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The fourth instalment of our top 50 players at the 2018 World Cup looks at the individuals ranked 20 to 11 by The Roar’s football writers.
Unsurprisingly, it is overflowing with attacking riches and players who are set to go deep into the tournament. Of the following ten players, eight play in the Premier League, the same number are from Europe (with the remaining two from South America), and one could be the key difference between the Socceroos progressing from Group C and bowing out early.
20. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Alongside Luis Suarez, Cavani will be leading the line again for Uruguay. The duo’s fortunes during the World Cup could largely determine how far the South American side can progress.
Cavani had another prolific season for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017-18, netting 40 times in 47 appearances. In truth, the striker is used to playing in the shadows of a bigger star. At international level, he has played second fiddle to both Suarez and Diego Forlan, and at club level with Neymar and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not that he cares – he just keeps banging in the goals.
With just two FIFA World Cup goals, however (one in 2010 and one in 2014), he’ll hope to be more prolific on Russian soil.
19. David Silva (Spain)
Fewer players make football look as easy as David Silva, and the Spanish maestro again proved why he is one of the world’s premier midfielders in a season to remember for Manchester City. Balance and touch personified, Silva finished 2017-18 third overall for assists and eighth for total passes. Impressively, he has chalked up 11 goals in 15 games for Spain since qualifying for Russia 2018 began.
World Cup and European Championship-winning Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque has said “Silva is our Spanish Messi,” while Pep Guardiola has stated Silva’s laconic veneer ignores his superb work-rate.
“He has proven that he has the stamina of a long-distance runner,” the City coach said. “After running for 90 minutes he still has the mental spark to make the right decisions.”
18. N’Golo Kante (France)
Relatively unknown three years ago, Kante’s rise has warmed the hearts of most football fans. After all, it’s hard not to like one of the world’s most tireless and selfless players who has shone brightly since arriving in England in 2015.
A rags-to-riches story has seen Kante move from Ligue 2 Caen, to title-winning Leciester, to giants Chelsea in short time. And all throughout, he has maintained a quiet, grounded approach – he even drove a Mini Hatch up until this year.
Incredibly durable, Kante has played 39 games or more in each of the last six European club seasons. He has risen quickly in the French ranks and will play a vital role in his nation’s fortunes this World Cup. And with the June 16 clash with the Socceroos fast approaching, there’s a message for Massimo Luongo and Aaron Mooy: get ready to run.
17. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
It’s no exaggeration to declare that Tottenham star Christian Eriksen could prove the difference between the Socceroos getting a result against Denmark and being beaten handsomely. Quite simply, that’s how good he is.
For the past five seasons at Spurs, Eriksen’s incredible vision and sharp crosses have wowed the crowds at White Hart Lane and Wembley. He has also returned double-figure goal tallies in four of those five seasons. Perhaps what makes the number 10 so good is his consistency. He is rarely off the pace, and goes about his work without fuss.
Like Kante, Eriksen is uneasy when praise shifts to him. Of our five experts, Eriksen was rated between 9th (highest) and 29th (lowest) in terms of overall influence on the World Cup.
16. Paul Pogba (France)
Unlike the previous two, Pogba is a player fairly comfortable with what he brings to the table. His inner belief is what makes him the player he is – confident on the ball, capable of the outrageous, ability to singlehandedly drag his side forward – but it has also contributed to clashes with teammates and managers.
The hair, the cars, the jewellery, the emoji; it’s all brand-Pogba. And if you don’t like it, the last person who’s going to care is the man himself.
What he is, is a superb footballer who, on his day, will win you the game from midfield. His physique (6ft 3in) and engine make him a difficult proposition for any opponent. In true Pogba fashion, he responded to critics in a recent interview, stating: “nobody can tell me how to play”. His upcoming World Cup could range from the sublime to the horrid – no one really knows what to expect.
15. Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
Despite an imperious scoring record at club-level, Aguero has (incredibly) never scored at a World Cup. That’s not to say he hasn’t performed when wearing the baby blue and white – in fact he has scored 37 goals in 85 appearances – rather to highlight an anomaly on such a decorated CV.
The clinical Aguero will have to fight both Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in the race to partner captain Lionel Messi in attack.
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride to the World Cup for Aguero. He failed to score throughout qualifying (of which the Argentines scraped through) and, after wrapping up the league title with Manchester City in mid-April, underwent knee surgery in a battle to be fit for Russia.
After netting in the last three friendlies, however, things are looking up for City’s greatest ever goalscorer.
14. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
If not for Mohamed Salah’s incredible 2017-18, de Bruyne would have comfortably taken out the Premier League player of the season award. The midfield workhorse topped the league’s leaders for assists, crosses and through balls in a dominant season.
De Bruyne doesn’t lack in any department – his first-touch and vision is of the highest order and his standing amongst the world’s best is undoubted. Naturally, manager Pep Guardiola is a huge fan, and has described him as “the best player in Europe bar one” (that is, Lionel Messi).
Guardiola has said: “I think he is a special, outstanding player. He makes everything. Without the ball he is the first fighter, and with the ball he is clear – he sees everything.”
If Belgium are to top their quarter-final finish in 2014, de Bruyne will be there, pulling strings.
13. David de Gea (Spain)
Only the third goalkeeper in our top 50 thus far (Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois coming in at 39 and 38), de Gea has been Manchester United’s best player since arriving at the club in 2011. In fact, the Spanish number 1 has won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in four of the past five seasons.
From a technical standpoint, de Gea is almost faultless as a modern keeper. He combines incredible reflexes and athleticism with outstanding ball control and vision – both imperative to United and Spain’s style of play. De Gea’s place in the top 50 was unequivocal from our experts, with all five putting the shot-stopper in the top 25.
12. Eden Hazard (Belgium)
A defender’s nightmare in every sense, Hazard’s acceleration is frightening. At just 27, the Belgian already has 83 senior international caps and his importance to Belgium’s current golden generation goes without saying. When he is managed well, he stands alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the most unstoppable players in the world.
If his head isn’t in the right space, however (as we saw two seasons ago in the Premier League), things can go awry. Our five experts all agree of Hazard’s importance in Russia, with four selecting Hazard as 11th best or better.
11. Isco (Spain)
A player who ardent Premier League fans probably don’t get to enjoy regularly, Isco has shone in recent years to become one of Real Madrid and Spain’s most important midfield weapons. A footballer in the purest sense, his first thought is to move the ball forward, which he does either with either precision passing or dribbling, possessing unbelievable control at top speed.
He bagged a hat-trick in a recent friendly against Argentina, and has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances in the national team. Former Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas predicted in 2015 that Isco would one day become Spain’s most important player.
Will he be the highest-ranked Spanish player on our list? Find out tomorrow when we release players ranked from ten to the all-important number one.