WC appearances: 15 (2006, 2010, 2014)
The undisputed king of present day football, Lionel Messi is yet to win a major title with the Argentina senior squad. Playing in his fourth WC, the Barcelona stalwart will be itching to end the long trophy drought, especially going into the WC after a spectacular season with the Spanish giants, in which he scored 45 goals from 54 matches with 18 assists. Ranked No. 5 in the world, Argentina’s hopes rest heavily on how their captain shapes up as the tournament gets underway.
WC appearances: 13 (2006, 2010, 2014); Wins: 5
Club: Real Madrid
Having just steered Real Madrid to an unprecedented third straight Champions League success, Ronaldo just needs one trophy to round off
his well-decorated trophy cabinet — the World Cup. Playing his fourth World Cup at 33, the Portugal superstar knows that Russia will probably be his last chance to win the most elusive cup in the world of football.
WC appearances: 11
Wins: 9; Club: Real Madrid
The midfield general for Real Madrid and Barcelona, Kroos brings a great balance to the side by setting up the momentum from the centre with persistent passing. A key member of Germany’s title winning side last time, Kroos had 94 per cent passing accuracy in the La Liga this season, not to forget his average of 77 passes per game.
WC appearances: 8 (2010, 2014)
Sanctioned for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the last World Cup, Suarez still remains one of the most dynamic forces in the business for his prolific goal scoring ability. He was brilliant during his WC debut in 2010, helping his side to a fourth place finish. This will be his third World Cup and Suarez will try to add to his trophy case that includes a Copa America win in 2011. With an in-form Edinson Cavani as his striking partner, Suarez can better Uruguay’s 2010 show at Russia. Also, watch out for the talismanic striker for his on-field antics.
WC appearances: 0
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
With a splendid season at Tottenham Hotspur under his belt, newly appointed England captain Harry Kane has found the goal eight times in his last seven appearances for the Three Lions, scoring at least once in six of those matches. If England are to better their poor World Cup record, much will depend on this prolific goalscorer.
WC appearances: 0
Wins: 0; Club: Liverpool
Coming off a sensational season with Liverpool, Mohamed Salah is a joy to watch. However, a lot will depend on how the forward shapes up after suffering a nasty shoulder injury during the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
WC appearances: 5 (2014)
Wins: 3; Club: Manchester United
So far at Manchester United, he may not have had the influence that he had during his days at Juventus, yet his pivotal role as the chief creative midfielder makes Paul Pogba a key figure in the strong French line-up. Pogba’s accurate passing also holds the key to the success of the attacking trio — Giroud, Mbappe and Dembele.
Kevin De Bruyne
WC appearances: 4 (2014) Wins: 3; Club: Manchester City
A master organiser and creator, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne is among the smartest playmakers in world football today and will lead the charge of a strong Belgian outfit. After carrying City to Premier League glory this season, De Bruyne narrowly missed out on the EPL Player of the Year award.
Age: 26, WC appearances: 5 (2014); Wins: 3;
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Having made a successful comeback in the friendly against Croatia after a long injury layoff, the PSG striker will surely likely to make up for Brazil’s humiliating ouster in the semifinal against Germany at home in 2014. A natural scorer, the
26-year-old has all the qualities to lead Brazil to glory.
David de Gea
Age: 26, WC appearances:
In squad (2014); Wins: 0;
Club: Manchester United
Arguably the best shot stopper in contemporary football, David de Gea has been a standout performer for Man United over the past two seasons. Finally coming out of the shadow of his illustrated senior Iker Casillas as the number one goalie, de Gea will have a point to prove as Spain seek redemption for the shock group stage exit in 2014.