Somehow, the World Cup 2018 is less than a year away. The first few nations have already qualified and in about four months we’ll have the official draw for the tournament to drool over until next summer.
But the qualification, Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, and other summer action has our imaginations running wild, especially about these top players that could make a big impact at World Cup 2018.
Dele Alli, England
A two-time PFA Team of the Year and Young Player of the Year selection, Dele Alli might be the man to finally solve England’s World Cup scoring woes. The 21-year old has had no problem doing so for Spurs the past two seasons, netting 28 goals in his first two seasons of top flight football.
For England Alli hasn’t been shy either, scoring in his national team debut in a friendly against France and also in a World Cup qualifier last fall. England manager Gareth Southgate is undoubtedly already brainstorming how to best pair up Alli with Spurs teammate Harry Kane next summer.
Kylian Mbappe, France
Behind defending champion Germany, most established bookies on the net point to France as having the best odds (6/1) of winning World Cup 2018, and the hype around Kylian Mbappe is just one reason why. As of this writing, the 18-year just set the world transfer record in a €180 million move to Real Madrid.
The centre-forward tallied 15 goals and 11 assists in 29 appearances with Monaco last season en route to the Ligue 1 title. Although he’s been limited to four caps internationally, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Mbappe isn’t starting for Les Bleus in Russia.
Christian Pulisic, USA
America’s soccer hopes and dreams next summer will lie mostly on the shoulders of a teenager. But from what he’s shown so far in both the Bundesliga and at the senior team level, Christian Pulisic is more than able to handle the pressure.
Already the number 10 has scored five goals in qualifying matches, five times in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, and in a UEFA Champions League knockout stage match. And by the time Russia rolls around he may already be wearing a club shirt bigger than even BvB.
André Silva, Portugal
Someday in the not-so-distant future, Cristiano Ronaldo will retire from international football. There to fill his shoes at Portugal will be Andre Silva, the 21-year old phenom that just made a €38 million move to AC Milan.
Earning a place on a squad that just won the European championship is never easy, but Silva has quickly proved he more than belongs. His six goals in qualifying are tied for third-most in Europe and his memorable solo-effort against New Zealand in this summer’s Confederations Cup gave him an early taste for scoring in Russia.
Alex Iwobi, Nigeria
Even if Alex Iwobi doesn’t see an increase in playing time at Arsenal this season, the Nigerian will still be the most exciting African player to watch at World Cup 2018. The winger is truly a world class talent, as evident by his inclusion in the starting XI against Barca in the 2015/16 Champions League at just 19 years old.
Although he represented England on U16, U17, and U18 teams, Lagos-born Iwobi chose to represent Nigeria at the senior level. So far he only has 10 caps and one goal for the Screaming Eagles, but he was nonetheless named the CAF Young Player of the Year and to the CAF Team of the Year in 2016.
Gabriel Jesus, Brazil
Casual football followers were introduced to Gabriel Jesus at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where he scored three goals in Brazil’s run to Olympic gold. Less than a month later the then-Palmeiras star made his senior team debut in a World Cup qualifier against Ecuador where he scored twice in the match’s final three minutes.
After joining Manchester City in January 2017, the winger stayed true to form by scoring seven goals in 10 Premier League matches. Assuming the winger’s form doesn’t fade, he and Neymar will truly be the ‘it’ couple to watch on the pitch in Russia.
Sardar Azmoun, Iran
No matter who Iran gets drawn into a group with, the talent that of Sardar Azmoun is guaranteed to surprise opposing nation’s supporters (assuming they don’t follow the Russian Premier League or Asia World Cup qualifying). Already the 22-year old has tallied 19 goals in 22 appearances with his national side and this qualifying cycle he is tied for fifth globally with nine scores.
After being linked to clubs like Celtic, Everton, West Ham, and others this summer, the ‘Iranian Zlatan’ extended his contract with Rubin Kazan for one more season. On loan most of the past two seasons with Rostov, Azmoun scored 25 goals in 77 appearances playing as a centre forward.