WITH the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia drawing ever nearer, we can all start getting a little excited about it.
As a Welshman, I will as always be able to watch from a neutral perspective and whilst I may be a little gutted on the inside about that, it’s always a bit of a benefit too.
Here, I analyse who I think could be each team’s star man and who could light up the world’s greatest competition when it all kick’s off in June …
Argentina – Paulo Dybala
I thought I’d go past the obvious candidate here. With the exception of Mr Messi, the pressure will be on the latest prodigy from Argentina.
Great things are expected of Attacking midfielder/striker Paulo Dybala and his rise to fame in recent years has been quite simply incredible.
Having made a £30m move across Italy from Palermo to Juventus back in 2015 he has become one of the Serie A giants’ main men. The 24 year old has hit 44 goals in 84 league appearances for Juve so far.
“La Joya” (The Jewel) as he is known, is great with the ball at his feet and has that typical Argentinian flair that has been adopted by so many of their stars over the years. He is yet to score for his country in 12 apps, but I think he might just flourish on the big stage.
They may have missed out in the World Cup final back in 2014, but Dybala will be looking to guide his nation one step further this time around in what will be his first ever World Cup tournament.
Australia – Aaron Mooy
With 38-year-old Tim Cahill looking likely to be heading to his final World Cup, it’s time for a new central midfielder to step up and take his place in the Australia side. That’s where Aaron Mooy comes into play.
The 27-year-old has made 31 appearances for The Socceroos since 2012 and will be a familiar face to fans of the Premier League – as he plays for Huddersfield and scored in a 2-1 win over Manchester United back in October.
Mooy is a calm presence in the middle of the park and can play a great long ball to his team-mate’s. He can also really hit a ball if he connects well with it.
He will be the best player for Australia by a country mile in my opinion and will have to be at his very best if they are to progress from a tough group that also includes Denmark, Peru and tournament favourites France.
Belgium – Kevin De Bruyne
Belgium surely have to be the underdog heading into this World Cup with the vast amount of talent they have at their disposal. However, it has to be De Bruyne who will be the stand out star.
After enjoying a simply incredible campaign with Manchester City so far this season, he looks destined to be crowned a Premier League champion come May and will no doubt be shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award too.
With seven goals and 14 assists to his name in the top flight this year, he’s easily been one of the best players in the division and he will be hoping to take that form with him to the World Cup.
With the likes of Eden Hazard, Radja Nainggolan, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens all around him, you could argue that he is very likely to set-up a few goals during the tournament and probably score one or two himself.
He could be the key to success for this Belgium side as they look to finally impress on the international stage after years of disappointment.
Brazil – Roberto Firmino
Again I’m going to exclude the obvious candidate Neymar here. Other than their biggest star, Brazil will be most likely to turn to Liverpool’s “Bobby” Firmino for the goals.
Whilst Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus is capable of the goals, I think at 20-years-old it may be a little too early to expect so much from him at such a major tournament, but I have been wrong before!
25-year-old Firmino on the other hand is in the form of his life. For Liverpool this season, he’s thrived up top with a little help from the electric Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah and has scored 12 goals so far.
Similarly at Brazil, he could have any of the likes of Jesus, Neymar and former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho up top with him and that should work well as a front three and should see him score goals.
Like so many others already mentioned on the list, he will be hoping to prove his worth to the world at this tournament.
Colombia – Radamel Falcao
Having had to miss out on the World Cup in 2014 through injury (and see his team mates have quite the competition!), Falcao looks as though he may finally get to have the chance to shine at the major event this year.
The forward may be 32-years-old now, but there’s no doubting that he is still a top class player (despite what Manchester United and Chelsea fans might tell you). Since returning to AS Monaco from his dreadful two year loan spell in England, he has been on fire, hitting 49 goals in just 69 Ligue 1 appearances.
Since making his international debut for Colombia in 2007, he has hit 28 goals in 70 caps and has become a vital component within the squad, being named captain many times.
“El Tigre” is lethal when in form and it’s good to see that a tough spell in the Premier League has not ruined his character or spirit for the game. I for one can’t wait to see what he can do for his country at the World Cup and it’ll be interesting to see how he and the talented James Rodriguez can combine with one another.
Costa Rica – Joel Campbell
The Costa Ricans shocked the world with their performances in Brazil 2014, topping a really tough group after beating Italy and Uruguay and holding England to a draw. They eventually crashed out on penalties in the quarter finals to Holland.
Arsenal winger Joel Campbell (Currently on loan at Real Betis) was part of that squad and his performances at that tournament led to him being given a chance in the Premier League in the following season, where he scored three times.
Since then, he has gone slightly under the radar with Arsene Wenger (unfairly in my opinion) opting to loan him out to Portugal and then Spain, where he has continued to score goals.
For his country though, he is one of the main men and always looks lively either out wide or up top. The 25-year-old bagged a goal in Costa Rica’s incredible 3-1 win over Uruguay in Brazil 2014 and I fancy him to have a similar impact for them this time around too.
Forgotten about at Arsenal, but certainly valued greatly back home.
Croatia – Ivan Perisic
There’s no doubting that in terms of goals, the Croatians will most likely turn to Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic to score them. However, I would say that their one to watch will be Ivan Perisic.
The winger, who plays for Italian side Inter Milan, has been a mainstay within the national set-up for many a year now and always performs well at major tournaments. Take Euro 2016 for example, when he was being linked with a move to Manchester United after the competition ended.
It’s no secret that the 29-year-old has been angling for a move away from Italy for quite some time now and so I fully expect to see him performing well once again in Russia to try and attract some interest.
He’s a player that can change a game on his own at times with his pace, footwork and shooting abilities. He’s a grafter too and has become vital to this Croatia side who have enjoyed some decent success in recent major tournaments.
Can he help his homeland progress through the “Group of Death”? (which contains Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland), time will tell.
Denmark – Christian Eriksen
The Dane’s will no doubt be un-fancied heading into the tournament but the truth is that they do have one of the world’s most underrated midfielders at their disposal in the form of Christian Eriksen.
The Tottenham Hotspur man is one of the most creative players in the Premier League and is by far Denmark’s most useful player on the ball.
The 26 year old is also capable of scoring goals too so that adds to his importance for his side. Give him a free-kick in a useful position and 9 times out of ten he will be likely to hit the back of the net in one way or another.
The Danes will fancy their chances in Group C as they can easily beat Australia and Peru on their day and may just give France a fright too. Eriksen’s form and performances will be crucial to how it all pan’s out for them though.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
After having a simply incredible season in the Premier League so far this season, Egyptian magician Salah will be looking to take his blistering form onto the grandest stage of them all.
The 25-year-old winger is having quite the year in 2017/18. He has hit 22 goals in 28 PL matches for Liverpool so far and helped Egypt qualify for their first World Cup finals since the 90’s in the most epic of ways – scoring a last minute penalty against Congo.
He also won the African Player of the Year award and Arab Player of the Year awards respectively.
Salah’s dribbling, pace and finishing skills have been simply sublime and he really looks for all the world like he could be one of the greatest players in the world if he is to continue his rich vein of form.
Egypt might just fancy their chances in Group A too, having been placed alongside Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia. I can see them grabbing that second spot behind Uruguay if all goes to plan.
England – Harry Kane
Having been banging in 20+ goals a season for the past four years now, you could say that there is no better time than the present for Kane to truly step up and finally help England compete on the international scene.
With 101 Premier League goals to his name, the Spurs hit man has become one of the most lethal strikers on the planet and he will be hoping that he can start producing the goods for The Three Lions in Russia this summer.
12 goals in 23 caps for England so far is a pretty good record for Kane and with critics still doubting whether or not he has what it takes to become the world’s best, this is his chance to shine on the grandest of stages.
He’s one of the best finishers in the world right now (even up there with Messi and Ronaldo in terms of stats) and if he can find form in Russia, then England really could be in with a chance. Whether it’s left foot, right foot or header, there’s always a good chance of Kane finding the back of the net.
They should sweep Panama and Tunisia aside in their group, but I can see them finishing behind Belgium however.
France – Kylian Mbappe
France will be considered to be one of the favourites to lift the World Cup this summer in my opinion as they have a whole host of future talent coming through the ranks. Number one on that list is the gifted Kylian Mbappe.
Having moved on loan from Monaco to Ligue 1 rivals PSG (ahead of a possible permanent transfer this summer) on the back of an impressive season, the 19-year-old forward has been in great form once again this year.
He may have been slightly overshadowed by the arrival of Neymar at the French giants, but he’s certainly still doing his bit, having hit 9 goals in 18 games. For France, he is likely to play up top with Antoine Griezmann and if those two can link up well then it’s goodnight to all defenders in my opinion.
Dubbed “The next Thierry Henry” by pundits the world over – Mbappe is a bright young talent with bags of space and a natural ability to score goals that could see him become THE world’s best player in years to come.
He will be looking to help fire Les Bleus to glory in his very first major tournament.
Germany – Mesut Ozil
The Germans won the 2014 World Cup and will once again be in contention to do the same this summer. Arsenal’s magic midfielder Ozil will hope to pull the strings for Joachim Low’s side.
There’s no doubting that the 29-year-old is one of the best in the world when it comes to picking out a team-mate with a precise pass. His vision will be one of the key components in his country’s chances of going all the way in Russia.
With exciting youngsters such as Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Leon Goretzka (Schalke), Leroy Sane (Manchester City) and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) likely to be chosen for Germany this summer, it means that Ozil will be one of the more experienced players in the side.
Personally, I think he’ll thrive off that and he can make the most of the pace of the players in the team by dinking balls over the top for them to pounce onto. It may be a new-look Germany competing in the World Cup this summer, but they will still be as deadly and as clinical as years gone by.
Iceland – Gylfi Sigurdsson
After enjoying a highly-surprising but nevertheless successful campaign in Euro 2016, the Iceland boys are back and ready to compete in their first ever World Cup tournament and Everton star Sigurdsson is most likely to lead the charge.
This determined bunch followed the success of beating England that summer to top their World Cup qualifying group (which included the Netherlands who will miss out this year).
28-year-old midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson will probably go down as one of the greatest Icelandic players of all time (Second only to Eidur Gudjohnsen perhaps). He is captain of his country and has netted 18 goals in 55 caps for them since 2010.
Fans of English football will know that he is capable of special things of course – having seen him play for Reading, Shrewsbury Town, Crewe, Tottenham, Swansea City and Everton over the years.
I’m sure that four or five years ago the people of Iceland could only dream of reaching a major tournament. Now, however they are going to be able to have enjoyed two in the space of two years (no matter how their campaign goes) and I have no doubts that they will be in Russia in their droves to support their side.
Iran – Sardar Azmoun
Many will expect Iran to be in Russia simply to be making up the numbers and that will probably turn out to be the case. However, they do have a striker who is capable of a goal or two on his day.
Sardar Azmoun plays for Russian side Rubin Kazan and although his track record of scoring at club level is pretty poor, it is a completely different story when it comes to playing for Iran.
22 goals in 30 caps for his country is pretty impressive (although they were mostly scored against poor opposition) and Azmoun has been linked with clubs as big as Liverpool and Arsenal in the past due to his talent.
In the 2015-16 season whilst playing for FC Rostov, he scored 12 goals in 35 appearances and looked as though he could become a very good player.
However, he’s had a tough time since then and now the 23-year-old will be looking to prove that he’s still got it when the World Cup arrives on his doorstep in Russia this summer. Iran will be likely to crash out in the group stage, but Azmoun will be their main man there’s no doubt about that.
Japan – Shinji Kagawa
Japan are another side who are likely to struggle in Russia 2018. However, midfielder Kagawa is probably the brightest talent to have come out of the country in the past decade.
The former Manchester United man is now back at Borussia Dortmund and has proved over the years that he is a very useful player to have within a squad. His quick passing, vision and shooting has made him a favourite in the Bundesliga and I can’t for the life of me understand why he was not given more of a chance at Old Trafford.
For Japan, the 28-year-old has scored 29 times in 89 caps and has become the poster boy of the national team since making his debut as a youngster way back in 2008. He may never have fulfilled his world-beater potential that the media in Japan placed on his head back then – but he has certainly stood out from the crowd.
Japan aren’t likely to trouble many teams, but the talented Kagawa will be aiming to guide them to surprising results.
Mexico – Javier Hernandez
The Mexican’s have a great track record of qualifying for the World Cup – having reached every finals of the tournament since 1990 (when they were controversially banned from the event – GOOGLE it).
In years gone by, they’ve brought through some fine players from the legendary Hugo Sanchez in the 80’s and 90’s to the skillful Cuauthemoc Blanco in the early 2000’s. In the late 2000’s though it’s Javier Hernandez who has been the star man in the team.
“Chicharito” hasn’t had the best of seasons with West Ham this year, but you certainly can’t deny that he has bags of talent. Having played for Manchester United between 2010 and 2015 (where he was known as a super sub), the 29-year-old is now back in England’s top flight and will be looking to rediscover his form in the World Cup in summer.
Quick with the ball at his feet, Hernandez is a clinical finisher and despite only being 5ft 9′, he’s also fantastic at headers. Mexico will definitely be looking to him for the goals this summer and he’ll be looking to add to 49 goals he has already scored for his country.
Morocco – Hakim Ziyech
Morocco’s qualification to the World Cup this year will see the African nation take part in the tournament for the first time since France 1998.
Ajax midfielder Hakim Zyiech is their most talented player and one that some of Europe’s biggest clubs have been keeping tabs on for the past two or three seasons. He is known for his technical abilities and is also a dead ball specialist who is useful at free kicks.
The 24-year-old first made a name for himself at another Eredvisie side – FC Twente – back in 2014. He went onto score 30 goals in 68 league appearances for the club in the two seasons that followed before moving to Ajax on a five year deal in 2016, where he has continued to impress.
Having originally chosen to play for the Dutch national side due to his heritage, Ziyech switched allegiances to Morocco in 2015 and has never looked back since, scoring seven goals in just 13 caps for The Atlas Lions.
The Moroccans have been placed in a tricky Group B alongside European giants Portugal and Spain and minnows Iran. They will have to spring a few surprises to progress to the knockout round but keep an eye on Zyiech as he is a joy to watch at times.
Nigeria – Kelechi Iheanacho
The Super Eagles have some exciting young players coming through the ranks at the moment with the likes of Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) and Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester) making names for themselves in England. However, it’s another Leicester star who will take the main stage in years to come in my opinion.
Kelechi Iheanacho is a rapid forward who first came through the ranks of Manchester City in 2015. You could argue that had it not been for the prominence of Sergio Aguero in the starting eleven, the 21-year-old may have made it at the Etihad.
Whenever he came on off the bench for City or was given a chance, he took it. He left the club for Leicester last summer having scored 12 goals in 46 appearances in the Premier League. Since moving to the King Power Stadium he has continued to show glimpses of just what he can do.
However, it is on the international scene that he has made the biggest waves. Iheanacho has had Nigerians excited about the future of their national team as they have already seen him net eight goals in his first 13 matches for the Super Eagles.
His pace, movement and clinical finishing could see him become a household name at a big club in years to come and I think this summer will be a huge chance for him to prove what he is truly capable of.
Panama – Armando Cooper
On the whole, Panama have a fairly youthful squad, with many of them being under 25. However – it will be a 30 year old midfielder who could really relish the chance to finally play at a major tournament this summer.
The North American side will head into their first ever World Cup finals in Russia and midfielder Armando Cooper, who has made 96 appearances for his country since 2006, will be one of their most experienced and talented players there.
It looks as though he will most certainly be their most important player. Cooper has had plenty of experience in playing in different leagues over the years – having played for clubs in Panama, Argentina, Germany, America and now Chile with Universidad de Chile.
He is a real workhorse in the midfield and he, alongside many others in this Panama side who are 30+ and have waited so long for their shot at the big time, will no doubt give it 110% when they arrive in Russia.
It will be incredibly tough for The Canal Men to progress from Group G which consists of Belgium, England and Tunisia, but I’m sure that they will just be glad to be finally able to participate in the World Cup if nothing else.
Peru – Andre Carrillo
Like so many others heading to Russia 2018, this will be Peru’s first appearance at the World Cup in a number of years, having qualified for the finals for the first time since 1982.
The South American side qualified for the tournament after beating New Zealand in the play-off round. Winger Carrillo is perhaps their most exciting prospect at this moment in time.
The 26-year-old is currently on loan at Watford from Portuguese side Benfica and although he hasn’t exactly shone through in England just yet, he is still a player who can perform well on his day.
Carrillo possesses bags of pace and is known more for creating opportunities for his team mates rather than scoring them. He very much resembles fellow team mate Jefferson Farfan, 33, in his younger years.
Peru have been placed in Group C along with France, Denmark and Australia for the 2018 World Cup. Their fans won’t be expecting too much of them this summer but it will be nice for them to at least see their national side in the tournament for the first time since the 80’s.
Poland – Robert Lewandowski
This Polish side is perhaps at its strongest it has been for a very long time and there’s no doubt about who will lead the line for them as they look to cause a few upsets against Colombia, Japan and Senegal in Group H.
Bayern Munich forward Lewandowski has been his national side’s star for the past few years now and was the top scorer in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with 16 goals (1 more than Cristiano Ronaldo).
The 29-year-old has been one of the most clinical goalscorers in the world for a good seven seasons now and his track record at both club and international level is exceptional. Since October 2017, he is the Poland national team’s record goalscorer, having netted 51 times in 91 caps.
Whether it’s right foot, left foot or header, Lewandowski will always look like scoring and that is an obvious plus to any side.
This Polish side may not be the most glamorous of teams in terms of playing “beautiful football” but they get the job done and work hard for one another. I fully expect that they will have a great chance of topping their group in Russia.
Portugal – Andre Silva
Putting the obvious candidate of Cristiano Ronaldo aside here, who will probably be playing in his last major tournament for his country, Russia 2018 will give us a glimpse of the next generation of Portuguese stars.
Forward Andre Silva is regarded as being the next big thing for The Selecao and it’s quite easy to see why. The 22-year-old, who plays his club football for AC Milan, only made his debut for Portugal back in 2016, but has already hit 11 goals in 18 caps for the side.
He’s a confident striker who knows how to finish chances and is seen as the air to Ronaldo’s throne by fans of the national team as he has the potential to be simply incredible.
Portugal will be fancied to progress from their group but ties against Denmark and Spain could prove to be tricky. Silva will be their main focal point up front with Ronaldo and any out of Nani, Goncalo Guedes, Gelson Martins, Bruma or Ricardo Quaresma out wide on the wings alongside him.
Russia – Aleksandr Golovin
This year’s hosts will be looking to go as far as they possibly can on home soil but it won’t be easy for them as they have been placed in a tough Group A alongside a strong Uruguay side, an inspired Egypt team and a tricky Saudi Arabian squad.
The Russians endured a dreadful campaign in Euro 2016, claiming just the one point (off England) and crashing out in the group stages after defeats to Wales and Slovakia. One of the bright sparks for them at the tournament however was midfielder Aleksandr Golovin.
The 21-year-old grabbed himself a goal at his first major tournament in France 2016 and I think he will thrive one again when the eyes of the world are upon him and his country this summer.
Arsenal have been heavily linked with making a move for the CSKA Moscow star in recent months and so if he does have a good tournament on home soil I fully expect other clubs to join in and try and tempt him away from his homeland too.
Saudi Arabia – Mohammad Al-Shalhoub
Having missed out on the last two World Cup’s, the Saudi Arabian’s are back this time around, but “The Green Falcons”, as they’re dubbed by home fans, face a monumental task if they are to progress from Group A.
This will be a particularly important tournament to 37-year-old midfielder Al-Shalhoub as it will be his final appearance at a major competition. The central midfielder, who has played for Al-Hilal since 1998 and racked up 304 league appearances is a true legend in his home country.
He made his international debut in 2000 and since then has gone on to earn a total 117 caps for Saudi Arabia, scoring on 19 occasions. At 5ft 5′ he may lack height, but what he lacks in that capacity, he certainly more than makes up for in passion and leadership.
Al-Shalhoub’s experience within the side will be vital to Saudi Arabia withstanding any chance of pulling off any major shocks and progressing past Uruguay, Russia and Egypt when June comes around.
Senegal – Sadio Mane
Yet another Liverpool player on the list. You simply can’t deny the impact that Mane has made on football in general in recent seasons, announcing himself as one of the best African players on the planet.
Senegal will return to the World Cup for the first time since South Korea/Japan in 2002, when they enjoyed a fine campaign and reached the quarter finals in what is considered to be the national team’s greatest ever year.
Mane will no doubt be their main man this time around. His pace causes havoc for defenders and he’s nearly always guaranteed to score you goals too. Since making his debut for his country in 2012, the 25-year-old has hit 14 goals in 48 caps.
His reputation in the Premier League has been ever-growing since he joined Southampton in 2014 and then Liverpool last year. He actually holds the record for the fastest PL hat-trick ever too – netting three goals in just 2mins 56secs for Southampton in a 6-1 win over Aston Villa in May 2015.
Senegal have been placed in a group that really could go either way alongside Japan, Colombia and Poland. Could they spring a surprise once again?
Serbia – Aleksandr Mitrovic
The Serbian’s will head into their first ever World Cup final as an independent nation this summer, having previously only featured as Serbia & Montenegro back in Germany 2006.
The weight of expectation will fall onto Newcastle United forward Mitrovic’s (currently on loan at Fulham) shoulders in Russia this summer.
The 23-year-old is talented, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s his fiery temper that has let him in down in the past and has seen him receive two red cards in two Premier League seasons with Newcastle (which is not the average for a striker).
He made his debut for Serbia when he was 18-years-old and has since gone onto play 33 times, scoring on 11 occasions. He is known for grabbing goals for his side and on his day, can be a very useful forward who uses his strength and aerial presence well.
Serbia will find it tough to progress from their group in my opinion as Brazil and Switzerland will be favourites to top the group. However, they could very well beat the latter on their day and should overcome Costa Rica too.
South Korea – Son Heung-min
There haven’t been many South Korean players over the years who can be classed under the “World Class” category, but it seems as though Tottenham Hotspur’s Son is one that is very close to earning that title.
The 25-year-old winger is truly electric when he bursts forward with his immense speed on the break and can finish well too. After spending five years in the Bundesliga in Germany, he made the move to England with Spurs in 2015 and he has been brilliant ever since.
26 goals in 88 appearances for the North London club has seen him become the highest scoring Asian in PL history and now he will be hoping to make a mark on the international scene for his country.
It will be interesting to see how he gets on as the main star in the team – having no doubt become somewhat used to playing second fiddle to the likes of Kane, Alli and Eriksen at club level.
With the exception of the 2002 World Cup on home soil (where they miraculously reached the semi-finals of the tournament), the South Koreans have never really lit up the international football scene. I can’t see that changing this time around either as their group is a tough one – consisting of Germany, Sweden and Mexico.
Spain – Alvaro Morata
Spain will be quietly fancied as one of the favourites for the World Cup once again this year, as you simply can’t rule them out.
With Diego Costa having gone quiet in recent months and the likes of Rodrigo and Iago Aspas not being consistent goalscorers, they’ll be most likely to turn to Chelsea striker Morata to lead the line in Russia this summer.
The 25-year-old may have struggled to find continuous form in the Premier League this season but the truth is, he’s a great striker who is good with his feet and with his head too.
For Spain – he’s already proved his worth. 13 goals in 23 caps since 2013 and a fine campaign in Euro 2016 will go a long way towards boosting his chances of featuring in the starting eleven.
With creative players such as Koke (Atletico Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City) and Marco Asensio (Real Madrid) all set to be positioned around him, there’s no doubting that the chances will fall Morata’s way this summer. It’s simply a question of whether or not he can rediscover his form in time to fire Spain to glory.
Sweden – Emil Forsberg
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from the international scene, Sweden will now be looking for a new hero in Russia 2018. Step forward Emil Forsberg.
The Red Bull Leipzig winger has been on fire in the Bundesliga in the past two seasons and has really built himself a reputation amongst German football fans.
The 26-year-old could prove to be just as vital for country as he is for club this summer as Sweden look to surprise and overcome fellow Group sides Germany, Mexico and South Korea.
His pace and delivery from out wide could be crucial to whoever starts up front (Ola Toivonen or Marcus Berg likely) and I have no doubts that he will stand out amongst the rest of the team.
He has 33 caps for Sweden since 2014 and has scored on six occasions. The World Cup in Russia will be his chance to show football fans across the globe just what he can do and I think he’ll be a dark horse. Certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri
This Switzerland side has some decent players in its set-up heading into the 2018 World Cup, with the likes of Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan) and Breel Embolo (Schalke) all likely to feature.
However, it will be Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri who will be the main man this time around in my opinion. The 26-year-old winger has been a pivotal part of the national team for many a year now, scoring 20 goals in 68 caps, and he is adored by the Swiss supporters.
His short and stocky frame will be a familiar site to football fans worldwide by now and he’s a player who can use both feet well and can hit a sensational shot when given the chance.
I have no doubts that he will be a danger out wide for his side and Switzerland should fancy their chances of qualifying for the knockout phase from a group containing Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia. I expect to see Shaqiri standing out from the crowd for them with some great performances just as he did at Euro 2016.
Tunisia – Wahbi Khazri
The Tunisians are heading to the World Cup for the first time since Germany 2006 and ex-Sunderland star Khazri will be the one to watch for them.
The skillful winger was never really given the chance to shine when he played for the sinking ship at the Stadium of the light during their terrible Premier League season in 2016/17. However, the 27-year-old is a player who has many tricks up his sleeves and has the ability to get past his man too.
There aren’t many recognisable faces in the Tunisia squad so the pressure of performing is certainly likely to fall on his head. 11 goals in 31 caps is a decent international record from him though and so it’s easy to see why he has (arguably) been his country’s most successful export in the past decade – having had spells with Bastia, Bordeaux and now Rennes in France.
The Northern African side are highly unlikely to progress from their group as they will come up against England and Belgium – however, they’re tie against similar opposition, Panama, could be an interesting spectacle for the neutral fan to enjoy.
Uruguay – Jose Maria Gimenez
Finally (and again I’m excluding the obvious candidates of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani here) we have South American side Uruguay who have a multitude of talents in their national side.
Whilst they have a phenomenal attack on their hands, it’s fair to say that they also have a sound defender or two as well. Veteran Diego Godin will captain the side, but it’s his Atletico Madrid team mate and fellow centre back Jose Gimenez who could shine for them at the back this time around.
Over the past two seasons, the 23-year-old has established himself in the starting eleven’s at both club and international level. In La Liga, he is widely regarded as one of the best up and coming defenders in the division and so it’s little wonder to hear that some of the other big clubs in Europe are after his signature.
Calm and collected at the back, he has everything it takes to become a truly world class defender and with an experienced player like Godin alongside him for club and country, he will most certainly be receiving some expert advice too.
With Suarez and Cavani likely to score quite a few goals between them this summer, it will be Gimenez and Godin who do the dirty work at the opposite end of the pitch for the Uruguayans in Russia. Keep your eye on him because he is quite the player.
Who are you most looking forward to watching at the World Cup this summer? Who do you think can win the tournament? Let me know in the comments section below ….