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Revealed: From Ronaldo to Richarlison – all the World Cup man of the match awards & how they’re decided

GOAL takes a look at how FIFA decides who receives each game’s man of the match, and delves into the players who have won the award.

While choosing the best player from a minimum of 22 is a decision often shrouded in debate, this winter’s World Cup has seen a few arguable selections across the first round of group matches. Behind this change could be the tournament’s new selection process for the award, which includes the heavy involvement of fans online.

Budweiser’s Player of the Match trophy is awarded through a public vote on the FIFA+ website. The window opens between the 60th and 88th minute of each game, in which fans from across the globe can cast their thoughts for each match’s star player. Users are limited to one vote per match, and must be of legal age to register in order to be able to participate.

There is no way of policing whether fans are watching the games in question, though, meaning several awards were handed to players that were arguably less deserving. Here is a look at all the man of the match winners across the tournament so far, and what each player did to deserve it.

Enner Valencia (Qatar 0-2 Ecuador)

Valencia announced himself in Qatar in some style. The Fernebahce forward thought he’d put Ecuador in front after just three minutes, only to see VAR chalk off his effort for offside. That didn’t seem to deter him, though, cooly slotting home a penalty on 16 minutes before firing home a fine header on the half-hour mark. Despite hobbling off early with knee problems, there could be no complaints about Valencia winning this award, with Ecuador condemning Qatar to becoming the first ever host nation to loose its opening game at the World Cup.

Bukayo Saka (England 6-2 Iran)

Some questions were asked when Saka got the nod ahead of Phil Foden in England’s opener, but the Arsenal starlet soon repaid Gareth Southgate’s faith. A rifling volley to make it 2-0 was following by a delightful solo effort for England’s fourth, with the Three Lions purring against Iran. Despite a whole host of potential candidates for the award, like Valencia there could be few argument’s when Saka was given the man of the match trophy, as England cruised to a comfortable 6-2 opening day victory.

Cody Gakpo (Senegal 0-2 Netherlands)

If you hadn’t heard of him before, you had after this game. Heading into the dying embers of the match, the Dutch needed a goal against a threatening Senegal side, and Gakpo was on hand to provide it. An inviting cross from Frenkie De Jong was met by the 23-year-old before Eduoard Mendy could get his gloves on it, sending home an unorthodox header to put the Netherlands ahead. A fine goal to cap off a great performance from the youngster, as the Oranje got off to a winning start in Qatar.

Gareth Bale (United States 1-1 Wales)

Now we begin to enter dubious territory. Bale’s 82nd-minute penalty – which was Wales’ first World Cup goal since 1958 – definitely showed bottle and was vital in snatching a point against an impressive USMNT side, but to consider the 33-year-old the game’s best player might be a stretch. Like his side, Bale was outclassed and outshone by the US for large parts of the match in Al Rayyan, although voters on the FIFA+ website didn’t appear to feel that way.

Mohammed Alowais (Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia)

Fans were treated to one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when Saudi Arabia came from behind to beat Argentina in the second half of their group opener. A Lionel Messi penalty had put the favourites in front, before quick-fire strikes from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari shortly after the break turned the game on its head. In a match where the goals got the headlines, Alowais’ performance in the Saudi goal can’t be underestimated. The shot-stopper was on hand to produce some fine saves to keep his side in the game when it mattered most, in what was a historic victory for Saudi Arabia.

Aissa Laidouni (Denmark 0-0 Tunisia)

In a game with little to cheer about for either side, picking a man of the match was always going to be difficult. Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius ruled himself out of contention after his horrific miss, while Tunisia ‘keeper Ayemn Dahmen made a number of important stops in earning his side a draw. The award was eventually given to his teammate and Tunisia midfielder Aissa Laidouni, despite a less than inspiring display.

Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico 0-0 Poland)

The seventh man of the match of the tournament saw its second goalkeeper being given the award. Guillermo Ochoa is no stranger to an impressive World Cup display, and Mexico’s opener against Poland was no different. While the veteran shot-stopper only made two saves across the 90 minutes, one of them in particular was significant. Ochoa denied Robert Lewandowski his first ever World Cup goal from the penalty spot, keeping the scores level and prompting El Tri’s official Twitter page to jokingly compare him to Messi and Ronaldo.

Kylian Mbappe (France 4-1 Australia)

France’s defence of their world crown didn’t get off to the best of starts when Craig Goodwin put Australia ahead after 9 minutes. However, Didier Deschamps side soon showed their quality thanks to an Mbappe-inspired comeback, with the PSG star scoring and assisting in a game that had many contenders for man of the match. Olivier Giroud equalled Thierry Henry’s France goalscoring record and Antoine Griezmann impressed pulling the strings, although Mbappe’s ability to drown out the noise and shine yet again on the world’s biggest stage was worthy of the award.

Luka Modric (Morocco 0-0 Croatia)

A third ‘bore draw’ of the tournament saw yet another difficult choice for man of the match. Despite coming close with a strike from the edge of the box early in the first half, Modric’s performance was far from inspiring elsewhere. The same could be said for the game as a whole, though, with neither side really coming close across 90 minutes. Achraf Hakimi could consider himself unfortunate not to win the award, as his pace caused the Croatian defence a threat all afternoon, who nevertheless dealt with it resolutely.

Shuichi Gonda (Germany 1-2 Japan)

The tournament’s second major upset saw Japan come from behind to stun Germany thanks to goals from substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano. Coach Hajime Moriyasu got his changes just right, but it was a starter he largely had to thank for side grinding out the victory. Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda made a staggering eight saves in the game, and managed to keep Germany’s attack at bay throughout, even if they were misfiring on the day. While Doan and Asano got the headlines, Gonda was the true hero in Doha.

Gavi (Spain 7-0 Costa Rica)

Spain and Gavi announced themselves with a demolition of Costa Rica in their group opener. The 18-year-old opened his World Cup account in some style, hitting a delightful volley in off the post for Spain’s fifth of the game. The goal made him Spain’s youngest ever World Cup scorer, and the youngest ever in the competition since Pele in 1958. Along with fellow youngster Pedri, Gavi dominated the Costa Rica midfield with his impeccable passing and dribbling ability, leaving either of the two in with a chance of earning the man of the match award.

Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium 1-0 Canada)

Belgium scraped past Canada in their opening match, with star man Kevin De Bruyne largely misfiring and looking a shadow of his Manchester City self. Despite the sub-par performance, the midfielder received the most votes on the FIFA+ website, meaning he was unceremoniously awarded man of the match. None were more surprised than the player himself, though, who argued against receiving the prize and attributed it to his “name” rather than his display on the pitch. De Bruyne was also visibly frustrated in game too, clashing with defender Toby Alderweireld after Belgium scored the opening goal.

Yann Sommer (Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon)

Sommer became the fourth goalkeeper to win the award in the first round of group stage matches, after his heroics helped Switzerland hold out for a narrow victory over Cameroon. The 33-year-old made five saves across the course of the game, as Cameroon threatened on multiple occasions in what was a tight affair in Al Wakrah. The clean sheet secured the three points in an unattractive victory for the Swiss, with Sommer playing a key part in that process.

Federico Valverde (Uruguay 0-0 South Korea)

Make that four goalless draws in 14 opening group stage matches. An uninspiring affair between Uruguay and South Korea didn’t produce any goals, but Valverde’s moments of individual brilliance suggested Uruguay maybe should have nicked it. His shot from range was well saved by Seung-gyu Kim, although Diego Godin’s header that rattled the woodwork was probably Uruguay’s best chance of the match. Godin was solid throughout but Valverde’s occasional moment of magic made him a worthy man of the match winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal 3-2 Ghana)

Playing in his first game since being forcibly removed from Manchester United, Ronaldo was able to drown out the noise and put in a captain’s performance against Ghana, scoring in the fifth World Cup of his career and becoming the oldest to score for Portugal at a major tournament. While that was undoubtedly the game’s dominant narrative, his man of the match award largely ignores the performance put in by former teammate Bruno Fernandes. The United midfielder assisted both Joao Felix and Rafael Leao in their goals, and can count himself unlucky he didn’t win the award.

Richarlison (Brazil 2-0 Serbia)

The last man of the match across the group stage openers was awarded to Richarlison, and few could have many complaints about that. Playing in his first ever World Cup and included in the starting line up despite his recent absence through injury, Richarlison repaid coach Tite with a stunning display in Lusail. The forward’s first goal showed striker’s instincts, while the second was a moment of magic, flicking the ball up and striking an acrobatic volley to put Brazil in control. Talk about announcing yourself on the big stage.

Mehdi Taremi (Wales 0-2 Iran)

His two goals against England may have been a mere consolation, but Taremi’s contributions to Iran’s second match against Wales were much more telling. With both sides needing nothing less than three points, the match was an end-to-end affair, and Taremi dominated the offensive side of it. His assist to Ramin Rezaeian for Iran’s second killed the game off in the dying embers, after Roozbeh Cheshmi had put them ahead eight minutes into stoppage time.

Famara Diedhiou (Qatar 1-3 Senegal)

Senegal condemned Qatar to their second defeat of the tournament after their attack dazzled in the Al-Thumama Stadium. Diedhiou made it two just after half time and was a menace all afternoon for the hosts, and his dominant offensive display was enough to earn himself man of the match. The trophy could also have been given to strike partner Boulaye Dia, who opened the scoring for the Lions of Teranga, with Ismaile Sarr also impressing on the day.

Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador)

Despite Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia getting on the scoresheet for their second successive matches, the man of the match was eventually awarded to Frenkie De Jong. The Barca man was pulling the strings in the middle of the park, completing an impressive 93% pass accuracy against his Ecuadorian opponents. While either Gakpo or Valencia would seem the obvious choice to win their second MOTM of the tournament, the role played by De Jong wasn’t underestimated by fans voting on the FIFA+ website.

Christian Pulisic (England 0-0 USA)

There was little excitement at the Al Bayt Stadium when England and USMNT played out a drab 0-0, although the occasional moment of brilliance came from the Americans. Pulisic probably did enough on the night to warrant it, having come close with a rifling shot that hit the crossbar. However, the midfield trio of Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie were pivotal aspects in Gregg Berhalter’s side, meaning it was a surprise not to see one of them handed the award after the 90 minutes.

Mitchell Duke (Tunisia 0-1 Australia)
Scoring your first goal at a World Cup is probably worthy of man of the match, but even more so if it helps give your side their first World Cup victory in over 12 years. That was the case when Australia defeated Tunisia thanks to Duke’s glancing header, which he scored in some style. Turning instinctively to re-direct a deflected cross, Duke flicked on a beautiful glancing header into the far corner of Aymen Dahmen’s goal. A strike worthy of winning any match, and certainly of winning the man of the match award.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia)

While Poland may have snatched a victory against a largely dominant Saudi Arabia in the Education City Stadium, few could argue against Lewandowski winning man of the match. Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny would be the only other contender, thanks to his stunning double save to deny Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohammed Al-Burayk from the former’s penalty, but scoring your first EVER World Cup goal is worthy of any award. The Barca forward also registered an assist for Piotr Zielinski for Poland’s first, in a win that saw his side go top of Group C.

Kylian Mbappe (France 2-1 Denmark)

The first player to win the award twice in Qatar, Mbappe sent the holders through to the next round thanks to a second-half brace against Denmark. His first strike saw the PSG star exchange a smart one-two with Theo Hernandez on the left, while the second was characterised by some instinctive forward movement to get on the end of an inviting Antoine Griezmann cross. Griezmann may feel aggrieved to have missed out again on the individual prize, but a match-winning brace to go joint-top scorer is as fair a reason as any to be crowned man of the match.

Lionel Messi (Argentina 2-0 Mexico)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. When Argentina needed him most, Messi stepped up to secure a vital victory for his side’s chances of last 16 qualification. With just over 60 minutes on the clock and the game heading for another goalless draw, the boy from Rosario rifled a long range screamer into the far corner of Guillermo Ochoa’s goal. The PSG star also provided an assist for Argentina’s second, although that goal was all about Enzo Fernandez’s individual brilliance. A deserved win and a deserved man of the match award in what was a joyous night for the Albiceleste.

Keysher Fuller (Japan 0-1 Costa Rica)

Had Costa Rica not snatched a victory in the 81st minute, this man of the match award could have been very different. As it happened, Fuller’s late goal was enough to give his side all three points in what was Costa Rica’s first shot on target all tournament. Japan, on the other hand, will be rueing their missed chances, which was thanks in part to the work of Keylor Navas. Having only produced three saves, though, Fuller’s goal was arguably enough to warrant his man of the match award, as Costa Rica shocked the world in Ar-Rayyan.

Hakim Ziyech (Belgium 0-2 Morocco)

In a second shock on the same day, Belgium fell to defeat to Morocco in what was a deserving win for the Atlas Lions. Ziyech thought he had got himself on the scoresheet late in the first half, with a quick free-kick that caught out Thibault Courtois in the Belgium goal. While that may have been ruled out for offside on Roman Saiss, the Chelsea man’s contributions cannot be discounted, not least for the inspiration his set play provided for Abdelhamid Sabiri’s opener. The result blew Group F wide open, which was thanks in part to Ziyech’s display.

Andrej Kramaric (Croatia 4-1 Canada)
Croatia had to come from behind to beat Canada after seeing Alphonso Davies score the fastest goal of the tournament so far on 67 seconds. Kramaric thought he had levelled when he netted after being played in by Ivan Perisic but saw his effort ruled out for offside. However, the 31-year-old was not to be denied and bagged a brace to dump Canada out of the tournament and send Croatia top of Group F ahead of the final round of games.

Alvaro Morata (Spain 1-1 Germany)

Alvaro Morata offered another reminder of his talents by making an instant impact after coming off the bench for Spain against Germany. The Atletico Madrid striker needed just eight minutes to break the deadlock after replacing Ferran Torres early in the second half. Morata produced an instinctive finish after a good pass from Dani Olmo to make it 1-0 to La Roja. Morata now has two goals in two games for Spain at World Cup 2022 and is repaying the faith shown in him by coach Luis Enrique.

Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon 3-3 Serbia)

Vincent Aboubakar was the architect of a fantastic comeback for Cameroon that saw his side earn a vital point in their second game of the competition. The 30-year-old came off the bench shortly after Serbia scored to go 3-1 up in the second half of Monday’s clash. The striker needed just eight minutes to make an impact as he sent a wonderful chip into the net to pull one back for his team. Just three minutes later, he helped Cameroon complete the comeback when he sent a perfect pass across to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for a simple finish to make it 3-3.

Mohammed Kudus (Ghana 3-2 South Korea)

Mohammed Kudus proved decisive as Ghana picked up their first win of the competition by beating South Korea. Ten minutes after Mohammed Salisu opened the scoring, the Ajax star got his head onto a well placed diagonal cross from Jordan Ayew and headed beyond Kim Seung-gyu. South Korea fought their way back into the game with two quickfire goals but Kudus made sure Ghana did not collapse as he was there at the back post to meet a low cross from Inaki Williams and slot hom to secure the three points.

Casemiro (Brazil 1-0 Switzerland)

Despite the tournament favourites dominating for large parts of the match and even seeing a Vinicius Junior strike chalked off for offside, Brazil’s game against Serbia was entering a stalemate going into the last ten minutes. Enter Casemiro, who linked up beautifully with Real Madrid duo Vinicius and Rodygo before the latter flicked a ball into his path, with the United midfielder crashing a half-volley home into the far corner of Yann Sommer’s goal. His strike helped Brazil snatch all three points and become just the second team to secure qualification to the last 16.

Bruno Fernandes (Portugal 2-0 Uruguay)

A discrepancy over whether or not Cristiano Ronaldo managed to get the very edge of his quiff onto an exquisite, lofted ball from Fernandes shouldn’t detract from the masterful performance that Manchester United’s chief creator put in against Uruguay. While Fernandes can often leave a lot to be desire for Portugal, particularly when trying to play with Ronaldo, he ran the show tonight, particularly in helping his nation get over the line in the second half. His cross-turned-goal was put into the perfect area and the run that earned him a penalty was equally as brilliant. Should it have been given? Probably not. Does Bruno care? Not at all. Three points, two brilliant goals and a spot in the knockout stages. Job done.

Davy Klaassen (Qatar 0-2 Netherlands)

Netherlands midfielder Davy Klaassen got the assist for his side’s first goal as they beat Qatar in the crucial group stage match. The Ajax man nipped a short pass through to Cody Gakpo before the attacker drove forward and fired in from the edge of the box. Klaassen, 29, linked up well with the attackers around him as the likes of Memphis Depay and Gakpo tried to build on their lead. Klaassen has been effective so far in the tournament, having scored in the 2-0 win against Senegal and also set up his side’s only goal as they drew with Ecuador.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Ecuador 1-2 Senegal)

Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly made a vital intervention to ensure his side progressed to the last-16 as they beat Ecuador 2-1 in the final group stage match. Just three minutes after Ecuador scored to make it 1-1, the Chelsea centre-back smashed home from inside the box with a fine finish. The 31-year-old has stood up as his team’s leader in the absence of star attacker Sadio Mane.

Marcus Rashford (Wales 0-3 England)

Man Utd striker Marcus Rashford bagged a brace as England swept Wales aside and finished top of Group B with a comfortable victory. Rashford’s first goal was a brilliant free-kick and he then followed that up with the team’s third goal after Phil Foden had made it 2-0. It was a superb performance from the striker and a memorable one too as he netted England’s 100th World Cup goal on a poignant night for Rashford. The England star revealed after the game that he’d dedicated his first goal to a friend he has lost recently.

Christian Pulisic (Iran 0-1 USA)

Captain America Christian Pulisic sent the USMNT into the last 16 of the World Cup with the only goal of the game against Iran. Pulisic had to put his body on the line to break the deadlock and picked up an injury in the process that forced him off at half-time. Indeed the Chelsea forward ended up in hospital for scans on an abdominal injury but his goal was enough to clinch all three points and second place in Group B.