By Abiodun Adewale.
Every team has landed in Russia and build up has entered another gear. The predictions are on and the opinion of an unpredictable tournament is getting popular. But could it be as unpredictable as the 2015/16 Premier League season?
Perhaps until all teams kick a ball before we begin to fish out the potential winners. But before then, let’s pick some players from the star studded teams and of course from the underdogs to expose which players needs to do what to gain what.
Here is a highlight of players who have points to prove in Russia, in no particular order.
Germany’s eighteen years of unalienable youth system has come of age. In 2001, after they were laid to the floor by Portugal in Euro 2000, the DFB and DFL thought it was time to change a lot in their academies.
A product and exemplary exemplar of that reform is Thomas Muller who joined the Bayern Munich academy in 2000 and began to grow through the ranks from the age of 10. His debut for the club in 2008 was as a substitute for striker and FIFA World Cup all time highest goal scorer, Miroslav Klose.
Remarkably, Muller took over from Klose as Germany’s pointman. While the retired striker scored 16 goals in four World Cup appearances (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014), Muller has registered ten in two appearances (2010 and 2014). With an imminent third appearance in Russia, Muller could edge closer to Klose or take over, depending on the number of goals he can score.
That winning mentality that had seen the defending champions reach at least the semifinal in each of the last four World Cups must continue. Now in the absence of Klose and other enigreatmatic figures like Philip Lahm, Bastin Schweinsteiger; it’s up to Muller to typify what the German machines are up to.
Make no mistakes about this, Salah is not in the same class with most of the super stars on this list. In his own league however, Salah has shown like a shining star, stealing every headline that fans began to fancy him for the Ballon d’Or.
Take it or leave it, all eyes would be on Salah in Russia because it’s time for him to really rub shoulders in the biggest stage any player could dream of. Egyptians will want to admit he’s one of the best things that has happened to them in the last five years. His heroics for the national team has seen them books a World Cup spot after decades, but as they come, Salah must still show why Liverpool fans adore him as the Egyptian King.
Hopefully his shoulder would be strong enough again to shoulder this responsibility.
What question has this man not answered? Which box is he yet to tick? Absolutely none, the five time Ballon d’Or winner has worked his way up at club level but one wonder why his national team are not clear favourites to win the World Cup.
Portugal are between the best and the underdogs going to Russia. It’s safe to say they lead the latter race having defiled all odds two years ago to clinch the European championship. They didn’t do that without Ronaldo that’s why it’s difficult to imagine where this team will be without him.
Ronaldo might have won every individual award that could be won, but who says he doesn’t fancy winning the World Cup Golden Boot? He has transformed into to a lethal finisher and no player shows an hunger for goals scoring like him.
If scoring up to seven goals means pushing Portugal to another brink of glory, Ronaldo won’t mind to do it for one last time.
Messi doesn’t need the World Cup to be the GOAT. The World Cup needs Messi to win it. The bottom line of these statements can be put into one; Messi is yet to win the FIFA World Cup. So the question is who doesn’t want to win it? Not even Sigurdson from Iceland.
The mercurial Argentine has won everything at club level. Aside the FIFA U-20 triumph in 2005 and the Olympics Gold Medal in 2008, Messi is yet to taste any honour with the senior national team. The closest he has been was the loosing out of the final in 2014. Thereafter, back-to-back Copa America final defeats have almost forced the Barcelona man into a painful retirement.
Thank God he reversed his decision, all his teammates would probably have to watch on TV as well. If Messi has defiled logic and hard luck to take Argentina to another mundial, it’s still up to him to continue to set the pace. They’d gladly follow him.
Three months ago, there was one man in the prayers of many Brazilians, Neymar. Many hearts on his home soil sank when he sustained an injury while playing for PSG against Marseille in a Ligue 1 game. Ask any Brazilian, Germany wouldn’t have come close to beating them if he featured in that semifinal four years ago. It’s a painful memory for them.
On the back of that unceremonious campaign on home soil in 2014, Neymar proved to be a true golden son of Rio DE Janeiro two years later at the Rio Olympics. The former Barcelona star ditched the Copa America and pitched tent with the Olympic bound team and helped his country to win the only medal that has eluded them in their illustrious round leather game history.
Now why won’t they pray for such man? Brazil are star studded but they don’t look like what they were in 2002 when they won their sixth world title. But there is something in common; there’s a golden son in the team.
Brazilians hate to see him cry and he must put a smile on their faces as well.
Who is the best goalkeeper in the world? From Manuel Neuer to David DeGea to Jan Oblak and even Thibaut Courtois, opinions are so divided.
Now when you look at the Spanish national team, it’s hard to single out an outfield player as the most important man. Their style is underlined by teamwork and it brings everyone into play. Fernando Torres and David Villa however have made the difference in terms of finishing but the team has to fair better even in their absence. Remember they are on a mission to take their place in the world football after crashing out of the group stages in 2014.
As outfield players will combine to form a fluid, one man will be alone between the sticks to make the saves when the team is caught off guard; David DeGea has waited long enough and it’s his time to take the world by storm on the biggest stage.
His impact would be no brainer though, it’s a matter of replicating his club form and even do better. This is the World Cup, not the Premier League.
In 1998, when France hosted the World Cup, a young Griezman was begging to get autographs from some of the French national team players.
In 2014, he was blazing through the flanks for France as a dovetailing winger in their 4-2-3-1 formation and that caught the attention of the world. Even though France didn’t go beyond the last eight, the spectacle had got savoury evidence of another star.
Since then, Griezman has adapted to so many roles, especially for Atletico Madrid. He could play as a striker, as supporting striker in a 4-4-2 set up or even operate from the flanks. For France, he has the same level of dynamism and the style would suit him better than Atleti. As seen in some of their friendlies, he could play in a front three and switch position swiftly with Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe. At the same time, his club personal could be adopted.
Being one of the favourites, Griezman stands as the leader of a respite French team, looking to stage a coup detat.