A veritable galaxy of stars are poised to light up this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. And while the spotlight will inevitably fall on the players we are all champing at the bit to watch during the tournament, there are a few relatively unknown aces who will no doubt come to the fore, too.
But it is to the established star performers to whom we turn our attention as we run the rule over the most likely standout performers at the eagerly anticipated event.
Lionel Messi, of course, is immediately thrust to the top of any list of top-notch players at the World Cup but let us not forget that the diminutive spellbinder has not enjoyed the level of success on the international stage that he has for Barcelona
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli will no doubt be hoping that Messi, who is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, can help his nation to glory and end an agonising wait of 32 years since their last success. They came so, so close in 2014 but lost the final 1-0 to Germany. In the same breath, how can we not look to Portugal’s magician Cristiano Ronaldo to lift the fortunes of his side as well as the tournament itself.
Of course, Neymar is almost mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo when it comes to global superstars and it would be catastrophic to think of the Paris Saint Germain ace not being a major influence for Brazil IF he wins his race for fitness. The Samba stars are coached by Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, more commonly known as Tite, and it is he who must decide if Neymar gets the chance to shine following his injury lay-off.
One player who looks fit as a fiddle and who is gunning for glory is Colombia’s very own hitman, James Rodriguez. He made his name in the 2014 tournament, remember, and manager Jose Pekerman hopes he can continue from where he left off in his nations’ qualification which saw him net six goals.
Meanwhile, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has fingers and toes crossed that star man Eden Hazard can replicate his form for Chelsea when he pulls on the shirt of his home nation. There are good signs he will; the forward hit six goals in qualifying and his experience plus his talent means he is nailed on to captain Belgium when the fun begins.
Other potential world beaters eager to strut their stuff on the sport’s biggest stage include England’s inimitable Harry Kane, who plys his trade, with no shortage of success it has to be said, for Premier League outfit Tottenham. The netbuster knows where the goal is, of course, and scored an astonishing 56 times for club and country last year alone!
An injury in Liverpool’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid last week means the impact Egypt talisman Mo Salah can have for Hector Cuper’s side remains an unknown quantity. And when you recall that the in-form attacker scored more than 70 per cent of Egypt’s goals in their qualifying campaign you get an idea of his nations’s loss should he fall foul of the injury.
Other players of note to watch include France ace Antoine Griezmann, Germany’s Tony Kroos as well as Poland goal-getter Robert Lewandowski. One way or another, the tournament promises to be a cracker.