Thursday 18 January 2018

Ten players to watch during the World Cup

Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Suarez may get all the accolades and praise but when the World Cup arrives in Brazil, there will be other less-heralded players who could light up the greatest show on earth.

Jack Wilshere – England

Often subdued by injuries, Wilshere remains one of the more technically gifted midfielders in Europe. He could well partner Steven Gerrard in a central role and it is his exploits going forward that make him vital to England’s success in June.

Still only 22 years old, the Arsenal midfielder is admired for his technical ability and quick-fire passing. He is the spark that England need to ease the burden on Gerrard and to link the midfield and attack.

Goalscoring is not his forte, but he will be important to the England midfield.

Fred – Brazil

Fred may not be one of the more imaginatively named Brazilian strikers but he can lead the forward line to success on home soil. Known for his power and finishing ability, he will likely find himself in front of goal more often than not.

He is not as widely known as his strike-partners Neymar and Hulk but by the end of the tournament, he will be known as a potent finisher and perhaps, a World Cup winner. A decent shout to be top goalscorer, Fred can be the finisher that Brazil desire to fire them to glory.

Pablo Zabaleta- Argentina

If Argentina are to succeed at the upcoming World Cup, they will need to tighten their porous defence that has cost them at previous World Cups. Aguero, Higuain, Messi and Lavezzi will supply the goals but they will rely on Zabaleta to patrol the defence from right back.

The Man City defender was vital to their Premier league success with his marauding runs forward and it is this quality, combined with his stellar defending that can help Argentina’s cause in securing clean sheets and progressing through the tournament.

Carlos Bacca – Colombia

Bacca, in his first year in Spanish football scored 21 goals for Sevilla and helped them to the Europa league title over Benfica. He is rumoured to be wanted by Everton and is known for his eye catching ability in front of goal.

Should Falcao be unable to start the opening group games, Bacca will likely partner Teofilo Gutierrez up front for the South-American side. He can surely secure a move to a bigger club should he be the source of goals in Brazil.

Shinji Kagawa- Japan

The talented Japanese midfielder was a victim of David Moyes’ squad rotation this year and endured a frustrating year at Manchester United. However, Kagawa has a prolific record from midfield for Japan with 17 goals in 54 appearances.

Kagawa is at his best playing behind the striker and he will play the playmaker role for what could be an exciting Japanese side.

He will be able to create chances for Keisuke Honda and also boost his goals tally. Kagawa is sure to remind Moyes and prospective manager Louis van Gaal what United were missing in midfield this year.

Fernando Muslera- Uruguay

Muslera is a talented shot stopper who will be key to Uruguay’s success due to the at times suspect defence in front of him. in their squad and the Galatasaray goalkeeper can be relied upon to keep opponents to a minimum and let Suarez and Cavani provide the goals.

Muslera had a memorable 2010 World Cup where he set a record for the longest unbeaten goalkeeper at the tournament and also saved two penalties against Ghana. If he can provide these heroics again, Uruguay can once again succeed at a major tournament in front of the world.

Clement Grenier- France

France have been looking for quality midfielders since the Zidane era and while Paul Pogba can claim all the plaudits, Grenier can be the unsung hero for Les Bleus. The Lyon midfielder has a habit of striking wonderful free-kicks for his club and will be hoping to replicate this for the National team.

The 23 year-old was surprisingly included at the expense of Samir Nasri and may have to settle for a place on the bench but he can still have a lasting impact on this World Cup.

Axel Witsel – Belgium

Witsel is the cog that keeps this talented Belgium team ticking over and yet is not widely known due to his decision to go and play in Russia for Zenit St. Petersburg instead of moving to a bigger club.

Often partnered by Marouane Fellaini or Steven Defour in central midfield, Witsel has the ability to pass the ball effectively and break up opposing attacks with his aerial prowess.

He is able to play his role in an unassuming way and allow the more attacking players like Hazard, Lukaku and Mirallas to operate effectively in the final third.

Aron Johannsson -  USA

The AZ Alkmaar striker can profit from Jozy Altidore’s inability to find the net in recent times and make a name for himself at the big tournament.

The Icelandic convert has hit the net 26 times for the Dutch side in 51 appearances this season and if he can nail down a starting place for the Americans, he can become a household name after the World Cup.

Johannsson has been likened to Thomas Muller for his movement in the box and a replication of this can greatly help the US cause in Brazil.

Andre Schurrle – Germany

Schurrle earned rave reviews for his performances in important games for Chelsea this year and if he can squeeze his way into a crowded German team, he can profit from the attacking nature of the side.

His pace and ability to beat defenders gives Germany width and his crossing can provide chances for the mercurial Miroslav Klose. With Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle on either flank, the German team has a formidable look to it.

However, getting into the German team may be his biggest assignment yet.

Stephen Loftus

Online Editors

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