It won’t be long at all before we know exactly which 32 teams will be taking part in next summer’s World Cup, but we won’t know which players will be travelling with those qualified teams to the festival of football in Russia until a few weeks before the tournament kicks off.
Of course, some stars know their name will be one of the first on their coach’s squad sheet, but these following 10 players will need to put in some good performances this season to have a chance.
1. Sergio Agüero (Manchester City and Argentina)
Having been left out of the Argentina squad for the June friendlies against Brazil and Singapore, many were wondering if Sergio Agüero would play a part in new coach Jorge Sampaoli’s plans. He was recalled to the team for the previous round of qualifiers, but the 29-year-old will need to fight for every call-up between now and the World Cup – assuming Argentina even make it. His recent rib injury won’t help his chances, although if he can resume where he left off in the Premier League, he’ll surely be in the reckoning once fit again.
2. Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund and Germany)
He scored the winning goal in Brazil last time, but Mario Götze may not be at the next World Cup. The midfielder has endured a torrid time since that famous night in Rio de Janeiro, moving to Bayern Munich and struggling to fit in, before returning to Borussia Dortmund with his tail between his legs. A metabolic illness them sidelined him for several months, so he has a lot of work to do if he’s to enter into the world champions’ plans.
3. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
Karim Benzema’s situation is one of the more complicated ones in international football, as he has not played for France since 2015, when he was dropped by coach Didier Deschamps over off-the-field issues. Yet France lacked striking firepower at Euro 2016 as they unsuccessfully relied on Olivier Giroud and André-Pierre Gignac to shoot them to glory. A goalless draw with Luxembourg in qualifying has only heightened these concerns over the team’s attacking options. Benzema, then, has a chance of forcing his way back into the France squad if they continue to struggle and if he puts together a stunning season in Madrid. Deschamps might prefer to leave the 29-year-old at home, but if his form is unignorable then he could feel he has to take him to Russia.
4. Fraser Forster (Southampton and England)
One of the major shocks in the most recent England squad was the absence of Fraser Forster. Given Joe Hart’s inconsistent performances, some had assumed that the Southampton goalkeeper would be England’s No.1 by the time of next summer’s tournament, but it now appears that he’ll have to play out of his skin just to make Gareth Southgate’s list.
5. Renato Sanches (Swansea and Portugal)
He was one of the most impressive performers as Portugal won Euro 2016, earning a move to Bayern Munich as a result. Yet Renato Sanches subsequently struggled for playing time and has now moved to Swansea City on loan as he aims to get some minutes under his belt and as he aims to return to Fernando Santos’ squad, following his Confederations Cup snub.
6. Radja Nainggolan (Roma and Belgium)
Radja Nainggolan threw something of a hissy fit after being left out of Roberto Martínez’s most recent Belgium squad, the one which mathematically clinched qualification for Russia. He first appeared to announce his international retirement, before suggesting he hadn’t made up his mind yet. Either way, the 29-year-old will have to do lots of talking on the pitch if he’s to impress enough for a recall.
7. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto and Italy)
The fact that Sebastian Giovinco plays in the MLS means that he has not been considered for recent Italy squads, but there must come a point where his form becomes unignorable, even if he is playing across the Atlantic. The fact that David Villa played well enough with New York City FC to earn a recent Spain call-up should inspire the Toronto forward, who’ll hope to finish the current season strongly and to start the 2018 one just as well, all with the hope of going to a first World Cup.
8. Alex Sandro (Juventus and Brazil)
Alex Sandro is one of the most promising left-backs in world football, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be in Russia next summer. That’s because Brazil are blessed at his position, with Marcelo and Filipe Luis ahead of him in the pecking order. Sandro will need another wonderful season with Juventus to have a chance.
9. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea and Spain)
He was one of the heroes of Spain’s historic international treble, yet Cesc Fàbregas is at risk of missing the next World Cup. Now on the wrinkly side of 30, he is not as quick and as sharp as he once was, while he also plays far less regularly for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea than he previously did for Arsenal and Barcelona, yet the Catalan midfielder has still shown that he possesses that killer touch and could earn a ticket to Russia with an impressive season at Stamford Bridge and, importantly, with a return to Champions League football.
10. Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid and Spain)
Staying with Spain, one player who was, like Fàbregas, left out of Julen Lopetegui’s most recent La Roja squad was Diego Costa. Having spent all summer trying to force a move to Atlético Madrid after a fall-out with Antonio Conte, Costa wasn’t fit to play in any of Chelsea’s early season games. Now that he has returned to the Spanish capital, he is back in training. Costa must hit the ground running upon the domestic restart and turn in an impressive run of games if he’s to force his way into a team which also boasts Álvaro Morata and can play without a centre-forward anyway.
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