Explained: How the World Cup Player of the Match award is given – and why De Bruyne was surprised


The Player of the Match award has caused quite the stir at the World Cup.

The elaborate red trophy is given to, you guessed it, the best player from each match at the tournament — or so you would hope.

Kevin De Bruyne was one of several questionable recipients in the first round of matches, leading plenty of fans to ask the question: who decides how the award is given out and to whom?

The Athletic is on hand to talk you through it.

Who decides the Player of the Match award at the World Cup?

The awarding of player of the match awards, in every competition, sparks plenty of debate.

When co-commentators make the choice in domestic leagues, such as the Premier League, it is often met with lots of disagreement on social media.

At the World Cup though, the decision is in the hands of the fans, with Budweiser providing the prize.

Votes are made on the FIFA website and the window for voting opens between the 60th and 88th minute. A vote can be cast on any of the players who have played in the match, whether they started the game or came on as a substitute with 10 minutes left.

That is, of course, raises the possibility of it becoming a popularity contest with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo — who won the award in Portugal’s win against Ghana — and Lionel Messi likely to receive more votes than any other players purely because of their status among football fans around the world.

It at least appears to be going a one player on the winning team, though — as has been the case with Budweiser’s Premier League King of the Match awards.

What has been said about the Player of the Match award at the World Cup?

Perhaps the most unlikely recipient of the Player of the Match award was Kevin De Bruyne during Belgium’s 1-0 win against Canada.

The Manchester City star was far from his best in a game where his side were dominated.

His passing was uncharacteristically inaccurate as he completed just 24 of his 34 attempted passes while his decision-making, at times, was equally poor.

A couple of his team mates were far more deserving as Thibaut Courtois saved a penalty and Michy Batshuayi scored the winning goal. In our debrief, we felt Courtois should have come away with the award.


Even De Bruyne was unsure as to why he won the award (Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Speaking after picking up the award, De Bruyne was shocked that he had been chosen as the best player on the pitch.

“I don’t think I played a great game, I don’t know why I got the trophy. Maybe because of my name,” he said at a post-match press conference.

“We just didn’t play well as a team, especially in the first half. We started really badly, the momentum was with Canada and we couldn’t break through the press. I think there was more space than we thought.

“I don’t think we played a good game, me included, but we found a way to win.”

Many may have felt that Cristiano Ronaldo was also rather undeserving of the award in Portugal’s opening-game win. He did score the opening goal from the penalty spot but the role Bruno Fernandes played in the other two goals probably just edged him ahead of his former Manchester United team mate.

In our debrief of the match, we felt Fernandes was the outstanding player, as you can see below.


Ronaldo was asked who he would have given the award to after the match, to which he replied: “I’d give it to Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Danilo, to any of them (team mates). I’d give it to the whole team because they worked so hard.”

Who has won the Player of the Match award in each World Cup game?

  • Qatar 0-2 Ecuador: Enner Valencia
  • Iran 2-6 England: Bukayo Saka
  • Netherlands 2-0 Senegal: Cody Gakpo
  • Wales 1-1 USA: Gareth Bale
  • Saudi Arabia 2-1 Argentina: Mohammed Al-Owais
  • Tunisia 0-0 Denmark: Aissa Laidouni
  • Poland 0-0 Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa
  • Australia 1-4 France: Kylian Mbappe
  • Croatia 0-0 Morocco: Luka Modric
  • Japan 2-1 Germany: Shuichi Gonda
  • Costa Rica 0-7 Spain: Gavi
  • Canada 0-1 Belgium: Kevin De Bruyne
  • Cameroon 0-1 Switzerland: Yann Sommer
  • South Korea 0-0 Uruguay: Federico Valverde
  • Ghana 2-3 Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Serbia 0-2 Brazil: Richarlison

(Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)


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