We’re rapidly approaching the 2018 World Cup and we can’t wait to watch it live. And though we still have the NHL and NBA playoffs to keep us entertained until then (how about that LeBron shot in game 5?), the summer is going to be all about soccer. For fans around the world that means a rare chance to watch the biggest stars in the sport performing on the same stage.
We never truly know who the stars of a given World Cup will be until the event is underway or concluded. Unexpected players can score pivotal goals, young up-and-comers can explode onto the scene, etc. As far as we can tell in advance though, here’s a bit of a preview of the biggest names to keep an eye out for once the action kicks off in Russia. This list is not exhaustive, nor does it include a player from every team, but it gives you a nice scattershot to start with.
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Though he’s arguably slipped slightly of late, and has never thrived as much in international play as with Barcelona, Lionel Messi remains most people’s choice as the world’s best soccer player. He’ll have a chance to significantly boost his already glittering legacy in this tournament with Argentina considered to be just on the edge of the top tier of favorites.
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium) – Belgium has a few stars, but through an outstanding showing in 2014 and strong play at Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne has arguably usurped Eden Hazard as the best of them. He’s certainly one of the most consequential midfielders at this year’s Cup.
Neymar (Brazil) – Neymar is Brazil’s undisputed greatest player, though he’s missed a chunk of his domestic campaign due to injury. That’s a little bit worrisome, but none other than Brazilian legend Ronaldo says Neymar will be back and healthy for the World Cup, which automatically places him among the top people to watch.
Luka Modric (Croatia) – Modric has built himself quite a name, though he’s still arguably one of the more underappreciated players in the world. Captain for Croatia and the driving force of Real Madrid’s midfield, he can have as big an impact on a match as anyone on this list. He’ll give Croatia a real chance to get out of Group D.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark) – Like Modric, Eriksen is somewhat underappreciated. In fact he may be one of the best players in the world that casual soccer fans may not be aware of. A key scorer for Tottenham in the Premier League, he was one of the deadliest attackers throughout qualifying, and makes Denmark the likely second place finisher in Group C behind France.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt) – Salah is suddenly the biggest name in football, steamrolling toward a scoring title in the Premier League. There’s now talk he could win Ballon d’Or, which would only confirm that the Egyptian striker is truly one of the best players on Earth right now.
Harry Kane (England) – We’ve grown accustomed to Kane being among the people to watch in international competition. For what seems to be the fourth or fifth international tournament in a row, England is striving to regain its footing as a major power, and if they do it, it’ll be with major help from Kane.
Kylian Mbappé (France) – France is a fascinating team boasting a mix of veterans and up-and-comers, expected to contend for the title but also somewhat inexperienced. Of all their talented players though, 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé is probably the most interesting and possibly the best.
Toni Kroos (Germany) – Like France, Germany has a lot of interesting players to watch. This is a team among the very top favorites, and reached that point through an incredible assembly of disciplined, talented players. Kroos, though, is the engine of the German team these days.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland) – Best known for his work with Bayern Munich, Lewandowski was technically the highest scorer in Europe during World Cup qualifying. As long as he’s active, Poland has a fighting chance in any match.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – Ronaldo is the only player who can rightfully challenge Messi as the best in the world, and may just be better in international play. He’s almost a guarantee to provide some amazing highlights, and a favorite for the Golden Boot, which is awarded to the player who scores the most goals in the Cup.
Sadio Mane (Senegal) – Mane has taken something of a back seat to Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, but so has everyone else. He’s a world class player who’s currently in the Champions League semis, and he’ll be heard from on a Senegal team with real hopes of advancing to the knockout stages.
Andres Iniesta (Spain) – Iniesta is certainly getting up there in age, but as far as we know he’ll still be running the show in the Spanish midfield. He’s one of the most respected players in the world for his control, vision, and poise, and if Spain is to return to international glory – not at all a long shot – he’ll be in the driver’s seat.