World Cup 2018: Ten players to watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Five-time Ballon d’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo comes to Russia hot off winning a fifth Champions League. At 33, the Real Madrid striker will be looking to captain Portugal to another final after their Euro 2016 triumph.

Lionel Messi

Ronaldo’s arch nemesis, Argentina’s Lionel Messi has one goal: Finally winning a major title with his national side. In 2014, the FC Barcelona star came close when Argentina fell to Germany at the final in Rio de Janeiro.

Neymar

Just back from an injury that sidelined the Paris Saint-Germain star for three months, Neymar will be looking to put bad memories behind him in Russia. In 2014, the Brazilian could only watch, injured and powerless, as Germany humiliated the tournament hosts 7-1 in the semi-final.

Antoine Griezmann

At 27, Antoine Griezmann won his first European title this season, claiming the Europa League with Atletico Madrid. Named best player at Euro 2016, the striker is today a linchpin for France and will be looking to lead his Bleus to the final, at least.

Mohamed Salah

Uncertainty reigns for Egypt’s Mohamed Salah. His shoulder injury in the Champions League final deprived Liverpool of his exceptional skill in a losing effort, but the striker is World Cup-bound and should be able to play in Russia. Still, after a full season with the Reds and an African Ballon d’or, will the brilliant Egyptian be at his best?

Sadio Mané

Senegal’s Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool teammate, is coveted by the biggest clubs and expectations are high for the striker in Russia. The Lions of Teranga have qualified for a second World Cup tournament, 16 years after their 2002 appearance.

Harry Kane

England captain and Tottenham star Harry Kane will be carrying high hopes for the Three Lions on his 24-year-old shoulders in Russia. With his 30 goals in 37 Premier League matches this season, the Spurs striker will be seeking redemption for England after their 2014 group-stage exit.

Kevin De Bruyne

Despite high hopes in recent years, Belgium has yet to make good on its potential with quarterfinal disappointments at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. Manchester City star striker Kevin De Bruyne will be looking to change the Red Devils’ luck in Russia.

Marco Asensio

At 22, Spain’s Marco Asensio comes to Russia full of confidence, even pledging in a Marca interview that he would be “this World Cup’s revelation”. Now a double Champions League winner, the young Real Madrid man will be looking to make his mark for his national side.

Timo Werner

RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner drew the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs with his 21 goals in 45 matches this season. At 22, he already won the Confederations Cup with Germany in 2017 and will be making his World Cup debut with the defending champions in Russia.