Fun Facts and Features from the World of Sport

2018 World Cup - ones to watch in Russia

• Posted in Football • By JoeBaker

Where have the last 4 years gone? It only feels like yesterday that England were stumbling out at the first hurdle and Germany, the eventual champions, were inflicting one of the most astonishing wins in football history by thrashing the hosts Brazil 7-1.

The 2018 World Cup is almost here and with all club competitions finally done, attention has fully turned to Russia. Many of the best players in the sport, from Messi and Ronaldo to Neymar and Hazard, will be centre stage as they try and inspire their sides to victory. Yet who are the others who could take the tournament by storm? Here are our players to watch out for this summer…

Paulo Dybala – Argentina

Sometimes you look at a squad and you just have to laugh at how good it is. The strike-force at Argentina’s disposal is quite ridiculous, Messi et all. One player with the potential to take at least some of the pressure off Messi’s shoulders is the Juventus striker Paulo Dybala. One of the most talked about young players around, the 24-year-old is going to have an important part to play for La Albiceleste. A natural finisher, fast and with great movement, there’s no doubt that defenders fear Dybala. International tournaments can make or break young players – for Dybala it will surely be the former.

Joshua Kimmich – Germany

There are several young players in this Germany side who weren’t part of the winning squad in Brazil but could well be stars in Russia. The one we’ve gone for is the one who has already impressively filled the enormous boots of the great man who lifted the trophy in 2014 – Philip Lahm. Like his great predecessor, Joshua Kimmich is equally adept in the centre of midfield or at right back. His performances on the right-hand side have become increasingly impressive for both his club Bayern Munich and his country, whilst he was one of the standout players over the recent two-legged Champions League Semi-Final against Real Madrid. Kimmich would walk into most sides in Russia.

Kylian Mbappe – France

Is there a more famous young footballer in the world right now than Kylian Mbappe? One of the most wanted men in the game is incredibly still only 19 years old but will be crucial for France if they are going to live up to their undoubted potential. Since his breakthrough campaign with Monaco 2 season ago, Mbappe has been linked with every big club around and the hype is deserved – if he’s this good now it’s scary what he could become if he carries on developing and stays clear of injury. Lightening quick, two-footed, dangerous off both wings or down the centre, lethal in front of goal and full of confidence, you can see why Paris St Germain were willing to pay so much money for him. If Mbappe fires at his first World Cup, so will France.

Rodrigo Betancur – Uruguay

If you don’t follow much Italian football, you are unlikely to have heard of Rodrigo Betancur. At over 6-foot-tall, powerful and known for his physicality and box-to-box running, Betancur may only be 20 but is going to be a key player at the heart of his country’s midfield this summer. He developed into an important man for Juventus as they won yet another league title and was one of the stand-out players at the most recent U-20 World Cup. Yes, Uruguay will again be reliant on the goals of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani if they are to do well but the team would not be the same without their tenacious midfield teammate.

Davinson Sanchez – Colombia

People didn’t know much about classy central defender Sanchez when he was plucked from the Netherlands at the start of last season by Tottenham Hotspur. Yet irrespective of his youth and inexperience, he shone in his debut Premier League season and secured a regular spot in the side. This World Cup is his opportunity to show a global audience just how good he is. Blending traditional defensive qualities with the skills needed from modern centre halves, Sanzhez is a class act. Most iconic players to have come from South America have been strikers and attack minded players. Sanchez, the most expensive defender in history from the continent, could be one to challenge that tradition.

Gabriel Jesus – Brazil

It takes one hell of a striker to keep Sergio Aguero out of a team for periods and that is the biggest testament that can be given to one of the linchpins of the Brazil team, Gabriel Jesus. Despite an injury hit first season and a half at Manchester City, he’s already taken to English football like a duck to water. There are few more impressive finishers around. Get him a chance in the box and more often than not he’ll find the back of the net, whilst his movement across the attacking line is fantastic. With uncertainties over how fit Neymar is going to be, the weight on the shoulders of the 21-year-old will be huge. He certainly has the talent to handle it.

Marco Asensio – Spain

The rise of attacking midfield Marco Asensio has been astronomical. Signed as an 18-year-old by Real Madrid 4 years ago, he has grown into a key player for the record-breaking Champions League winners. Learning from the likes of Ronaldo and Bale, he has become a reliable and deadly attacking force for his club. Scoring in last year’s European Cup Final properly announced him to the game. For Spain, his form these last two years simply couldn’t be overlooked for the World Cup. He’s unlikely to start, such is the attacking talent at Julen Lopetegui’s disposal, but you’ll struggle to find a better impact substitution. He hasn’t yet scored for his country but it’s only a matter of time – this is a star in the making.

Raheem Stirling – England

Well – we couldn’t do this without an England player could we? It’s not like Sterling isn’t well-known (he played in the last World Cup) but he’s just come off his best ever season in which he has developed under Pep Guardiola from a frustrating winger to one of the most potent and flexible forwards in Europe. A total of 23 goals and 17 assists in all competitions shows that he is a great provider of goals, as well the one putting away the chances. If England are going to do anything in Russia, they need Sterling to replicate his club form. Any defence saying they aren’t worried about Sterling and Harry Kane lining up against them is lying.

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