The world’s best soccer players have descended in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That means some of the planet’s most recognizable names — like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo — will be joined by superstars from six continents hoping to lift the famous trophy.
From Costa Rica to South Korea, many teams feature at least one player of transcendent quality — which means every moment of the tournament is must-see TV. While it’s impossible to list all the great players at the World Cup this year, here’s a list of a few you should definitely make time to watch play.
Brazil is one of the favorites to lift the World Cup trophy — and Neymar is the key man who may lead the Seleção to the promised land.
There is already talk that the 26-year-old striker is better than Messi and Ronaldo, and leading Brazil to the 2018 World Cup title could confirm that his star is ascending as the others’ dim. He became the world’s most expensive player last year after Barcelona sold him to Paris-Saint Germain for around $262 million. Neymar wanted to leave, in part, to get out of Messi’s shadow in Barcelona.
The problem is Neymar was part of the Brazil squad that lost 7-1 — yes, 7-1 — to Germany in the semifinals at the last tournament (which took place in Brazil). Neymar and his team will try to exorcise the demons in Russia.
Cristiano Ronaldo (PORTUGAL)
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is Messi’s nemesis, for lack of a better word. Since 2008, Ronaldo was named the world’s best soccer player the other five times Messi didn’t win the award (and came in second the times Messi won).
Ronaldo also wants to stake his claim as the best player ever, and he has an advantage in that he captained Portugal to the European championship in 2016. But Portugal has a tough draw against Spain early on and a difficult road to the final, should the team progress out of the group stage.
That means Ronaldo’s dazzling tricks, lightning-quick feet, and penchant for scoring huge goals may not be enough to lead his team to ultimate glory. But he’ll be fun to watch in what might be the 33-year-old’s last World Cup.
Lionel Messi (ARGENTINA)
Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world, and has been named so five times since 2008. (He received the second-best player in the world honor the other five years.)
But one title has eluded him on his quest to become the best player ever: the World Cup trophy. He led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup finals against Germany but lost 1-0. That’s a trend for Argentina: La Albiceleste (“the white and sky blue”), as they are known to loyal fans, have lost four straight finals in major competitions, including that World Cup final defeat.
All eyes will be on La Pulga (“the flea”), as fans lovingly call him because he can be a pest to defenders in games. A creative genius with attacking flair, he will carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders. Now at 30 years old, Messi has his last, best chance to shine at the peak of his talents on the world’s greatest stage.
Mo Salah (EGYPT)
Egypt’s Mo Salah took the soccer world by storm in 2017 and seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the planet’s best players.
He’ll cap off a remarkable year by leading his country to its first World Cup in 28 years. Salah has fantastic speed, pinpoint passing ability, and unnatural coolness in front of goal. If Egypt is to have any success, Salah must carry the team on his shoulders.
But Salah actually injured his shoulder just a few weeks before the tournament, which means he may miss a game or not be at full fitness. That’s a big blow for a long-shot Egyptian side that relies so heavily on Salah’s brilliance. Still, Salah will be a sight to see whenever he steps on the field.
Thomas Müller (GERMANY)
The numbers speak for themselves: Germany’s Thomas Müller has scored 10 World Cup goals in his career. That ties him for eighth most in history. If he scores two more, he’ll tie Brazil’s Pele, and if he scores six more, he’ll tie for first.
Müller is an outstanding player and goal scorer, but he kicks it into hyperdrive during the World Cup. He scored five goals in both 2010 and 2014, making him only the third player in history to score that many goals in two World Cups.
He isn’t a flashy player but he’s cool in attack and serves as an engine for the team. He was a huge reason why Germany won its fourth World Cup title in 2014, and Germany has a good chance of repeating as champions. If the country lifts the famous trophy in July, undoubtedly the 28-year-old’s goal-scoring abilities will have something to do with it.
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