Football fever is on in Russia, with 32 teams from around the world arriving to fight for the honor of being called the best team in the world. Which one will win, that no one knows (except for Paul the Octopus. RIP, Paul). What we can tell you with certainty, is that there are going to be a host of players who are going to be watched and who are expected to leave their mark on the tournament. While clubs will be expectantly prowling about – waiting for the next big thing they can snap up- at the same time, fans would be biting their nails, hoping – that their certain player manages to live upto his expectation. At the same time, for a country like India, an event like a World Cup is a time to be surprised by the level of talent on show. Without any further ado, here are 10 players to watch out for in the FIFA World Cup 2018!
Benjamin Pavard (France) (VfB Stuttgart)
For people who merely follow club football, the France squad will certainly leave them speechless. Ousmane Dembele, Mbappe, Griezmann, Pogba, Lloris, Varane…and that is just 6 of the 23 member squad. Another member, not yet as popular as the others but believed to soon be, is Benjamin Pavard. Playing as a right back, his excellent 2017-18 season for Stuttgart has won him plenty of praise & attention; what’s more, his position also does not have a lot of competition in the France squad, making him likely to be a first-team starter. Best to keep an eye out for him; he’s just 22, after all!
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco) (Ajax)
Another player from the long list of talents brought to the world’s attention by Netherlands club Ajax, his emergence to the top is no joke. Putting a turbulent childhood behind him, his talent was spotted as he played for the Netherlands at the Under-19, Under-20, and Under-21 levels. Surprisingly, even as he was said to be in contention for a place in the Netherlands national team (who played the 2010 World Cup Final), he chose to play for Morocco (where his parents hailed from). Though he was derided by Dutch stars & the public or his decision, he has stuck to it and has played a sizeable role in Morocco’s World Cup qualification attempt. This 25-year old plays as an attacking midfielder, and has publicly announced his intention to leave Ajax this summer.
William Carvalho (Portugal) (Sporting CP)
A defensive midfielder, he joined Sporting CP at the age of 13; making his debut for the team at 18, he made a name for himself all around Europe. A target of a failed bid by West Ham prior to the 2017-18 season, he has canceled his contract (after a season marred by suspensions & fan protests) and is set to leave, along with many others. Internationally too, he was in a bit of a fix; he was eligible to play for Angola (due to his parentage) but instead choose to play for Portugal.
Timo Werner (Germany) (RB Leipzig)
These are the records this 22-year forward holds: youngest to play for VfB Stuttgart, youngest goalscorer for the club, youngest player to score a brace & also, youngest to complete 100 appearances in the German league (Bundesliga). In his 14 appearances for Germany at the senior level, he has scored 8 goals already. Currently playing for RB Leipzig (a German top-flight team which is owned by Red Bull), he could be among the 10 players to watch out for in the FIFA World Cup 2018.
Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria) (Leicester City)
It was the 2016-17 season. Leicester City, defending champions, were clearly struggling after some of their players had departed in the aftermath of their famous title victory. One player, above all, was missed: N Golo Kante, their midfielder who was said to cover the entire pitch. So, in January 2017 they finally bought a replacement for his position, Wilfred Ndidi. There was no looking back then. With over 50 appearances for the club, he may not be a direct replacement for Kante but has been recognized for his ability to play at different positions in the midfield & defense. In Russia, he will be crucial for Nigeria to get out of their group.
Sergej-Milinkovic Savic (Serbia) (Lazio)
Compared to the other players on this list, he is much more well-known. There have been a lot of rumors about where the currently Lazio-employed midfielder is headed next, with suggestions from Manchester to Turin being floated as possible destinations. His skill on the ball, a good eye for passes, and aided by the physicality of his, he is going to be a menace for the opposition at Russia. How will he fare for Serbia? Let’s see.
Hwang Hee Chan (South Korea) (RB Salzburg)
South Korea already has a striker at Tottenham, but they have even more emerging talent. One of them is Hwang Hee-Chan. The Red Bull Salzburg (that’s an Austrian team which is also owned by the energy drink) striker has already attracted attention from bigger clubs, though his third season at the club (2017-18) was not the best for him. All will be forgiven though, if he can put on his scoring boots in Russia.
Davinson Sanchez (Colombia) (Tottenham)
Tottenham Hotspurs have been both praised, & criticised, as a team which gives youth players the chance to flourish, and also a team which manages to win nothing. Tottenham must have heard the rumors; in response (probably), they broke their club transfer record and brought Davinson Sanchez from Ajax for 38 million pounds. A center-back, the 22-year old will most probably be the first-choice centre-back for Colombia. So while Falcao, James Rodrigues and Cuadrado cause havoc in attack, Sanchez will be watching the back.
Keita Balde (Senegal) (AS Monaco)
As Monaco saw their 2016-17 Ligue 1 (the French football league) winning team lose its members, one-by-one, they looked for replacements. Among the lesser-known names brought to the French city, was Keita Balde. Sure, he had been a Barcelona youth player, and had been a success at Lazio (the Italian club), but could he make a difference here? Of course, he did. Playing sometimes as the left winger, sometimes as the striker, and despite only managing 8 goals & 5 assists, the 23-year old has been recognized as one to watch out for. Playing for Senegal (who have a certain player called Sadio Mane as one of their stars), he can make a big impact in Russia.
Arkadiusz Milik (Poland) (Napoli)
In the season gone by, just as Napoli’s title challenge was beginning to lose steam, some saw a sign of hope: their out of action striker, Arkadiusz Milik, had recovered from his injury. Could he save his team, and guide them to just their second Serie A (Italian football league) triumph, in their history? As it turned out, no; Milik though did well enough to show that he was back in form, even after a second knee injury in an year. On the big stage, fireworks are expected from him; paired with Lewandowski (the ultimate goal poacher from Bayern Munich), and backed by a good (if not spectacular) midfield & defense, he could very well find himself scoring goals for fun in Russia!