The 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday 14 June as hosts Russia entertain Saudi Arabia in football’s most prestigious competition.
Among the 32 nations competing there are more players from the Premier League than any other domestic league with 105, followed by Spain’s La Liga that is represented by 81 players.
Here are five Premier League players we think you should look out for in Russia this summer:
1. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United/Belgium)
Romelu Lukaku received a lot of criticism from fans and some pundits during his debut season at Manchester United where he scored 16 Premier League goals. The Belgian striker didn’t see a great deal of supply from teammates in the final months of the season, often put down to Jose Mourinho’s tactics.
However, the Belgium national team play a much more attack-minded game under Roberto Martinez and have been handed a favourable group where they can be expected to score lots of goals and finish top on their way to the quarter-finals with comfort. Lukaku is the striker in this team and with supply coming from the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne he could well be among the Golden Boot contenders.
2. Andreas Christensen (Chelsea/Denmark)
Denmark qualified through the UEFA playoffs, thrashing the Republic of Ireland. They have been drawn in an interesting group with France, Peru and Australia – expected to do battle with the latter two to finish runners-up behind Didier Deschamps’ squad.
Whilst Christian Eriksen is the star going forward you can expect Age Hareide’s side to play a very defensive and counter-attack game. France are certainly expected to dominate possession and territory when these two meet in the final group game, but Peru like to play an attacking style also. So expect a lot of defending from the Danish and one player who could stand out in doing that is Chelsea centre-back Andreas Christensen.
3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool/Senegal)
Group H is the last one to kick off and one that looks very unpredictable heading into the summer. You could quite easily have any of Senegal, Colombia, Poland or Japan finishing the group as winners… or bottom. One thing is for sure this group has the potential to be very close and expectation of providing us with lots of goals and excitement. Many think he’s a good selection for lay betting as the Golden Boot winner.
Senegal cannot be overlooked as a candidate to go furthest among the African nations. They have a lot of pace in their attack and Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is arguably their biggest threat. He’ll scare the defences he comes up against and is both a threat in front of goal and creating chances for teammates.
4. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City/Switzerland)
Xherdan Shaqiri scored the 50th hat-trick in World Cup history and the last one prior to the 2018 World Cup kicking off. He did so four years ago in Switzerland’s final group game, against Honduras. Although he’s coming off a relegation campaign with Stoke City the attacking midfielder has the ability to take his nation beyond the group stage.
Switzerland are well-organised in defence and will likely be competing with Serbia and Costa Rica for the runners-up spot in their group, with Brazil expected to win. They stand a good chance and Shaqiri is likely to be involved in their goals, whether scoring them or creating them.
5. Javier Hernandez (West Ham United/Mexico)
Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer is one short of his 50th heading into the World Cup. Javier Hernandez has scored in two previous tournaments too and will be looking to add his name to a short list of players who have netted in three different World Cups.
The Central American nation have been drawn in a competitive group where defending champions Germany are expected to win, and then Mexico compete with Sweden and South Korea for the runners-up spot. Mexico have reached the second round in the previous six tournaments, and been eliminated at that stage on each occasion. Although Chicharito is not coming off the best of seasons with West Ham you can certainly expect the striker to find his form in Russia.