The 2018 FIFA World Cup starts today and will continue until July 15 when the champion is crowned. Brazil comes into this tournament as the favorites to win out of the 32-team field followed by Germany, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Champion, and France.
Take a look at 10 2018 FIFA World Cup participants that we have spotlighted as “players to watch” by using images from 2018 Panini Prizm World Cup Soccer that’s available right now from Steel City Collectibles! We have included the player profile summaries from FIFA.com to provide additional information for each.
Timo Werner – Forward – Germany
From FIFA.com – As recently as 2016/17, Timo Werner was one of the breakthrough stars in the Bundesliga. Now he is Germany’s first-choice striker for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.
Werner’s talents were clear to see from an early age. After joining VfB Stuttgart when he was six, he went on to become the youngest ever UEFA Europa League debutant aged 17 in 2013. A few months later Werner became the youngest Stuttgart player ever to score in the Bundesliga and the youngest to ever net a brace in the history of the league. Following Stuttgart’s relegation he moved to RB Leipzig, where he developed into a more rounded striker.
In March 2017 he became the first ever Leipzig player to represent Germany and he later impressed at the FIFA Confederations Cup, where he won the Adidas Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer.
Gabriel Jesus – Forward – Brazil
From FIFA.com – With his superb finishing skills and versatility up front, Gabriel Fernando de Jesus has become one of Brazil’s biggest breakout stars of recent years.
He gave an indication of his future emergence at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 and furthered his career at Palmeiras and then Manchester City, the club he joined as a 19-year-old in 2017.
He has produced his finest football for his country, however. In the space of a few short days he went from being a perceived weak link in the Seleção line-up to one of the heroes of their gold medal success at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
The youngster made his senior international debut shortly afterwards, scoring twice away to Ecuador in a crucial Russia 2018 qualifier that began with Brazil sitting outside the qualification places.
Gabriel will head to his maiden FIFA World Cup™ as an undisputed first choice, after scoring seven goals and providing five assists in only ten qualifying matches.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Forward – Portugal
From FIFA.com – The Real Madrid forward is Portugal’s captain, most capped player and leading all-time goalscorer. Still supremely fit and as committed as ever, he is more of a penalty box operator these days, having lost none of his scoring touch or his gift for breaking records.
A formidable dribbler and a considerable aerial threat, Ronaldo is noted for his power, speed and instinct, qualities that have seen him named as the world’s best player on five occasions by FIFA. The most special of all the many honors he has won, however, is UEFA EURO 2016, his country’s first major trophy, which he had the honor of raising as skipper. The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will be his fourth world finals appearance.
Neymar – Forward – Brazil
From FIFA.com – Tite’s main objective when he took over as Brazil coach in June 2016 was to afford Neymar the star status he deserved as one of the world’s top three players, and to also give him a position of responsibility within the team. It was an objective the coach has fulfilled
The captain and undisputed leader of A Seleção, Neymar now has the support he needs to flourish, as the stats suggest. Prior to Tite’s arrival in the dugout, the No10 had failed to score in the qualifiers for Russia 2018 and had just one assist to his name. After it, he scored six goals and provided eight assists.
The gold medal he helped Brazil win under immense pressure at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 has played a key part in enabling him to reproduce his superlative club form on the international stage.
Still recovering from a March operation on a broken metatarsal ahead of what will be his second FIFA World Cup™, Neymar will be anxious to help Brazil atone for the bitter disappointment of their last world finals appearance four years ago.
Lionel Messi – Forward – Argentina
From FIFA.com – “This is Messi’s Argentina, not mine,” said Jorge Sampaoli, summing up just how important the Barcelona man is to the national side, a fact highlighted more clearly than ever during the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
In the ten matches in which Messi played, La Albiceleste collected 21 of their final tally of 28 points, the result of six wins and three draws. Their only defeat in those ten games came away to Brazil.
Though Messi has said he is more of a team player than ever, there can be no doubting how much Argentina rely on him. The seven goals he scored in qualifying – a tally that made him the team’s leading marksman – all resulted in victories, including the hat-trick in the all-important 3-1 win against Ecuador in Quito.
Messi momentarily retired from international football in 2016, halfway through the preliminaries, after losing a third final in three years with the national team. But as it turned out, he did not miss a single game, with a massive show of public support causing him to change his mind and attempt to heal the wounds of Brazil 2014 by having another crack at the world title at Russia 2018.
Eden Hazard – Forward – Belgium
From FIFA.com – Eden Hazard had France at his feet during his time with Lille and enjoyed similar acclaim in England after moving to Chelsea. In the meantime, he has also conquered the hearts of his fellow countrymen. Yet while the attacking midfielder’s talent was plain for all to see when he began his Belgium career, it was some time before he began producing his very best form for his country.
A natural born footballer, Hazard is a player who fills stadiums and inspires youngsters to take up the game. Comfortable on the ball, an elusive dribbler and blessed with dazzling skills, he is seemingly immune to pressure, playing the game with remarkable calm and coolness. After a slightly underwhelming FIFA World Cup™ debut at Brazil 2014, Hazard is determined to seize his second chance to shine on the big stage.
Harry Kane – Forward – England
From FIFA.com – Captain Harry Kane is England’s undoubted talisman, leader and key player. The prolific Tottenham Hotspur man is a forward who can score all types of goals: with both feet, his head, from distance or from inside the six yard box – he has consistently found the net for club and country since bursting into the Spurs first team in the 2014-15 campaign, winning the English Premier League Golden Boot in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
To say then that England are reliant on Kane is a vast understatement. He played a pivotal role on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, scoring winning goals against Slovenia and Lithuania and a late equalizer against Scotland – those three goals alone accounting for seven qualifying points. Kane will be looking to carry that influence into the finals themselves, and step up to the next level of superstardom by shining at a World Cup.
Robert Lewandowski – Forward – Poland
From FIFA.com – Robert Lewandowski is the indisputable superstar of the Poland team and will be one of the most hotly-anticipated players of the whole tournament. “Lewy” is among the best centre forwards in the world, with Poland’s play very much revolving around him.
With over 50 goals to his name, he is his country’s top scorer and has been Poland’s footballer of the year seven times. He will be wearing the captain’s armband and carrying the hopes of the nation when he comes to Russia. Lewandowski is a complete attacker – a clever dribbler, great in the air, capable of scoring with either foot and very difficult to shrug off the ball.
Poland’s number nine is currently his country’s biggest sporting idol, and expectations are high that he will drive them on to great heights at his first ever FIFA World Cup™.
Mohamed Salah – Forward – Egypt
From FIFA.com – The most globally-acclaimed player in the Egypt squad, Mohamed Salah has dazzled Europe over the last two seasons. Salah started out with Arab Contractors before making his way to Europe, and his goalscoring feats with Liverpool in 2017/18 have made him one of the most prolific players in all the continent’s top five leagues.
The forward has excelled for his country too, leading the way for Egypt during the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ with five goals. Two of those came in the crucial meeting with Congo which sealed qualification, and he will now be intent on helping the Pharaohs secure their first ever place in the knockout stage.
Christian Eriksen – Midfielder – Denmark
From FIFA.com – An attacking midfielder with a proven ability to create and score goals, Christian Eriksen is considered an essential part of Denmark’s plans for Russia 2018. In helping secure the Scandinavian nation’s fifth FIFA World Cup™ appearance, his 11 goals — including an impressive hat-trick in the second leg of their European zone play-off versus Republic of Ireland — set a Danish record for a single qualifying campaign and equals his country’s all-time top scorer list in qualifying.
Armed with a powerful shot and an eye for making the right pass, Eriksen has helped Tottenham Hotspur become one of the top sides in the English Premier League. He will be a player to watch out for in Russia after having a more limited role during his World Cup finals debut at South Africa 2010, where he was the tournament’s youngest player at 18 years and four months.
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