It’s World Cup time again. Here are some faces to look out for during game time.
Timo Werner – Germany
Werner has already proven to be a formidable force for the German national side at age 22 by helping Die Mannschaft to a Confederations Cup victory back in 2017. Werner adds to Germany’s consistent excellence in forwards with 24 goals during the 2017/2018 season including 4 goals for his national team.
Luis Suárez – Uruguay
All biting jokes aside – and it’s really, really killing me not to make one – Suárez, while occasionally controversial, is undoubtedly one hell of a player. Barcelona’s playmaking striker has 16 trophies under his belt and over 400 career goals, 51 of which have been for Uruguay. And well, even if Uruguay are knocked out early on, we can always count on Jaws to be entertaining.
Mo Salah – Egypt
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah injured his shoulder in a devastating UEFA Champions League final in May (now, I say devastating, but really, Liverpool were dismal in that final. Sorry, not sorry), but has thankfully recovered in time to feature for his national side, though missing the first game. Salah was the Premier League’s top scorer for 2017/2018 with 32 goals, breaking the EPL record. The forward has an annoyingly catchy song created in his honour on YouTube. Be warned – it’s an ear worm.
Neymar Jr – Brazil
Brazil have always been a team of football gods from players like Pele, Kaká, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, I could go on … and on … and on … but you get the gist. And the 2018 Seleção captain is no exception. He finished the season with 19 goals and 13 assists for French Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, and 29 goals in total. Neymar is well on his way to Ronaldo/Messi-esc glory in scoring ability and stylish form of play. We wait and see if that translates to national glory as well. The Brazilian also had a notable cameo appearance in 2017’s xXx sequel.
Marcelo – Brazil
Marcelo was there in 2014 when Brazil was humiliatingly – and, objectively, hilariously – knocked out of the tournament in a semi-final 7-1 defeat to Germany. Brazil is back in 2018 for redemption. Marcel has been at Real Madrid since 2008 and is rated as the world’s best left fullback and has won 4 Champion’s League trophies with the club.
Manuel Neuer – Germany
Neuer is the team captain for both Bayern Munich and home side Germany. Apart from keeping clean sheets and saving goals he is the most vocal goalkeeper and assists his team with his leadership qualities. He’s often regarded as the best and most complete goalie in the world. Neuer was an integral part of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning side and was even shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or that same year, finishing third after Messi and Ronaldo in votes.
Alex Iwobi – Nigeria
This 22 year old still has a lot to prove but has the talent to pull it off. He was signed from Arsenal’s youth academy to their first team. The Nigerian is related to former Premier League player Jay-Jay Okocha. He has been praised by his uncle who believes that he can be one of Nigeria’s best players.
Lionel Messi – Argentina
Originally, I’d left Leo and CR7 off this list. We’ve heard all we can really hear about them – Ronaldo is the most brilliant, Messi is the most talented, Ronaldo is the best, Messi gets paid to eat Lays … But I relented, mostly due to my brother’s eye of disdain boring into me until I finally gave in. Quite possibly the greatest footballer ever, Messi has been the recipient of the coveted Ballon d’Or five times, has a whopping 643 career goals and 32 trophies. However, despite immense club-level success with Barcelona the Argentine still finds national title glory juuust out of reach – Argentina finished second at the 2014 world cup after Germany beat them 1-0 in extra time.
Kylian Mbappe – France
Mbappe is the second youngest player to don a jersey for Les Bleus. After a killer season at Monaco in 2016/2017 at the tender age of 18, Mbappe caught the attention of French giant PSG who are currently trying to close a €180 million deal to sign the teen star and is on loan as their starting right winger alongside Edinson Carvani and Neymar.
Sadio Mané – Senegal
Senegal’s number 10 has 44 Premier League goals and 14 for his home side. He was signed to Liverpool from Southampton in 2016 and since then has elevated Liverpool’s game on the left wing.
Son Heung-min – South Korea
Tottenham Hotspur forward and all-round smiley dude Heung-min is a favourite on the pitch, scoring 12 goals for Spurs this past season and has been named Premier League Player of the Month twice. He’s netted 5 goals for his national team.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
Ah, the man on the other side of the Ballon d’Or ping-pong table. In his early days at Manchester United his style of play was not unlike a feather, or an ungraceful ballerina, as then teenaged CR7 would flop to the ground at the slightest brush of a defender. That’s not the man we watch now. Ronaldo matches Messi in Ballon d’Or wins, scored 675 goals (like, ever), and has 26 trophies, including a national title for Portugal. To be honest, my favourite part of any international football tournament is when Portugal gets knocked out and Ronaldo cries. I wait for it every time and I’ve never been disappointed. But Ronaldo is the living embodiment of hard work paying off. He worked himself to the formidable, indispensable, star player he is today.
Some honourable mentions:
David de Gea – Spain
Robert Lewandowski – Poland
Hirving Lozano – Mexico
N’Golo Kanté – France
Marcus Rashford – England
By Tiffany Holland