Feature Stories

10 World Cup Players to Watch

The World Cup offers individual players an opportunity to shine on the biggest stage. Some of the sport’s most historic individual performances came in World Cup play, including Pelé’s debut in the 1958 World Cup at the age of 18, Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” game at the 1986 World Cup, and Lionel Messi’s Golden Ball performance at the 2014 World Cup.

Which players might offer similar heroics in Russia? Here are 10 players to watch at the 2018 World Cup.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal: Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or, given to the European Footballer of the Year, in three of the last four years and four times since 2008. In every year that he didn’t win during that stretch, he finished second behind Lionel Messi. Ronaldo captained Portugal’s run to the title at Euro 2016. The hero from Funchal will arrive in Russia at 33 years of age and everything points towards Russia 2018 being his last World Cup experience.
  2. Lionel Messi, Argentina: The only thing Messi has yet to conquer is the World Cup, though he was close in 2014, when Argentina finished second to Germany. Still, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. At barely 5-foot-7, he uses his slight stature to his advantage. He’s an incredible finisher, but he’s just as adept at setting up teammates. He’s versatile as an attacking player and can play a number of roles thanks to his pace and creativity.
  3. Luis Suárez, Uruguay: Suárez became infamous for biting an opponent during the 2014 World Cup when he bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. He was subsequently suspended for nine international matches and removed from the World Cup. Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer can create scoring chances from nothing. That’s why he was able to win the Premier League Golden Boot and was named FWA Footballer of the Year in 2014.
  4. Robert Lewandowski, Poland: Lewandowski became the first player to score 16 goals in a major European international qualifying campaign, helping Poland clinch its first World Cup berth since 2006. Playing with Bayern Munich, he was the 2016-17 Bundesliga Player of the Year. He has also been named to his league’s team of the year in three straight campaigns, and Champions League Team of the Year in two straight.
  5. Harry Kane, England: The 24-year-old Kane has scored 12 career goals for England in just 23 games. At his current rate, the Tottenham striker will surpass Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals in just 102 matches, which should occur when Kane is about 30 years old, barring injury. Kane’s future as the country’s first-choice forward is seemingly ensured. Kane will be expected to let his actions in front of goal do the talking.
  6. Neymar, Brazil: Arguably the most purely talented player in the world, Neymar is just 26 years old. The Brazilian forward is unmatched with the ball at his feet, an absolute wizard with individual skill and dribbling. He also might be the world’s best passer. At the 2014 World Cup, Neymar earned the Bronze Boot. He is on a path to become the world’s best player – as players like Ronaldo and Messi age into the latter stages of their careers.
  7. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium: Lukaku has become the go-to goal-scorer for Belgium with 16 goals in 13 appearances in all competitions. Manchester United acquired Lukaku’s services over the summer when the Premier League club signed the striker from Everton for an initial £75m on a five-year contract. Lukaku is also only the fourth player to score more than 80 goals in the Premier League before turning 24 (after Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney).
  8. N’Golo Kante, France: The defensive midfielder is an incredible passer, with next-level vision. He covers an unbelievable amount of ground, is a fantastic tackler with outstanding timing, and he controls the entire pitch while he’s on it. N’Golo Kante’s rise has been meteoric. After a sensational 2015-16 campaign at Leicester City, the defensive midfielder landed with Chelsea for 2016-17 and won his second consecutive Premier League title. He was named Premier League Player of the Year for his efforts.
  9. Manuel Neuer, Germany: Manuel Neuer is considered the best goalkeeper in the world. The 31-year-old Neuer is the benchmark for modern keepers as his run for club and country over the last seven years has been incredible. Bayern has won five straight Bundesliga titles with Neuer as its backstop, and Germany took home the 2014 World Cup with him in net. Neuer has won UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year four times (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015).
  10. Isco, Spain: Isco will arrive at the World Cup in Russia as one of the brightest stars in the world. Alongside Andres Iniesta, he will be the pivotal creative figure for Spain. The 25-year-old Isco is not so much a goal-scorer as a central midfielder who controls the pace of the game. He is in his prime and will arrive in Russia at the top of his game.