Best FIFA Men's Player Cristiano Ronaldo long eliminated, others have become leading candidates for the Golden Ball:

LUKA MODRIC: The diminutive Croatia and Real Madrid playmaker can crown his career – which already boasts a host of club honours – with the title in Sunday's final against France in what could be his last World Cup at age 32. He has scored two goals in Russia and rebounded from missing an extra-time penalty against Denmark by converting in the ensuing shoot-out. Croatia icon Davor Suker has said he would give Modric three votes if he could and Ivan Rakitic simply named him "the best player in Croatian history." According to FIFA, no player has covered more ground at this World Cup than Modric's 63 kilometres.

KYLIAN MBAPPE: The French teenager has taken the World Cup by storm with his skill and speed, scoring three goals so far. The Paris Saint-Germain forward became the first teenager since Brazilian legend Pele in 1958 to get a brace in a World Cup match, which he did in France's 4-3 over Messi's Argentina. Pele swiftly congratulated him but Mbappe said Pele was "on another level". Mbappe can cap his tournament with the title against Croatia Sunday. "I always said he is very good. I am happy that he is French. He has the potential to reach the level of Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo," Deschamps said.

HARRY KANE: The Tottenham Hotspur forward tops the scoring charts in Russia with six goals and his influence on the young England team is so big that he could take home the Golden Boot and Golden Ball award on Sunday, even though England's title dream ended in the semi-finals. "Harry Houdini," the Daily Mail and the Daily Express said, in reference to the famous escapologist, after Kane got England on track by completing a brace for a 2-1 win in stoppage time in their opener against Tunisia. Captain Kane can raise his tally in the third-place match against Belgium on Saturday, if he is fielded.

EDEN HAZARD: Belgium have a wealth of talent, with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens, but Chelsea attacking midfielder Hazard still stands out – and not only because he is captain. He pulls the strings and dictates the tempo, which was especially noticeable in their prestigious quarter-final win against Brazil. Hazard has two goals and two assists in Russia and coach Roberto Martinez has heaped praise on him, calling Hazard "a great captain, a real leader. He is always natural in the way he behaves and I really like that. He always wants the ball, however the game is going."

Australian Associated Press

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