The summer is upon us and with the European club seasons ended, all eyes shift towards the World Cup in Russia. There will undoubtedly be a lot of focus on the star studded teams of Germany, Spain, Brazil, and France, and rightfully so. These countries not only have teams stacked with talent, but they have also proven themselves time and time again at major tournaments. These teams will garner most of the attention, as they will be looked at as favorites to contend for the trophy. However, they will not produce the only football worth watching in Russia. Many of the world’s best players will be at the World Cup. Some of them will be on these loaded national squads, while others will be looked at to carry their somewhat undermanned teams as far as they can.
World Cup Solo Stars to Watch
Mohamed Salah – Forward – Egypt
If anyone in this summer’s World Cup can carry their country to unexpected heights, it is Mo Salah. Liverpool’s talisman scored a combined 43 goals in 51 appearances in the Premier and Champions Leagues this season. He has the pace, skill, and finishing ability to impact every game he is in. Egypt will not be expected to make much noise in Russia, but with Salah on the pitch, anything is possible. He can turn a game on its head in an instant. Salah had five goals in five appearances in Egypt’s World Cup qualifying campaign. He will be coming off a shoulder injury he suffered in the first half of the Champions League final. His health could still be a concern. If he is fit, he can be the difference between a group stage exit or a knock out round surprise or two for Egypt.
Robert Lewandowski – Striker – Poland
The Bayern Munich goal machine is one of only a few players who can rival Salah in terms of importance to his national team. Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals in 10 World Cup qualifying matches for Poland. He is the prototypical striker. He can score with both feet, his head, and has a knack for poaching goals with his positioning. The 29-year-old was the Bundesliga top scorer for the third time in his career. He poured in 29 goals in 30 appearances this season. The striker carried the Poland national team through qualifying, but Lewandowski will look to make up for a lackluster return in his last major tournament. He had only scored one goal in five games during the 2016 Euro Championships. Poland will have to survive a tough group, with Senegal, Japan, and Colombia standing in the way of the knockout round.
Christian Eriksen – Midfielder – Denmark
The Danish wizard will be key to his country’s success this summer. He is not the goal scorer that the other players mentioned here are, but he is still vital. Christian Eriksen is a creative force in the middle of the park. His passing opens up defenses and creates chances for his teammates. He accounted for 14 goals and 11 assists in 46 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur this past season. While he is mostly known for his passing ability, he is also dangerous when shooting from the outside of the box. Eriksen had 11 goals and three assists in 12 qualifiers for Denmark. He is also a free kick specialist, so any foul around the box when Denmark is playing quickly becomes a must watch moment.
Son Heung-min – Forward – South Korea
The speedy forward is the definition of a streaky player. If he is on form, he could carry South Korea to an upset or two. If he is not, it could be an early exit. Son Heung-min always plays with a smile on his face. The Tottenham forward scored 18 goals for his club this season. His pace and dribbling skill allow him to attack defenders from the wing, usually on the left where he will cut inside to get his shots off. Son seems to go from average play to stretches of blistering form throughout the season. He has the ability to go on a goalscoring run that could propel his team into the knockout rounds. South Korea will have to navigate one of the most difficult groups, alongside Germany, Mexico, and Sweden.
James Rodriguez – Midfielder – Colombia
The 26-year-old Bayern Munich man will look to lead his country deep into the World Cup knockout round this summer. James Rodriguez burst onto the international scene in 2014 with his stellar performance at the World Cup in Brazil. His volleyed goal from outside the box in the round of 16 became one of the highlights of the tournament. His club career has not quite taken off as people expected. He did have a solid season after his move to Germany last summer. James accounted for seven goals and eleven assists in 23 Bundesliga appearances for the German champs. While Colombia less of a one-man team than these other players’ squads, Rodriguez is still the undeniable catalyst for their success.
Making a Name
The World Cup is the biggest stage in all of football. Players can go from unknown to top transfer target in just a matter of weeks. Each of the players above are well established for both club and country. All of them will need to be in their best form to carry their national teams as far as possible. There will also be some previously looked at players who blossom into stars over the next month. Young players such as Alex Iwobi or Kelechi Iheanacho for Nigeria could break out like James Rodriguez did in Brazil. It’s finally time for the World Cup to begin. You can expect both individual stars to emerge and powerhouse to show their worth.
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