Forget Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo for a second. The world knows what they bring to the table and will expect nothing less from these stars in the upcoming Russia World Cup. Which other players can be catalysts in leading their respective nations to deep runs?
Who to Watch in the Russia World Cup
Uruguay is the overall favourite to come out on top in Group A. The second spot is an open race between Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Salah has been on record-breaking form after securing a move to Liverpool this past summer and will be heavily relied upon to lift the Egyptians out of their group. The winger has already notched an astounding 35 goals in all competitions for his club this season and has Liverpool placed third in the English Premier League and in the quarterfinals in the UEFA Champions League. He also finished joint top scorer in African World Cup qualifying. Salah has it all – pace, passing skills, exciting dribbling and impeccable finishing. On a team with only six others plying their trade in Europe, Salah will have to carry the Egyptians.
Yes, Ronaldo is the captain and star for Portugal. This time around, however, he’ll have something he’s been missing – a lethal striker paired up front. Silva has recently regained form for AC Milan, but his national team record speaks for itself. He racked up 28 goals in 37 appearances spanning from his time with the U-19s to the U-21s, and already has 11 goals in 18 senior appearances. Although Silva has the capabilities to play as a poacher, he stands out due to other talents. The striker is phenomenal when it comes to layoff passing and creating attacks, which can translate to goals for himself or setting up his teammates. Ronaldo is otherworldly but will need help to succeed in the Russia World Cup.
France is the overwhelming favourite to top Group C. The Danes, however, have great odds to finish second over Australia and Peru. At only 26, Eriksen will have the task to carry a squad inexperienced in World Cup play. The midfielder is one of the most exciting players in the English Premier League and by no doubt the most talented member of the Danes. With 11 goals and nine assists in club play, Eriksen can both create and score. His long-range shots strike fear in opposing goalkeepers, but his ability to find open strikers is second to none. Strikers Kasper Dolberg and Youssef Poulsen will heavily rely on Eriksen to place them in position to score. Eriksen will look at the Russia World Cup to cement his place in football’s elite.
Neymar will certainly garner the most attention in Brazil’s attack. This will bode well for Jesus, as he should find himself in plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. Brazil manager Tite’s switch to an attack focused on wingers will keep fullbacks on their feet, allowing Jesus to focus solely on beating markers in the centre of defence. The striker has been nothing short of spectacular for Manchester City and also finished second in scoring in CONMEBOL qualifying. Brazil’s creative play on the wings will certainly translate into goals for Jesus and a deep run in the tournament.
James Rodriguez was the break-out star of the last World Cup for this exciting Colombian squad. His attacking abilities overshadowed Colombia’s defensive deficiencies. This time around, however, Los Cafeteros have a more balanced squad. Sánchez has been a brute force in Tottenham‘s defence this season and will look to translate this success into the World Cup. He has averaged 1.3 tackles and 4.3 clearances per game and is a brick wall in front of his goalkeeper. The centre-back is also one of the more accurate passers for this team, having an 88.3 completion percentage. They say the best offence is a great defence, so having someone like Sánchez protecting the goal will bode well for Colombia’s plethora of attacking options.
Reus has been a world-class footballer for years now but has struggled heavily with injuries. Due to this, he was forced to miss Germany’s victorious 2014 World Cup campaign. He has recently recovered from his last injury, however, and has already scored three goals in five appearances in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund. Reus’s best quality is his versatility. A natural attacker, he can play in the centre or on the wings. He has also seen plenty of time playing as a second-striker. In a team with several options up front like Germany, Reus versatility will be useful. His ability to separate himself from defenders with his dribbling is astounding, and his finishing in the box is a nightmare for goalkeepers. Germany won’t call up many natural strikers, so a healthy Reus can see plenty of time on the pitch at the Russia World Cup.
Son, without a doubt, is the most talented forward in this South Korea side. He currently has 18 goals and four assists for Tottenham this season. In addition to that, he finished with seven goals in AFC qualifying. His finishing ability and dribbling prowess will make him the focal point of South Korea’s attack, but Son also has an uncanny ability to find his open teammates. His pass completion percentage of 85.5 percent as a forward is outstanding, and his partners up front will heavily rely on him. South Korea is not loaded with attacking options, so their success comes out of Son’s success. He will be an integral piece in coming out of a group that includes Germany, Mexico, and Sweden.
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