THEY'RE the most recognisable faces in the football world.

Players whose bank balances rival the GDP of some small nations.

But they're also the ten superstars who could make this World Cup their own.

 

Juventus' Paulo Dybala has been dubbed the heir to countryman Lionel Messi’s throne. Pic: AFP
Juventus' Paulo Dybala has been dubbed the heir to countryman Lionel Messi’s throne. Pic: AFP

PAULO DYBALA (ARGENTINA)

It seems ludicrous that the man dubbed "Messi's heir" could come close to missing the World Cup - but Argentina forward Dybala picked the wrong time to suffer a form slump. The 24-year-old has struggled to find his best for club side Juventus in the latter stages of the season, forcing some to reconsider whether he should even be going to Russia at all.

Dybala is a true world-class talent, a creator with excellent technique and the awareness to find space in the closest quarters, nicknamed La Joya - "the jewel". Yet he could face the same struggles on the biggest stage as Messi - that the best player in the world can't cement his legend with a World Cup. Russia will reveal much for Argentina.

 

 

Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) pulled the strings in Manchester City's remarkable season. Pic: AFP
Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) pulled the strings in Manchester City's remarkable season. Pic: AFP

 

KEVIN DE BRUYNE (BELGIUM)

Anyone who has watched Manchester City's march to the Premier League title will already be in a thrall to De Bruyne's class. Startling technique married with otherworldly awareness and vision, his passes could open a tin of beans.

And if he can find the time and space to pull off this stuff in the chaos of the EPL, what will he be able to do in the slow-mo of international football. This is Belgium's golden generation and De Bruyne is central to their hopes.

 

 

Paul Pogba has all the tricks — but can he deliver for Les Bleus? Pic: AFP
Paul Pogba has all the tricks — but can he deliver for Les Bleus? Pic: AFP

 

PAUL POGBA (FRANCE)

Another player whose club form may not warrant inclusion on this list - but France's status as one of the tournament favourites rests on Pogba being at his best.

An inconsistent season with Manchester United has raised many questions - but it may simply be that Pogba's immense talent isn't used in the right way at Old Trafford. For his nation, Pogba is the thumping heart, a dynamo who can shoot and pass with both feet and open the opposition up.

This could be Pogba's World Cup - it just depends which Pogba turns up.

 

 

Can Harry Kane drag England to success in Russia? Pic: AP
Can Harry Kane drag England to success in Russia? Pic: AP

 

HARRY KANE (ENGLAND)

England are conspicuously short of superstars at this World Cup but if Gareth Southgate's underwhelming side of Premier League millionaires are to make their mark in Russia, it will surely come down to the impact of one man - Tottenham striker Harry Kane.

At 24 and having beaten the 30-goal mark three out of the last four seasons (he got 28 in 2015-16), Kane really is one of the best strikers in the world right now. Although he was overtaken by Mohamed Salah this season, Kane still bagged 30 goals in 37 games for his club.

But with great technique and a real desire to make the most of what he's got, it's no surprise Kane was named England captain ahead of the tournament. It will be interesting to see this genuine talent take on the world with the weight of England on his back.

 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo has already steered Portugal to success at Euro 2016. Pic: AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo has already steered Portugal to success at Euro 2016. Pic: AFP

 

CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL)

The Portuguese maestro isn't done yet. At 33, Ronaldo has lost that yard of pace that made him such a devastating attacking force - but he has lost none of the skill, power or the capacity for the impossible.

Ronaldo's scoring form for Real Madrid has been as good, if not better, this season than ever before.

He doesn't run as much as he used to but he doesn't have to. That's the benefit of experience.

Portugal are outsiders to claim the trophy but this will be the last we see of peak Ronaldo on the world stage and there's no doubt his ego will be demanding an exit on the grandest scale.

 

 

Isco of Real Madrid
Isco of Real Madrid

 

ISCO (SPAIN)

The man burdened with bring the beauty back to Spanish football, Isco is the connective tissue in Spain's midfield. His anticipation and awareness allow him to exploit opposition weaknesses with a decisive pass or a space-creating dribble into the heart of the defence.

The Real Madrid playmaker is now the jewel in Spain's already overstocked locker of midfielder creators - but his eye for scoring as well as creating mean Isco is central to Spain's dreams of success in Russia.

 

 

The star of Germany’s well-oiled midfield, Tony Kroos (L). Pic: AFP
The star of Germany’s well-oiled midfield, Tony Kroos (L). Pic: AFP

 

TONI KROOS (GERMANY)

The key cog in the heart of the heart of the whirring machine of Germany's midfield, Kroos is the sort of player who can make the very difficult look very simple. This is a player constructed for the football's highest levels, a high-end conduit, machine-tooled to handle the load of the game's highest pressures and create opportunities that are simply unavailable to cheaper models.

He can spot the plays, make the tackles and create chances for attacking teammates with such precision and efficiency; he is the midfielder every modern midfielder aspires to be.

 

 

Neymar faced a touch-and-go race to be fit for the World Cup. Now he’s here, who can stop him? Pic: Getty
Neymar faced a touch-and-go race to be fit for the World Cup. Now he’s here, who can stop him? Pic: Getty

 

NEYMAR (BRAZIL)

How can one man carry so much expectation? Neymar da Silva Santos Junior is charged with restoring Brazil back to former glory. There is no doubt he has the ability - an astonishing turn of pace, mesmerising close control, he can pass, shoot, dribble, create and score.

There is a suspicion that his record-breaking move from Barcelona to French club Paris Saint-Germain might have dulled his competitive instincts - Ligue 1 isn't La Liga. But, let's be honest, no player is going to the World Cup half-hearted and having put a foot injury behind him, Neymar couldn't be in better shape physically to create his own legend.

 

 

Argentina's Lionel Messi could seal his title as perhaps the greatest ever in Russia. Pic: AP
Argentina's Lionel Messi could seal his title as perhaps the greatest ever in Russia. Pic: AP

 

LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)

It's sad to think this is probably the last time we will see Lionel Messi at the World Cup - but the dream remains that the Argentine wizard could finally seal his place as perhaps the greatest ever if he can lead Argentina to victory.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli team boasts plenty of talent - but doubts remain, with injuries and form dips, meaning once again, the team's hopes are carried on Messi's diminutive shoulders. And losing three finals in a row has added to that weight.

But individually, Messi hasn't slowed - he scored 34 goals in 38 games for Barcelona this season. At 30, he still possesses the same brain-melting control and vision as ever. He can destroy teams on his own - but he needs his teammates to win the World Cup.

 

 

Egypt’s fans will hope Mohamed Salah can replicate his remarkable Liverpool form on the world stage. Pic: AFP
Egypt’s fans will hope Mohamed Salah can replicate his remarkable Liverpool form on the world stage. Pic: AFP

 

MOHAMED SALAH (EGYPT)

No one expect much of Egypt, currently ranked no.46 in the world. But everyone will be watching Mo Salah.

The attacker's extraordinary season with Liverpool has propelled him into the elite; he scored 36 goals in 38 Premier League games (overtaking Messi as Europe's top scorer) plus another 10 in the Champions League (but still behind Cristiano Ronaldo's 15 for Real Madrid).

His low centre of gravity and ability to score from the thinnest opportunity has raised comparisons with Messi.

The question for Salah to answer, however, is whether this is the explosive arrival of a late-blooming talent or is he a one-season wonder who found his peak within Liverpool's attacking unit. If he can replicate his club form for country, Egypt might go far - but Salah would go stratospheric.


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