Star Players To Look Out For In Russia (1)
It is few hours to the kick-off of the 2018 World Cup, as the frenzy heats up. Sahara Sports take a look at the star attractions in each of the 32 teams set to light up in Russia.
Hosts Russia are not particularly favourites despite being the hosts, but if they are to make a statement in the tournament, they would be relying on poster boy, Aleksandr Golovin. He had come through the ranks after winning the Euro U17 championships in 2013 and then got to the finals of the U19 in 2015. He made his senior debut in Belarus that same year scoring in just 16 minutes of coming on. He has been a regular for the senior side ever since and has also notched stellar performances for his club, CSKA Moskva.
The CSKA Moscow central midfielder has been exceptional for the hosts and his club, so much so that he was on the radar of Arsenal former coach, Arsene Wenger during the January transfer window and in the past days has also been linked to Juventus and French side, Monaco. The 22-year-old midfielder will look to impress his suitors as he looks to inspire Russia to glory in the mundial.
As Saudi Arabia returns to the world cup since 2006, much of the credit has to go to the 31-year old striker, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The Al-Nassr striker scored 16 goals to help his team qualify for Russia. He came through the ranks after representing Saudi Arabia at the U-20 level. His first major tournament was the Asian Cup in 2015 and after an explosive qualifying series, he is set to light up Russia with goals.
Saudi Arabia has never made it beyond the group stage in their previous participation at the world cup but Al-Sahlawi who earlier this year had a 3 weeks training with Manchester United is set to help his team shock the bookmakers in Russia.
Despite his injury concerns, Liverpool sensation, Mohammed Sallah still seems to be the shining light of this team. The Egyptian are going to the World cup for the first time since 1990 thanks to Sallah’s inspired performance during the qualifiers, scoring five of six goals.
Sallah lit up Europe in the just concluded season, scoring over 40 goals in all competitions for Liverpool including an impressive charge to the Champions League final where he got injured which almost marred his World cup hopes. Sallah has not begun full training with the team so far and thus might miss the first match against Uruguay. He should be ready to get back to action from the second group game against hosts Russia.
Luis Suarez has been involved in controversies in the last two World cups and having stayed off these issues that have blighted his career in a long time, the Barcelona forward is set to put behind him a not too impressive goalscoring season and help Uruguay challenge for the title after a disappointing second-round loss in Brazil.
The Celeste are the favourites in Group A, and together with Edinson Cavani, Suarez is set to lead the team attacking forays as they take on the rest of the world
After leading Real Madrid to a third consecutive UEFA Champions League, Portuguese star and European best player, Cristiano Ronaldo is set to help his team move up another notch after a surprising European championship two years ago.
The current FIFA World Footballer of Year who is also the record scorer for Portugal remains the shining light in an aging side and Ronaldo is looking to challenge for the only trophy missing from the cabinet in a trophy-laden career.
The Spaniards had a terrible time defending their World cup title in Brazil after crashing out in the first round. The team would be playing under new coach, Fernando Hierro, who was appointed less than 24 hours to the tournament after Julen Lopetegui was fired for signing a deal with Real Madrid.
The Spaniards are set to challenge for the title yet again and Manchester City midfielder, David Silva is the go-to man. After inspiring Manchester to a trailblazing season, the diminutive midfielder will also be championing the Spaniards cause in Russia.
Silva together with aging Andres Iniesta and the new kid on the block, Isco, will serve as the engine room for Spain as they set to fight for glory in the Mundial.
Belhanda who currently plies his trade in Turkey with champions, Galatasaray is the creator-in-chief and the team is built around his prowess. The 28-year old has been a journeyman in his career having played in France, Ukraine, and Germany. Morocco will rely on his experience and exceptional abilities to show the world what they are made of.
Iran were one of the earliest teams to book their place in Russia after a seemingly seamless qualifying series. As they take on the rest of the world, they will be relying on the goalscoring ability of 22-year-old Saddar Azmoun.
The Rubin Kazan forward has been prolific for the Asian side ever since he made his debut for the senior team in 2015. He is already being likened to legendary Ali Deai as he has posted 22 international goals. Being familiar with the Russian territory already, he is definitely one of the stars to look out for when the World cup kicks off on Thursday.
Les Blues are parading a star-studded team at the mundial but there is one player that is key to the team’s aspirations in Russia. He is Antoine Griezman. The Athletico Madrid striker is one of the best currently in the world and times and time again, he keeps churning out stellar performances for both club and country.
Griezmann who held the World spellbound when France hosted the European Championships in 2016, is set to light up the world stage as the Didier Deschamps tutored side look to put behind the final loss to Portugal in Europe and challenge for the title. The French are one of the favourites for the title and with players like Paul Pogba, Kyllian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele for company, Griezman seem in good company to ensure the team live up to pre-tournament expectations
Christian Eriksen is the star of this fast improving Denmark side that has been unbeaten in any competitive game since 2016. The Tottenham creative midfielder was only 18 when he played in his first World cup back in 2010 and after missing out in Brazil, he leads his team to Russia as one of the star players in this year’s tournament.
Eriksen has been instrumental to Tottenham’s wonderful performances in the past three seasons and his goals and all-round ability have brought Denmark thus far. He will be the one the Danes look up to if they are going to beat their best performance yet at the big stage which was a quarterfinal back in France 98.
The 38-year-old who now plies his trade in the lower tier in England with Millwall will be relying on the Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy, Celtic’s Tim Rogic and Hertha Berlin forward Matthew Leckie for support. He will be aiming to become only the fifth player in history to score at 4 different World cup tournaments.
Coachless Australia have been a regular feature at the World Cup and will be hoping to better their Second-round performance in 2006.
One of the greatest things to happen to Peru ahead of their return to the World cup was having their talismanic striker Paolo Guerrero back in the team after FIFA had lifted his ban for a drug-related offense.
The 33-year-old striker played a heroic part in returning Peru to the world cup since 1982 and the South Americans will turn to him in the hunt for glory in Russia. He has Jefferson Farfan and Edison Flores with him while he leads the charge.
Argentina are the favourites in Group D and this is a tournament where star player Lionel Messi will be hoping to end his national team woes after hard luck in recent years. The Barcelona legend was left blue faced after Mario Gotze scored the extra time winner to give Germany the victory in Brazil and he now has a big chance to right the wrongs of the last world cup. Many have said he needs to win the World Cup before he can be placed in the realm of legends that ever played the game.
Messi has always been a top performer, one for the big stage and he is one of the star attractions of this World Cup.
Croatia have not been able to replicate their third-place finish in their debut tournament in France 98. It has been a story of first round exit ever since and now in Russia, the team has the chance to do that. The tireless midfielder, Luka Modric is the most experienced player in the team and perhaps most successful. The diminutive midfielder is part of the spectacular Real Madrid side that has won four out of the last five UEFA Champions league.
The midfielder will provide the creative force in midfield for the Croats and assisted by Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona, as well as Madrid teammate, Matteo Kovacic, they will be hoping to show the rest of the world what they are capable of.
Iceland are making their debut at the World Cup, all thanks to the efforts of the team and also star player, Gyifi Sigurdsson. The Everton midfielder was part of the team that shook the world at the European Championships in 2016 and since then, the team has never looked back. With a collection of the energetic and ambitious squad, led by Sigurdsson, they have been able to make history and will also be hoping to put up a historic performance in Russia.
Sigurdsson endured a torrid season after his big money move from Swansea to Everton. He has not lived up to expectation but in the World cup, he perhaps will be able to show the rest of the world, he still has more in store for the football world.
Nigerian football has been in the doldrums after the last tournament in Brazil, asides missing out on two African nations cup tournament, the team also had key players retiring amidst several coaching disasters. But things seemed to look up for the team and after conquering a very tough group to make it to Russia, the team is expected to shoot for greatness.
Alex Iwobi scored the goal that made Nigeria qualified for the world cup and he seemed not to look back ever since. The Arsenal youngster has continued to churn out stellar performances in Eagles shirt and he is one of the shining lights of the new look Super Eagles under Coach Gernot Rohr. Iwobi also has a reputation as a cousin to Austin Okocha and he has engrained himself in the hearts of Nigerians as a worthy replacement. This is also an opportunity for Iwobi to show new Arsenal boss Unal Emery what he has in store, as well as the rest of the world.