Your World Cup heroes to watch

Your World Cup heroes to watch

It’s set to be a blockbuster tournament in Russia – and these are the stars to know about in the group stage

Prepare to be dazzled by this collection of fantastic footballers when the action kicks off

2018 FIFA World Cup, from Thursday 14 June, BBC + ITV

Every World Cup means a festival of world-class footballing talent, and this summer’s tournament in Russia has more star power than a Hollywood film premiere.

 

It’s going to be an epic tussle for supremacy as the greatest names in the game – from Ballon d’Or winners and record goalscorers to national heroes and those with a point to prove – look to drive their countries to glory over 32 days of unmissable action.

But with so many modern footy idols taking to the field, who are the men that you really need to know about? The best of the best? Here, we cast our eye over one player from each group who is likely to make the headlines...

 

Group A: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Mohamed Salah playing for Egypt

Having scored a dramatic last-gasp penalty against Congo in qualifying that sent his national team through to their first World Cup since 1990, Salah went from superstar to deity in his home country. Now, assuming he recovers from the injury he sustained in the Champions League Final, the Liverpool forward will be aiming to fire the Pharaohs into the last 16. And with 33 goals in 57 international appearances (not to mention 44 in 52 club appearances this season), would you bet against him doing just that?

 

Group B: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo playing for Portugal

Will this be Ronaldo’s last chance to lift the World Cup trophy? Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer has won pretty much everything else there is to win in football, but at 33 he’s no spring chicken. Following his country’s success at Euro 2016, all eyes will be on the phenomenal Real Madrid forward in Russia – and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Group C: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Antoine Griezmann playing for France

Although Les Bleus will have plenty of attacking talent at their disposal in Russia, there will be particular pressure on star man Griezmann to deliver. And while his international scoring record seems modest on paper, he’s bagged a goal every other game for France since the start of 2016 (including six at Euro 2016), suggesting that he’s a key player for the big tournaments.

 

Group D: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Lionel Messi playing for Argentina

We don’t have CCTV hooked up to Messi’s bedroom, because that would be illegal, but we’re fairly certain that he’s kept awake at night by the painful memory of losing the final to Germany at Brazil 2014. The World Cup is the one big trophy that’s missing from his frankly ridiculous CV and, with his 31st birthday falling during the group stage, time is running out for this footballing superhuman to get his hands on the ultimate prize.

 

Group E: Neymar (Brazil)

Neymar playing for Brazil

Neymar was supposed to guide hosts Brazil to glory at the 2014 World Cup – until he got crocked and the seleção were thumped 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals. But football loves a story of redemption, and one of the world’s finest talents now has a chance to make amends in Russia for a resurgent Brazil. Expect him to sprinkle stardust over the tournament.

 

Group F: Toni Kroos (Germany)

Toni Kroos playing for Germany

Watching Kroos in action is enough to make most football fans go weak at the knees. Always one step ahead of the opposition, Germany’s chief controller is three players in one: defensive screen, central midfielder and attacking threat. His passing is sublime, he can put his foot in when he needs to, and don’t be surprised to see him fire one in from 30 yards with laser-like precision.

 

Group G: Raheem Sterling (England)

Raheem Sterling playing for England

Believe it or not, Manchester City’s lightning-quick winger has only scored two goals for England. To add some context, midfield bulldozer Eric Dier has scored three. This is a huge World Cup for 23-year-old Sterling and, following a stellar season with his club, the ideal opportunity to prove that he is capable of being a star on the international stage.

 

Group H: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

Robert Lewandowski playing for Poland

Some people think that traditional centre-forwards are a dying breed. Lewandowski is on a one-man mission to make those people eat their words. With his bazooka of a right foot, Poland’s record scorer makes finding the net look devastatingly simple. But don’t be fooled into thinking he’s one-dimensional – the Bayern Munich striker has a razor-sharp footballing brain and can find pockets of space in the penalty area that other forwards wouldn’t know existed.


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