Ahead of Thursday’s World Cup curtain-raiser between Russia and Saudi Arabia, we’ve picked out 100 players to watch in Russia.
Our list features the superstars, the young guns, the best players you have never heard of, the social media stars and the most divisive players.
So continue reading to see the full list, and let us know what you think on Twitter at @SkyFootball or in the comments.
THE SUPERSTARSLionel Messi (Argentina)
As always, Argentina’s hopes of lifting the World Cup rest squarely on Messi’s shoulders. He goes into the tournament in outstanding form after another brilliant domestic campaign in which he dragged Barcelona to a La Liga and Copa del Rey double, but can he reproduce his club performances on the international stage? The pressure is on.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
From winning the Euros with Portugal in 2016 to lifting a third consecutive Champions League trophy with Real Madrid last month, Ronaldo is enjoying the most successful period of his glittering career. He scored 44 goals in 44 games for Madrid last season and he is sure to be a central figure for his country at the World Cup.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Salah’s World Cup hopes looked bleak when he went off in tears in the Champions League final, but he has been named in Egypt’s squad and it seems he is recovering quicker than expected. After a dazzling debut season with Liverpool, the 25-year-old’s fitness and form is likely to be decisive for his country.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Chelsea may have struggled last season but Hazard goes into the World Cup in good shape after another impressive individual campaign. Belgium have no shortage of star quality, but few players can make the difference like an in-form Hazard, who scored 17 goals for Chelsea last season. Roberto Martinez will need him at his best.
Neymar’s World Cup participation was thrown into doubt when he was stretchered off with a foot injury during Paris Saint-Germain’s meeting with Marseille in February, but he marked his return to action with a superb goal in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Croatia on Sunday. It’s a timely boost for Brazil, whose World Cup hopes collapsed in 2014 when he was injured midway through the tournament.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Rodriguez was one of the stars of the last World Cup, claiming the Golden Boot with six goals for Colombia, and he heads into this summer’s tournament on the back of a fine campaign on loan at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid. Colombia, who face Poland, Senegal and Japan in Group H, will hope for a repeat of his efforts in Brazil.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
Modric remains a key figure for Real Madrid and he will be vital for perennial dark horses Croatia in Russia too. The little midfielder has amassed more than 100 caps for his country, who must navigate a tricky group which contains Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland. If he can pull the strings as effectively as he does at club level, Croatia could go far.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Eriksen has become one of the Premier League’s most impressive performers at Tottenham and he is similarly important to Denmark. Age Hareide’s side will look to him to unlock their opponents. Having shone in Denmark’s qualifying play-off with Ireland, he will be eager to continue in the same vein in Russia.
Harry Kane (England)
He may have been pipped to the Premier League Golden Boot by Salah, but Kane heads to Russia on the back of his best season yet for Tottenham. Having been handed the captain’s armband by Gareth Southgate, the pressure is on to hit the same heights with England.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
He was the top scorer and player of the tournament at the European Championship two years ago, so will Griezmann inspire France to World Cup glory in Russia? After another prolific season for Atletico Madrid, he certainly appears to be in good shape.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland)
Iceland will be aiming to spring another surprise after their impressive showing at Euro 2016, and their hopes of repeating that run to the knockout stages in Russia rest on Sigurdsson. The midfielder had a mixed debut season at Everton, struggling with the weight of his £45m price-tag, but he rarely disappoints for his country.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
With his radar-like passing and his inch-perfect set-piece delivery, Kroos is arguably the most important player in Joachim Loew’s Germany squad. He comes into the tournament after a typically impressive season with Real Madrid, and he’ll be eager to add another World Cup to his extraordinary trophy collection in Russia.
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
Chicharito may have struggled to make an impact at West Ham last season but he remains the main man for Mexico. The former Manchester United striker has made more than 100 appearances for his country and scored more goals (49) than anyone else in their history. Mexico will be hoping he can add to that tally in Russia.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Poland could be World Cup dark horses if Lewandowski can transfer his devastating club form to the international stage in Russia. The 29-year-old has just surpassed 40-goal mark for the third consecutive season with Bayern Munich. He’ll be hoping to continue that form against Senegal, Colombia and Japan in the group stage.
Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
It might be a stretch to describe him as a superstar, but goalkeeper Akinfeev is likely to be key to the hosts’ hopes. The 32-year-old is one of the most capped players in Russia’s history, and he will need to be at his best if they are to have any chance of going far in the competition.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
It was a heartbreaking end to the season for Mane, whose goal in the Champions League final was not enough to prevent Liverpool’s defeat to Real Madrid, so can he pick himself up in time for the World Cup? Senegal have been handed a favourable group, but they will need their star man on his game.
David Silva (Spain)
Spain boast extraordinary depth in all areas of their squad but few players are as important to the team as Silva. The 32-year-old has a knack of scoring crucial goals for his country and he heads to Russia having enjoyed arguably his best season yet with Manchester City, scoring nine goals and providing 11 assists in 29 Premier League appearances.
Heung-Min Son (South Korea)
Son enjoys God-like status in South Korea and after an outstanding season at Tottenham, he looks well-placed to make a big impact in Russia. South Korea have been drawn in the same group as Germany, but with Mexico and Sweden their other opponents, they know there is a place in the last 16 up for grabs. Son could hold the key.
Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Luis Suarez is Uruguay’s talisman but Cavani is just as important. The 31-year-old has been outstanding for Paris Saint-Germain since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure two years ago, scoring 89 goals in 97 games. Now the challenge is to produce the same performance levels in Russia.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Shaqiri suffered relegation with Stoke but earned plenty of individual plaudits along the way, contributing eight goals and seven assists in 36 Premier League appearances. If he can find form in Russia, Switzerland might fancy their chances of qualifying from Group E.
THE YOUNG GUNSAlvaro Odriozola (Spain)
It could be a big summer for the Real Sociedad right-back. He could be an unexpected starter for Spain at the World Cup after Dani Carvajal went off with an injury during the Champions League final. And he might also be joining Carvajal at Real Madrid, with reports suggesting the European champions are prepared to pay the 22-year-old’s £40m release clause. His summer has already started in impressive fashion as he scored a fine volley in a 1-1 friendly draw with Switzerland.
Amine Harit (Morocco)
Harit was named as the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season after an impressive debut campaign with Schalke, playing through the centre as an attacking midfielder. He made 31 Bundesliga appearances, scoring three goals and notching six assists, and only turns 21 three days before Morocco’s Group B opener against Iran. Harit won the European U19 Championship with France in 2016 but decided to play for Morocco, where his parents were born.
Saeid Ezatolahi (Iran)
The Russian-based midfielder has been labelled the ‘Persian Pogba’ and already has 25 caps to his name at the age of 21. He is the Iranian Pro League’s youngest-ever player, having made his debut aged 16 in 2012, and spent a year with Atletico Madrid in 2014/15. The 6’3″ midfielder will, though, miss Iran’s first World Cup game against Morocco due to suspension.
Benjamin Pavard (France)
One of only four Bundesliga players to play every minute of the 2017/18 season, Stuttgart’s Pavard has emerged as one of Europe’s most highly-rated young defenders. Both Arsenal and Tottenham have been linked with moves for Pavard, who is good in the air and with the ball at his feet. He is also versatile, having played at centre-back, right-back and even as a defensive midfielder. “[Lilian] Thuram played in central defence for his club and as a right-back for his country. Why shouldn’t I have a career like him?” he said earlier this year.
Timo Werner (Germany)
The RB Leipzig striker looks set to lead the line for Germany at the World Cup. Germany assistant Thomas Schneider has described Werner as having “crazy speed”, and he also has seven goals in his first 13 internationals. Playing among a creative cast at Leipzig, featuring Liverpool-bound Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg among others, Werner has excelled, with former Germany forward Gerald Asamoah saying of his qualities: “He’s a strong finisher, very fast, can get in behind defences and create spaces in deep-lying positions; Timo Werner is just very, very good.”
Daniel Arzani (Australia)
The Melbourne City, Iranian-born winger will be the youngest player at the World Cup. His rise to the World Cup has been remarkable, with just 16 starts in his professional career and his international debut coming in a recent friendly win over Czech Republic last week. He could provide the Socceroos with an X-factor from the bench, with no A-League player attempting or completing more dribbles than Arzani last season.
Kasper Dolberg (Denmark)
After a breakout season with Ajax in 2016/17 as they reached the Europa League final, Dolberg’s progress over the last year has been disrupted by injuries. However, the 20-year-old striker, who has been touted as a potential Tottenham target, could still play a role for Denmark, especially with Nicklas Bendtner not making the final squad due to injury.
Giovani Lo Celso (Argentina)
Could Lo Celso be the future for Argentina in midfield? The 22-year-old made 47 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions last season and was described as a “very important player” by manager Unai Emery in January. He has only won five caps but his range of passing and composure on the ball could give Argentina some much-needed balance in midfield.
Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
A reported Everton target, Lozano scored 17 goals and notched eight assists as PSV won the Eredivisie title last season. The 22-year-old winger is fast, direct and likes to run with the ball. He is likely to be a key attacking option for Mexico along with Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez.
Lee Seung-woo (South Korea)
Once-upon-a-time called the ‘Korean Messi’, Lee was signed by Barcelona at the age of 12. He impressed for Barca’s youth teams but his progress was hindered when the club was hit with a two-year ban over the “international transfer of minors”. The ban meant Lee could not play official matches for two years for Barcelona and he joined Hellas Verona in 2017. Barcelona still reportedly have the option to re-sign the winger until 2019.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Reportedly scouted recently by Jose Mourinho, 21-year-old Golovin is one of Russia’s brightest prospects. He started 26 of CSKA Moscow’s 30 league games last season and also impressed in the Europa League, where he scored against Lyon and Arsenal. CSKA team-mate Vasily Berezutsky has described Golovin as the “best young player in Russia at the moment” and he looks set to start in a midfield two or three for the hosts.
Fahad Mosaed Al-Muwallad (Saudi Arabia)
After impressing for Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, Al-Muwallad was one of nine Saudi players loaned to La Liga teams in January as part of a new initiative. He was given a big billing too, with Fernando Sanz – the director of La Liga in the Middle East and North Africa – saying: “I have not tracked the players, but I can say that one example of a very good player is the one who has joined Levante – he is the Cristiano [Ronaldo] or [Lionel] Messi of Saudi Arabia.” Al-Muwallad made just two substitute appearances for Levante, but, having scored the goal that secured Saudi Arabia’s place at the World Cup, he will be hoping to have much more of an impact in Russia.
Piotr Zielinski (Poland)
Better than Kevin De Bruyne? That is how the head of the Polish Football Federation has talked up Napoli midfielder Zielinski. “He will be the next De Bruyne? I think Zielinski already has more quality than De Bruyne,” Zbigniew Boniek said to Corriere dello Sport. “They are different kinds of players, of course, but they have the same ability to leave their mark on the team. I think that he will become a top player. He was 16, I went to see a Poland youth international match and thought: ‘This is an extraordinary player’.”
Keita Balde (Senegal)
Keita did not have the best debut season with Monaco, playing only 23 league games due to injuries, but the 23-year-old could be an important player for Senegal at the World Cup. He has largely been played on the left of midfield or wide in a 4-3-3 and has the pace and quality on the ball to cause defences problems.
Presnel Kimpembe (France)
The defender made his senior debut for PSG in 2014 but only became a regular under Unai Emery last season, when he started 27 Ligue 1 games. Former Chelsea, Arsenal and France defender William Gallas has described him as the “future of Les Bleus”. “In two years I see him as an indisputable starter in the French team,” he added. While this World Cup might come too soon for Kimpembe, he looks to have a bright future.
Julian Brandt (Germany)
The player who made the squad over Manchester City’s Leroy Sane. Why? “You have to look at the big picture so we have a variable and well-balanced team prepared for all eventualities,” said Germany boss Joachim Low. “It was a tight race between Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt. Both have big qualities, both are good in the one-on-one duels. Julian Brandt was at the Confederations Cup, had some strong games there, and put in good shifts in the training camp too. Leroy Sane is a huge talent, no doubt, and he will be back with the team in September.” Brandt scored 12 goals and made seven assists for Bayer Leverkusen last season.
Albert Gudmundsson (Iceland)
PSV’s Gudmundsson has football in his family. His mum and dad both played for Iceland’s national team and his great grandfather, also named Albert, played for Rangers, Arsenal and AC Milan. Gudmundsson only started once in the Eredivisie for champions PSV last season and is unlikely to be included in the Iceland starting XI. However, with three goals in four international games, the 20-year-old winger could play a role from the bench.
Goncalo Guedes (Portugal)
Guedes heads to the World Cup on the back of an impressive campaign on loan at Valencia from Paris Saint-Germain. There has also been talk that the attacking midfielder could head to the Premier League, with Wolves a reported destination. Guedes does look as though he could be on the move as PSG look to avoid FFP sanctions, and he will be looking to improve his stock with a strong showing in Russia.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)
A box-to-box midfielder at Lazio, Milinkovic-Savic has reportedly attracted interest from Manchester United and Juventus. He is strong, powerful and at 6’4″ he is an imposing and physical presence in the middle of the pitch. He has already tasted success at international level with Serbia as he was part of the sides that won the European Championship at U19 level in 2013 and the U20 World Cup in 2015. He looks set to be a key player for Serbia this summer.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (England)
A year ago it would have seemed unlikely that Alexander-Arnold would make the England squad, but after a remarkable season with Liverpool, which included starting in the Champions League final, he has been included. He made his international debut against Costa Rica last week and could be set for further action at the World Cup at right-back.
THE WILDCARDSHakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Ziyech provoked anger in the Netherlands when he pledged his international allegiance to Morocco despite representing the Oranje at youth level, but the decision seems to have paid off for him. He heads into the World Cup after winning the Player of the Year award in the Eredivisie, scoring nine goals and providing 15 assists in 34 appearances for Ajax.
Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
For many viewers, this World Cup will provide a first glimpse of a player long-dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’. Azmoun, 23, is already familiar with the host country having spent the last five years playing for Rubin Kazan and Rostov. He will be eager to live up to his billing on the international stage.
Cristian Pavon (Argentina)
Pavon is unlikely to feature prominently given the competition for places in Argentina’s star-studded attack, but the Boca Juniors striker is more than capable of making an impact if called upon. He earned his place in the squad after an impressive breakthrough last year, and has previously been linked with Arsenal.
Hwang Hee-chan (South Korea)
The 22-year-old is one of South Korea’s most promising young players. A fast and versatile forward, Hee-chan helped Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg to the Europa League semi-finals last season and has already been mooted as a potential Premier League target.
Leander Dendoncker (Belgium)
Dendoncker is one of the lesser-known names in the Belgium squad but he seems to be destined for big things. The Anderlecht midfielder was reportedly close to joining West Ham in the January transfer window, and he might not have to wait long to get a move to a bigger club.
Luis Tejada (Panama)
The 36-year-old is Panama’s joint-top scorer with 43 goals in 105 appearances, and he will be eager to add to that tally in Russia. Tejada has represented more than a dozen clubs during a nomadic career, but he has already confirmed his intention to retire from international football after this summer’s tournament.
Karol Linetty (Poland)
Linetty has become an important player for Poland in the last two years, during which time he has also established himself at Sampdoria. The 23-year-old midfielder has made 67 appearances for the Italian club since his arrival from Lech Poznan in 2016, and he is expected to start for his country in Russia.
Mahmoud Hassan, known as ‘Trezeguet’ due to his resemblance to the former France striker, will be eager to show that there is more to Egypt than Mohamed Salah. The 23-year-old striker impressed for Turkish side Kasimpasa on loan from Anderlecht last season, scoring 13 goals in 31 league appearances.
Marco Urena (Costa Rica)
Urena has had an eclectic club career, having spells in Russia, Denmark and the United States as well as his homeland. The striker currently plays for Los Angeles FC, the newest franchise in MLS, and could spearhead Costa Rica’s attack in Russia.
Tin Jedvaj (Croatia)
Jedvaj has long been seen as a future star of Croatian football, so could this be his breakout tournament? The 22-year-old broke into Dinamo Zagreb’s first-team at the age of 17, and now plays for German side Bayer Leverkusen following a brief stint at Roma. He is comfortable at either centre-back or right-back.
Nicolai Jorgensen (Denmark)
Jorgensen was a transfer target for Newcastle in January and with Nicklas Bendtner injured, he could feature prominently for Denmark in Russia. The Feyenoord striker was Eredivisie top scorer in 2016/17. He has scored eight goals in 28 games for the national side.
Alfred Finnbogason (Iceland)
Finnbogason is likely to feature prominently in Russia having scored in each of Iceland’s last two friendlies against Ghana and Norway. The 29-year-old was the Eredivisie top scorer with Heerenveen in 2013/14, scoring 29 goals, and he heads into the World Cup having scored 12 goals in 22 games for German side Augsburg.
Oghenekaro Etebo (Nigeria)
The versatile Etebo is one of Nigeria’s most highly-rated players. He spent the second half of last season on loan at La Liga side Las Palmas from Portuguese outfit Feirense, filling in everywhere from defensive midfield to striker, and he has just signed for Stoke in a deal worth €7.2million. In 2015, he won the Most Promising Talent of the Year award at the 2015 CAF Awards.
Roman Torres (Panama)
Torres is a hero in Panama having scored the goal which sealed their qualification to the first World Cup in their history. The dreadlocked 32-year-old, who plays for MLS side Seattle Sounders, has a tattoo of the moment on his leg and also has a habit of wearing t-shirts with his own face on.
Edison Flores (Peru)
A pacey left winger who stands at just 5ft 5ins, Flores will be eager to make his presence felt in Russia. The 24-year-old plays his club football for Danish side Aalborg having previously had a spell in Villarreal’s B team. He scored five goals during Peru’s qualifying campaign.
Fyodor Smolov (Russia)
Smolov is Russia’s main striker and probably their best hope of making it out of Group A. The 28-year-old has scored 12 goals in 32 appearances for his country and has an excellent record for his club Krasnodar. Since joining them from Dynamo Moscow in 2014, he has netted 52 goals in 73 league appearances. He was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window.
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Saudi Arabia)
Al-Sahlawi will be Saudi Arabia’s man to watch in Russia. The 31-year-old, who plays his club football for Al-Nassr, has an impressive scoring record both for club and country, but can he cut it at the highest level? The World Cup will test his credentials.
Luka Jovic (Serbia)
Like many of Serbia’s best players, Jovic came through the youth ranks at Red Star Belgrade. The striker, 20, then moved to Benfica in Portugal, and spent last season on loan at German side Eintracht Frankfurt, where he impressed, scoring eight goals in 21 appearances – only nine of which came as starts.
Dylan Bronn (Tunisia)
Bronn was born in France and had unspectacular spells at Cannes and Chamois Niortais before earning a move to Belgian outfit Genk last summer. The defender, who is known for his attacking raids, impressed enough to win his place in Tunisia’s World Cup squad. He is one of the youngest players in their squad.
Lucas Torreira (Uruguay)
He may stand at just 5ft 6ins tall but Lucas Torreira is a big presence in midfield. The 22-year-old has only missed two league games in two years since joining Serie A side Sampdoria, where his impressive performances have reportedly attracted interest from Arsenal.
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Benjamin Mendy (France)
Despite missing the majority of his debut campaign with Manchester City due to a knee injury, the French defender made his presence known on social media, quickly becoming a fan favourite for his online antics.
He’s already been weaving his charisma across the national team’s official accounts as he treated the world to ‘a day in the life of Benjamin Mendy’. Expect more of the same throughout the tournament.
Jesse Lingard (England)
The forward never shies away from an elaborate celebration, but it is his performances at Manchester United that have really captured the imagination.
Maybe we’ll be seeing the ‘Shoot Dance’ – as performed by Lingard and our very own Tubes below – when England lift the trophy in July? We can dream.
Following a tricky season for United, he will hope his performances do the talking for France.
Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
A picture of a bare-footed Jesus painting the streets of Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup went viral last year.
Gerard Pique (Spain)
After a league and cup double with Barcelona, the centre-back is targeting a second World Cup with Spain.
Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
The Arsenal striker scored the goal that sent Nigeria to the World Cup, and netted in their warm-up defeat to England at Wembley.
Expect plenty of poses from the England starlet as he brings you the latest from Russia.
Thomas Muller (Germany)
With 10 World Cup goals to his name, the Bayern Munich forward has the all-time record in his sight. The defending champions are fancied to go all the way once more, giving Muller every chance of scoring six to match compatriot Miroslav Klose.
Diego Costa (Spain)
One way or another, Diego Costa is sure to be a prominent figure for Spain in Russia. The striker, who has returned to Atletico Madrid after his whirlwind spell at Chelsea, is not a guaranteed starter for his country, but you wouldn’t bet against him muscling his way into the spotlight.
Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Ramos has been in the headlines recently after his clashes with Mohamed Salah and Loris Karius during the Champions League final, and it is not the first time he has been cast as the villain. The Real Madrid man, described as an “idiot” by Roberto Firmino last week, is the most sent-off player in La Liga history.
Paolo Guerrero (Peru)
Guerrero is Peru’s captain and all-time leading scorer, but his World Cup participation was thrown into doubt last year when he tested positive for cocaine, which he claimed he accidentally consumed when drinking contaminated tea. His ban was eventually overturned, but Peru’s opponents might question that decision if he causes them problems on the pitch in Russia.
Pepe has fallen off the radar slightly since leaving Real Madrid for Turkish side Besiktas last summer, but he remains a prominent figure for Portugal. Like his former club team-mate Sergio Ramos, the 35-year-old is something of a hot-head whose temper has riled fans on more than one occasion in the past.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Few players split opinion quite like Ozil. The Arsenal man’s performances can vary from the infuriating to the sublime, with some regarding him as a subtle genius and others insisting he is overrated. Which Ozil will we see at the World Cup? He’s sure to get plenty of attention regardless.
Marouane Fellaini (Belgium)
Fellaini is another player with more than his fair share of critics. The big-haired Belgian can be a real handful for opposition defenders, but his uncompromising style has not been popular among Manchester United supporters, and recent links to Arsenal prompted a similar response among Gunners fans.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia)
Serbia striker Mitrovic says his loan move to Fulham last season has helped him mature, but he remains an unpredictable and combustible character. The 23-year-old has already received five career red cards, including two in one season at Newcastle. His national team will hope to see his best side in Russia.
Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
The much-criticised Xhaka will be hoping to put a difficult season with Arsenal behind him when Switzerland begin their World Cup campaign. The midfielder has struggled to win over many Arsenal fans since his £36m arrival at the Emirates Stadium in 2016, so he will be hoping for a warmer reception from Swiss supporters in Russia.
Adem Ljajic (Serbia)
Serbia forward Ljajic has been involved in more than his fair share of controversies. He was once physically attacked by former Fiorentina manager Delio Rossi after sarcastically clapping a decision to substitute him. On another occasion, he was accused of being “addicted to chocolate and his computer” by former Serbia boss Sinisa Mihajlovic. He has his critics but he also has talent.
Sergio Busquets (Spain)
Busquets is widely admired for his footballing ability, but that admiration is tempered by a reputation for play-acting. The Barcelona and Spain midfielder is known for going down theatrically, most notably in the Champions League semi-final with Inter Milan in 2010, when he was caught peeping through his fingers as he feigned a facial injury to get Thiago Motta sent off.
Jamie Vardy (England)
Few players enjoy celebrating in front of opposition fans like the confrontational Vardy. The former non-league striker heads into the World Cup on the back of another impressive season with Leicester, and England will be hoping his goalscoring form continues on the international stage.
Ahmed Hegazi (Egypt)
West Brom’s Hegazi is close friends with countryman Mohamed Salah but that didn’t stop him from subjecting the Liverpool man to rough treatment when they faced each other in the Premier League recently. The defender is an aggressive character who is likely to be a key figure for his country in Russia.
Vladimir Stojkovic (Serbia)
Few players polarise opinion in their home country quite like Serbia goalkeeper Stojkovic. The 34-year-old came through Red Star Belgrade’s youth academy, but caused outcry when he controversially joined their bitter rivals Partizan Belgrade despite promising he wouldn’t. Think Sol Campbell to Arsenal – only worse.
Olivier Giroud (France)
Arsenal fans had a love-hate relationship with Giroud and it’s a similar story with France. The 31-year-old, who joined Chelsea in January, has been booed by French supporters in the past, but he has also scored important goals. He will hope to silence his critics by adding to his tally in Russia.
Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina)
Otamendi was derided as an error-prone liability during his first two seasons at Manchester City, but he transformed his fortunes by producing a brilliant campaign during last year’s title win. Argentina fans are sure to be behind him when they kick off their World Cup campaign.
Paulinho is remembered as a flop in England after his underwhelming spell at Tottenham, and his top-level career appeared to be over when he moved to China in 2015. Since earning a shock move to Barcelona last summer, however, the Brazilian has restored his reputation.
Adnan Januzaj (Belgium)
Januzaj made a thrilling breakthrough at Manchester United but ended up leaving with a whimper after failing to grasp his opportunities during loan spells at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland. He is considered an unfulfilled talent in England but he earned his place in the Belgium squad having fared better at Real Sociedad.
Wojciech Szczesny (Poland)
From smoking in the showers after a game to taunting Tottenham supporters on social media, Wojciech Szczesny is never one to shy away from controversy. He is undoubtedly a maverick, but he is also a talented goalkeeper who will wear the No 1 shirt for Poland in Russia.
Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
Radamel Falcao flopped in England, enduring disappointing spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, but he has rebuilt his reputation at Monaco and he is loved by all Colombians. The World Cup is an opportunity for him to prove his critics wrong on the biggest stage.
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