Barcelona ace Lionel Messi and his Real Madrid nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo
Thursday Dec 28, 2017. 13:30
With the 2018 World Cup set to be held from 14 June to 15 July AfricanFootball.com picked the top 10 players from outside of the African continent who will grace the Russian stage.
AFRICA’S TOP 10 PLAYERS AT THE 2018 FIFA WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA
Lionel Messi will head to his fourth World Cup with Argentina and is an obvious pick as one of the best players set to grace Russia 2018. The 30-year-old has won pretty much every honour up for grabs, with one exception: a major championship with his senior national team. He came close to crossing it off his list in 2014 when Argentina were runners-up to Germany, with Messi awarded the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player.
The reigning Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the most prolific goal scorers in world football despite a sub-par (by his incredible standards) 2017/18 season thus far. Having led Portugal to the European Championships in 2016, Ronaldo would give himself a strong claim to being the greatest player of all time if he could inspire his national team to their first World Cup title.
He may be the most expensive player in football history following his move to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year, but if Neymar is to be considered a true great then he must take Brazil back to the pinnacle of world football. His 2014 World Cup was cruelly ended by injury in the quarterfinals, but even his presence may not have prevented Brazil being mauled by Germany in the semis. This time around Neymar will head to the 2018 finals as a more mature player, ready to assume the burden of being the world’s best.
In a hugely talented generation of Belgian footballers, Eden Hazard stands out for his pace, incredible dribbling ability and remarkable attacking vision. If Hazard can hit top form and combine with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne (who many would argue deserves a spot on this list) and Romelu Lukaku, then Belgium will be incredibly difficult to beat at Russia 2018.
Despite being sidelined with injury for most of 2017, Manuel Neuer’s status as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world (David de Gea may have something to say about that…) and the captain of the reigning World Cup champions merits his inclusion in this list. ‘Der Mannschaft’ will be desperate to have him back in the number one jersey for Russia 2018 and there’s no doubt that his presence would boost their hopes of defending their trophy.
Currently one of the Premier League’s most deadly strikers, Harry Kane will be England’s spearhead at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Such has been the 24-year-old’s form for Tottenham Hotspur that he is being tipped to join Real Madrid as a new ‘Galactico’. Such a move may seem far off right now, but if Kane has a strong World Cup then you can bet Real will firm up their interest ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Already Poland’s all-time top scoring player, Robert Lewandowski was a leading figure in their strong qualification campaign for Russia 2018 and heads to the tournament with a reputation as one of the world’s best strikers. If the 29-year-old can lead Biało-czerwoni (The white and reds) to a strong campaign in Russia, it will further underline his status as one of Poland’s greatest all-time players.
Spain has produced many brilliant attackers and midfielders in recent years, but defender Sergio Ramos deserves to be recognised above them for his relentless brilliance for both ‘La Furia Roja’ and Real Madrid, where he has been at the heart of their back-to-back UEFA Champions League triumphs. The Spain captain is already a World Cup and double UEFA Euro champion, but that will not lessen his hunger to win another title with the national team.
Currently linked with a big-money move to Barcelona, French attacker Antoine Griezmann is one of the most dangerous forwards in world football. Blessed with pace, skill and a keen eye for goal, the 26-year-old has been a key player for ‘Les Bleus’ for several years, and enjoyed a great Euro 2016 to prove that he doesn’t wilt on the big stage. The 2018 World Cup presents Griezmann with the platform to once again showcase his skills in a France team which will be one of the dark horses for the title.
A hugely underrated player who is only recently being given the recognition for his great work in a Tottenham Hotspur jersey, Son Heung-min has long been regarded as a top performer by fans of the Korean national team. The 25-year-old is one of the senior members of the ‘Taeguk Warriors’ and a strong showing at the 2018 World Cup will only help accelerate his rise to prominence in European club football.