With the 2018 World Cup fast approaching, fans can begin to look forward to what promises to be an action-packed tournament. The best players in world football will be on show for the entire globe to see, and countries will be full of optimism heading into the tournament.
Whilst many countries have an array of world class talent on show, some countries will be relying on individuals to help carry their nations through the finals. Here is an 11-man lineup consisting of players who will be expecting to carry their respective countries through the World Cup this summer.
11. Goalkeeper – Igor Akinfeev
If Russia are to impress in front of their home crowd, they will certainly be relying on the services on their veteran goalkeeper. Igor Akinfeev is Russia’s captain as well as their most capped player of all time with 120 caps however despite being 31 years of age, he is heading to only his second World Cup with his country.
The previous World Cup in Brazil was a disappointing one for Russia who failed to qualify from the group stages. They’ll be hoping for a much better result as hosts and Akinfeev will certainly be looking to overcome the demons that still haunt him from four years ago.
10. Defender – Medhi Benatia
Morocco secured their return to the World Cup stage when they topped Africa Group C after a 20 year absence from the competition. After being dealt a tough draw against Spain, Portugal and Iran, they will need one player in particular to step up and lead the team through the tournament.
Medhi Benatia was a key figure in the Moroccan defence during qualifying, failing to concede a single goal or lose any of their games. If they are to repeat such heroics on the largest stage, the Juventus central defender will need to be on top of his game.
9. Defender – Yuto Nagatomo
Japan secured their place in the 2018 World Cup after defeating Australia in the third round stage of Asia’s Group B. After failing to win any of their three group games at the previous World Cup, they will be looking to make a better account for themselves in Russia this summer.
If they are to do that, they will be relying heavily on the services on former Inter defender Yuto Nagatomo, their captain. He currently sits in seventh place on the all time appearance standing for Japan with 102 caps, and will certainly be looking to use his wealth of experience to try and get Japan out of the group stages and into the latter stages of the competition.
8. Defender – Victor Lindelof
After Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from international football following the conclusion of Euro 2016, Sweden are now looking for a new leader. One name who has been highlighted as a natural leader in the current squad is central defender Victor Lindelof.
He has enjoyed a positive start to life at Old Trafford following his €35m from Benfica last summer, and despite being only 23 years of age has shown plenty of signs of maturity and leadership early in his career. Sweden will certainly be looking to the defender to lead by example this summer as they return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
7. Defender – Alberto Rodriguez
Peru reached the World Cup finals for the first time in 36 years after they defeated New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff round of qualifying. With zero World Cup experience in the current squad, they will have to rely on the flair of the younger players matched with the experience of veteran players.
One man who they will certainly be looking towards to lead by example is their 33-year-old captain Alberto Rodriguez. He has 72 caps to his name in an international career stretching back to 2003, and will need to be at his best at the back if Peru are to make any ground in the competition.
6. Midfielder – Luka Modric
He has been the face of Croatian football for a number of years, and after securing their place in this year’s finals via the European playoffs, Luka Modric will be looking to lead his side into the later rounds of the competition.
After finishing third in the 1998 finals, they have not reached the knockout stages in any World Cup since, and will certainly be looking to lose that label this summer with their captain Modric pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch.
5. Midfielder – Christian Eriksen
After missing out on the 2014 World Cup finals, Denmark secured their qualification to this summer’s finals via the European playoffs. Once a European championship winning nation, Denmark have failed to repeat the heroics of the 1992 side since then, however will be looking to cause an upset or two at this years finals.
If they are to do so, they will be heavily reliant on their star man in the middle of the park, Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham midfielder will provide plenty of flair and creativity for his side this summer, and will be looking to leave his mark on the competition.
4. Midfielder – Heung Min Son
He has been a revelation at his club Tottenham this season, and will certainly be looking to repeat his heroics for his country at the World Cup finals this summer. Heung Min Son led by example during qualifying to ensure South Korea are now the only nation outside of South America and Europe to be ever present at the World Cup finals since 1986.
Despite some promising performances at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, South Korea crashed out at the group stages, therefore he along with the rest of his side will be looking to avenge their demons this summer as they try to defeat the odds stacked against them.
3. Forward – Mohamed Salah
Perhaps one of the biggest revelations of the season, is the Egyptian King Mohamed Salah. His last gasp penalty against Congo secured Egypt’s passage to the 2018 World Cup finals and earned himself hero status in his home country, who qualified for their first World Cup since 1990.
His heroics have been repeated at Liverpool this season, currently the Premier League’s top goalscorer and labelled by many as the player of the year so far this Premier League season season. Egypt fans will be hoping his outstanding form can continue into the finals this summer, as the country bid to become the first African nation to ever win the World Cup.
2. Forward – Robert Lewandowski
Viewed by many as one of the most lethal strikers in world football, Robert Lewandowski will be looking to replicate his club form at the World Cup finals this summer. Carrying his country through the qualifying stages, Poland will now compete at their first World Cup since 2006, and will certainly be fancying their chances with Lewandowski leading their line.
He is currently the runaway leaders at the top of the Bundesliga goalscoring chart and is leading Bayern Munich toward their sixth consecutive league title. He will now be looking to lead his country into a World Cup where Poland will look to cause an upset or two.
1. Forward – Cristiano Ronaldo
One of the most recognisable faces in world football, Cristiano Ronaldo will lead his country into another World Cup finals this summer. After years of underachievement, Portugal finally won their first major title when they upset all odds and triumphed over host nation France in the final of Euro 2016, and they will be looking to repeat their heroics this summer in Russia.
If they are to win consecutive major tournaments, they will need Ronaldo to be at his very best. He carried them through to the final of Euro 2016, he just about saw them through the qualifying stages of the World Cup without needed to qualify through the playoffs, now can he carry them all the way to World Cup glory?
By: Callum Rawkins