The World Cup presents the opportunity for the world’s top players to produce their quality onto the world stage.
Many teams have at least one player who can make a difference on the field. For some players, this could be their last chance to shine at the World Cup, while talented unknown youngsters have the prospect of introducing themselves as a global superstar.
Here is a list of 10 players that you should watch.
Last chance saloon?
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
The stage is set for Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world, to stake his claim as the best player ever. He captained his team to win the 2016 European Championship against France but was unfortunately taken of injured in the first half of the final.
The Real Madrid forward won his fifth Champions League trophy last month, with four coming in five years. This should indicate just how indispensable he is to not only his country but to Madrid. Portugal’s hopes rest largely on their talismans shoulders once again and he will be key to them getting far in the tournament.
At the age of 33, this may well be Ronaldo’s last World Cup. Scoring goals may not be enough to salvage glory in Russia.
Lionel Messi – Argentina
This is arguably the best, and last chance for Messi to win the World Cup. He is argubly the best player ever but international glory has thus far elluded him.
Argentina have lost four straight finals in major competitions, including the 1-0 defeat to Germany in the World Cup final in 2014.
There are many comparisons to Argentina legend Diego Maradona, and with the pressure of carrying a nation on his shoulders, at 30 years old, this could be his last opportunity to produce his very best football while still in his peak.
Andres Iniesta – Spain
The 2018 World Cup will be Andres Iniesta’s last. The former Barcelona man joined Japanese Club Vissel Kobe this summer after ending his illustrious career at the Catalan club.
Iniesta is known for keeping possession in the most difficult situations, as well gliding past defenders.
The 34-year-old is renowned to be one of the best midfielders of his generation. He has been integral in seeing Spain win back to back European Championships along with the 2010 World Cup, where he scored the winning goal.
Tim Cahill – Australia
Tim Cahill is one of the oldest players at the World Cup at the age of 38 and is the Australia’s top scorer with 50 goals. While Ronaldo, Messi and Inestia all have hopes of taking the World Cup home, Australia’s and Cahills ambitious will be to get out of the group stages.
The former Everton midfielder is still chasing a record that will see him included with some of the greatest players ever to play in the World Cup. The Aussie veteran needs only one goal to join Pele, Miroslav Klose and Uwe Seeler in a list of players who have scored in four successive World Cups. He has scored 5 goals in 8 matches in World Cup games.
The veteran will play a vital role in making sure The Aussies make it past the Round of 16 for the first time.
Rafael Marquez – Mexico
Rafael Marquez’s inclusion in the Mexico squad means the veteran will have the chance to become only the third player to play in five World Cups. He will hope his Mexico side can cause a few upsets in Russia.
The 39-year-old has played 16 World Cup matches and is the only player in history to captain a team at the tournament.
Which youngsters could steal the show?
Achraf Hakimi – Morocco
Achraf Hakimi is set to become the youngest ever Real Madrid player to feature in a World Cup. The 19-year-old is already a winner of the Champions League and the Club World Cup.
When Danilo was sold to Manchester City, Real boss Zinedine Zidane told Hakimi not to leave. He has played 17 matches in all competitions for Madrid last season, scoring two goals. The youngster will be hoping he can help Morocco cause a few shocks by getting out of a tough group featuring Spain and Portugal.
Youri Tielemans – Belguim
Youri Tielemans is already a crucial player Monaco and Belgium. The 21-year-old is seen as one of Europe’s brightest talents.
The midfielder became the youngest player at 16 years and 148 days to play in a Champions League match in October 2013 for Anderlecht.
Once he left for Monaco in 2017, he had won two Belgian Pro League medals and two Belgian Super Cups. In a stacked Belgian attack, with the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, De Bruyne and Batshuayi, Tielemans might go under the rader. But he will pose a real threat and teams should be wary, especially England who face Belgium in their final group game on the 28th in Kaliningrad.
Hirving Lozano – Mexico
PSV Eindhoven’s Hirving Lozano was given the nickname ‘El Chucky’ as a youth player when he would hide under the beds of his team-mates before scaring them.
The 22-year-old, who scored 19 goals and produced 11 assists in 34 matches for PSV, is set to be unleashed to petrify defenders with his ferocious pace and dazzling skills.
With Lozano likely to leave if he has a successful tournament, the striker has shown his capabilities to adapt and thrive when it really matters.
Rodrigo Bentancur – Uruguay
Rodrigo Bentancur started his career with Argentinian giants Boca Juniors, making his debut in April 2015.
Juventus noticed Bentancur’s highly polished performances and secured first refusal on Bentancur as part of the deal that saw Carlos Tevez return to his native country in the summer of 2015. The Italian giants utilised their option to bring Bentancur to Italy in April 2017.
The 20-year-old never quite established a starting place with the Italian champions. However, the midfielder did make 26 appearances in all competitions, starting nine of them.
Andre Silva – Portugal
AC Milan striker Andre Silva has scored 12 goals in 22 games for Portugal but has somewhat failed to live up to expectations at the San Siro.
The 22-year-old managed only 10 goals in 40 appearances, with just 2 coming in Serie A. He netted 16 times the previous season for Porto.
Silva would benefit from first-team football and he has plenty of time on his side to fulfill his potential that he showed when he first moved to Italy. He will hope to take some of the goal scoring burden of Ronaldo, who has already named the youngster as his heir.