World Cup 2018: Top 20 game-breakers!
Vodacom Soccer brings you our list of the 20 players we expect to light up the 2018 World Cup and prove to be match-winners in Russia!
1. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The Barcelona wizard was quoted last week as saying this could be his final World Cup appearance. Messi may be 30 now, but has shown little signs of slowing down after another prolific season with Barcelona which brought a goal return of 34 in the league.
He has also netted two hat-tricks in his last four international appearances and will be determined to silence critics who say he does not produce his best form for his country - by scoring the goals to take Argentina one step further than 2014, when they lost to Germany in the final. To date he has plundered 64 goals in 124 matches for his country.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo comes into the World Cup having helped inspire Real Madrid to three successive Champions League titles, while he was also at the forefront of Portugal's winning of the 2016 European Cup. The 33-year-old may not still have the same blistering pace, but has mixed up his game to accommodate the inevitable aging process, losing none of his effectiveness in front of goal. While Ronaldo 'only' managed 26 league goals for Real Madrid last season, his 15 goals in the Champions League show that he can deliver on the biggest stage. At international level, he has 81 goals in 150 matches.
3. Neymar (Brazil)
The 26-year-old has not had the happiest of seasons at PSG, but still banged in 19 league goals in 20 matches with a further six in the Champions League. At international level he's found the net 55 times already in only 85 games. With Brazil amongst the favourites, Neymar now has the stage to show he's ready to potentially outshine the world's two best players, Messi and Ronaldo, and he'll be relishing the chance.
4. Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Salah is facing a race against time to get fit for the finals after the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final. The 44 goals he grabbed for Liverpool have drawn comparisons with Messi in particular, the two players in a similar mould and stature. And at just 25-years-old, there is no doubt a whole lot more to come from the former Chelsea discard, who could just help inspire a decent looking Egypt side into the latter stages of the World Cup. Salah already has 33 goals, in just 57 matches for the Pharaohs.
5. Antoine Griezmann (France)
France are amongst the favourites at the World Cup and have a squad packed full of quality. They need to turn that potential into goals though and Griezmann must shoulder responsibility for that as one of the most senior strikers in the squad. The 27-year-old grabbed 19 league goals for Atletico Madrid last season and a further eight in Europe, and set for a big move, possibly to Barcelona, he can further increase his value by excelling in Russia.
6. Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
After finishing fourth at the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay only made the last 16 in 2014. Suarez, 31, will be determined to improve on that. He managed 25 league goals in 32 matches last season for La Liga champions Barcelona, but just one in the Champions League. At international level he has an outstanding record of 51 goals in 98 matches.
7. Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
If Aguero can find his best form and gel with the likes of Messi, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria, who would bet against Argentina making the final in Russia? The 30-year-old (37 goals in 85 internationals) struck 30 goals in all competitions for Manchester City last term and will always be a threat with his pace and purpose up front.
8. Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
With 53 goals in 94 internationals, the 29-year-old's strike rate is up there with the very best. With 29 Bundesliga goals for Bayern Munich last term and a further five in the Champions League, and an incredible 16 goals in 10 qualifying games for Poland, the lanky striker comes into the finals bang on form.
9. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
The PSG marksman has been one of the leading strikers in world football over the past five years and has 63 goals in 68 league appearances for his club over the past two seasons. Add 15 in the Champions League over the last two years, and 42 strikes in 101 matches for Uruguay, and it's clear how much threat the 31-year-old Cavani poses in front of goal.
10. David de Gea (Spain)
The Manchester United man is the only non-attacking player who makes the list, such has been his ability to help his club win or draw matches they would have lost were it not for his sensational shot-stopping ability. The 27-year-old keeper is considered by many as the best in the world and he now has the chance to underline his class by helping a strong Spain side challenge for honours in Russia.
11. Sadio Mane (Senegal)
He did it for Southampton and he did it at Liverpool, scoring goals and creating assist with his pace and skill on the biggest of stages. Now the 26-year-old's form will be crucial to Senegal. He got 10 goals last season in the league and 10 in the Champions League, proving he can produce against the best in the world, as he did with a goal in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. In 52 internationals, Mane has netted 14 goals.
12. Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
De Bruyne does not always grab the headlines, but he was superb last season for Manchester City and big part of the reason they stormed to the league title with such ease. A playmaker of note with two equally strong feet, he scored eight league goals for City last season, but played an important role in many more of the goals his club scored. At international level he has 13 goals in 58 games.
13. Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
Hernandez has not always hit the heights expected of him at club level, and there are those who feel his all-round game needs improving. But there is no question that 'Chicarito' knows where the net is for his country; the goal poacher of note has smashed in 49 goals in 102 matches for Mexico.
14. Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Hazard seemed back to his best in the second half of last season with Chelsea and when on-form, much surely rank as one of the best five or 10 players in the world. With 22 goals in 83 internationals, the midfielder knows where the net is, and he scored six in the qualifiers.
And with his ability to make things happen, Belgium could be in for a big tournament if he can combine with the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne.
15. Harry Kane (England)
Kane has played only 24 internationals (with 13 goals) and is still only 24, but has been handed the England captaincy. At club level his credentials are certainly impressive; 105 goals in the Premiership over the last four seasons for Tottenham attest to that. He also notched seven in the Champions League last term and has shown he had the temperament to make it at the highest level.
16. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
Croatia has a very useful looking squad and in the 32-year-old Juventus forward, they have a proven striker with 30 goals in 83 international games. His power and aerial presence could give Croatia the edge in tight games and they could well end up being surprise packages. He managed only five goals though in Serie A last season, but did tally four in the Champions League.
17. Thomas Muller (Germany)
The 2014 World Cup winner seems to have been around for ever, but is still only 28 and in his prime. He did however only manage eight league goals for Bayern last season and will be looking to step it up for the World Cup. Muller though has a knack of scoring big goals, and has netted 38 in 91 matches for his country.
18. James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Rodriguez, 26, spent last season on loan at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid and scored seven times in 23 league appearances in Germany. He'll be looking to give a reminder of why he was so highly rated after emerging as one of the stars at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where he was joint top scorer with six goals.
19. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
A midfield technician of some quality, Eriksen has been key to Spurs' resurgence over the past few years. Eriksen's vision and ability to put the ball exactly where he wants it, not to mention his threat on set-pieces, should make the 26-year-old one to watch in Russia. He has 22 goals in 78 matches for Denmark, including a hat-trick in a play-off qualifier against Ireland, and 16 goals in his last 18 matches for his country.
20. Kylian Mbappe (France)
One of the world's most expensive players, the 19-year-old is still fairly unproven, although he made a promising start at PSG last season with 13 goals in 27 league matches and four in the Champions League. At international level he has four goals in 15 games. If France get going in Russia, and if the likes of Griezmann can ease the pressure on Mbappe, the lightning quick teenager could prove a match winner at the finals.