Key men for every side at the 2018 World Cup…Part One

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The 2018 World Cup is almost upon us, and the footballing world can't wait for the biggest names in the sport to compete on the grandest stage of them all.

The competition kicks off on June 14 when hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia in Group A, commencing a month of non-stop quality action.

We have put together the key men to watch for every team from Group A - Group D. Look out for another article, which will profile every team's best player from Group E - Group H tomorrow.

Group A

Russia - Igor Akinfeev

The hosts will be determined to have a successful tournament on home soil, and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev could be key to providing that.

The 32-year-old is captain of the national side and has made over 500 appearances for CSKA Moscow since he joined the senior side in 2003 having passed through the youth system.

He has also earned over 100 international caps, and has experience of playing in big tournaments, including three European Championships and the 2014 World Cup.

His leadership and experience could be crucial for the Russian side, and he will be ably supported by the likes of Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin.

Igor Akinfeev Igor Akinfeev

Saudi Arabia - Osama Hawsawi

Another experienced figure that will be key to giving his country any hope of qualifying from the group.

The defender currently plays at Saudi Professional League side Al-Hilal, and had a brief spell in European football with Anderlecht back in 2012.

He has made 132 appearances for the national team, and was part of the squad that were runners-up in the Asian Cup back in 2007, and also the team that finished second in the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2009 and 2014.

The 34-year-old is excellent in the air and will have a big role to play against some of the attacking threats in this group.

Osama Hawsawi playing against Portugal Osama Hawsawi playing against Portugal

Egypt - Mohamed Salah

Salah has had the best season of his life this season, winning the Premier League Golden Boot with 32 goals - a league record.

He has also helped Liverpool into the Champions League final, where they will face Real Madrid on May 26.

Egypt will be hoping Salah can carry his fine form into the World Cup, and if he can, then they stand a decent chance of making the last 16 phase.

The 25-year-old scored the penalty which secured Egypt's place in the World Cup, and they will again rely heavily on the forward in Russia.

Mo Salah Mo Salah

Uruguay - Luis Suarez

The Barcelona striker has been a key part in his side winning the La Liga title this season, scoring 25 goals and assisting 11.

His strike partner Edinson Cavani is just as important to the Uruguay side, who himself has scored 28 goals for Paris St Germain in their league winning season.

Suarez has scored 50 goals in 97 international matches, and having scored 152 goals in 197 Barcelona appearances has proven he is one of the best strikers in world football.

If he can click with Cavani throughout this competition, then every defence will have to watch out.

Suarez scoring a penalty at the China Cup Suarez scoring a penalty at the China Cup

Group B

Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo

One of the greatest players ever, this could be Ronaldo's last World Cup, and if that is to be the case, he will look to bow out in style.

The 33-year-old has scored 43 goals in 42 games for Real Madrid this season, with 15 of those coming in the Champions League.

The five time Ballon d'Or winner was part of the Portugal side that won the 2016 European Championships, and has scored 81 goals for his country.

He will be looking for the likes of Andre Silva and Bernardo Silva to chip in with goals to help get Portugal beyond the Group Stage, where they crashed out in 2014.

Ronaldo is set for a big World Cup Ronaldo is set for a big World Cup

Morocco - Medhi Benatia

The Juventus defender provides quality and invaluable experience to the Moroccan side, and has a major influence on Herve Renard's team.

The 31-year-old has played at some of the biggest teams in Europe, having enjoyed spells at clubs such as Marseille, AS Roma and Bayern Munich before joining Juventus in 2017.

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He has made 20 league appearances in Serie A this season, helping his side to a seventh consecutive domestic title.

Captain of his country, Benatia will hope the likes of Mbark Boussoufa and Hakim Ziyech can score goals while he tries to stop other teams doing just that.

Benatia playing for Juventus Benatia playing for Juventus

Iran - Alireza Jahanbakhsh

Jahanbakhsh has been in fine form for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie this season, helping his side to finish third and into the Europa League.

The 24-year-old finished top scorer with 21 goals in 33 league games, showing a massive improvement and becoming a real goal threat, and Iran will be looking for more of the same.

He is also a creative player, assisting 12 goals this season and will provide plenty of crosses and opportunities for his side in Russia.

This could be the tournament where Jahanbakhsh announces his arrival as a superstar, and manager Carlos Queiroz will certainly be hoping so.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh has been in fine form this season Alireza Jahanbakhsh has been in fine form this season

Spain - David de Gea

With Manuel Neuer injured for the majority of the year, de Gea is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world on current form.

The Spaniard won the Premier League Golden Glove award this season, keeping 18 clean sheets and helping Manchester United finish second in the league table.

Spain have a plethora of attacking options, including the likes of Diego Costa, David Silva and Isco, and they can rest assured that they have a solid defence to protect them as they go in search for goals.

They have a star studded squad, and head to Russia as one of the favourites to lift their second World Cup trophy.

David de Gea David de Gea

Group C

France - Antoine Griezmann

The Atletico Madrid striker has scored 27 goals in 46 appearances this season, helping his club into the Europa League final.

Griezmann will be the key link between midfield and attack playing in a deeper attacking role, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud ahead of him.

Didier Deschamps also has a star-studded midfield, with options such as Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi to choose from.

The French have a big chance to win the whole tournament, and will be looking for redemption after failing to win the European Championships in their own backyard two years ago.

Antoine Griezmann Antoine Griezmann

Australia - Aaron Mooy

The Huddersfield midfielder has had a fantastic season in helping his club avoid Premier League relegation.

Mooy gained admirers during his time at Melbourne City, and was signed by Manchester City in 2016.

The 27-year-old joined Huddersfield on-loan for the 2016/17 season and helped them gain promotion from the Championship, and the club dished out an Australian record transfer fee of £10 million for his services on a permanent basis.

The Aussies have a talented group of players, including Tom Rogic, Mile Jedinak and Massimo Luongo, and will look to beat Peru and Denmark into second place in the group.

Aaron Mooy battles for the ball with Willian Aaron Mooy battles for the ball with Willian

Peru - Paolo Guerrero

Peru come into the match with an unbeaten record spanning back to November 2016, and have picked up draws against Colombia and Argentina in that time.

Flamengo striker Paolo Guerrero has scored 208 club career goals at the likes of Bayern Munich, Hamburg and Corinthians.

He has also scored 32 goals in 86 international appearances, and Peru struggled past New Zealand in their World Cup qualifier in his absence.

The 34-year-old, who is captain of the side, had a suspension for cocaine use reduced from 12 months to six, allowing him to participate in Russia this summer.

Paolo Guerrero Paolo Guerrero

Denmark - Christian Eriksen

Tottenham playmaker Eriksen was a massive part in Denmark making it to the tournament having scoring a hat-trick in their 5-1 play-off win over the Republic of Ireland.

He was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for this season, helping Spurs finish in the top four and secure Champions League football.

The 26-year-old provides a real threat from set-pieces, and having scored 15 goals in the last two years for his country, is a threat to any defence.

Kasper Schmeichel should provide protection between the sticks, and he will have the very capable duo of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen in defence.

Christian Eriksen Christian Eriksen

Group D

Argentina - Lionel Messi

Messi will again be La Liga's top scorer this season having netted 34 goals in 35 games this season, and is also has registered a league-high 12 assists.

He has been the main man for Argentina for quite some time now, and was awarded Player of the Tournament at the 2014 World Cup as his side suffered an agonising final defeat to Germany.

The 30-year-old had briefly retired after Argentina's 2017 Copa America final loss to Chile before he reversed his decision and returned to play.

This will likely be his last World Cup, and he will be looking to finish on a high after so many final heartaches in his international career.

Messi will be key to any success Argentina have in Russia Messi will be key to any success Argentina have in Russia

Iceland - Gylfi Sigurdsson

The Everton man is the playmaker that creates the majority of the good moments that Iceland produce.

He will be the big danger to other sides as Iceland make their World Cup debut, even if his first season at his new club.

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The 26-year-old pulled the strings as his country upset England at Euro 2016 in the round of 16 before a 5-2 defeat to France in the quarter-finals.

Sigurdsson has scored 18 goals in his 55 international matches to date, and if he performs to his best level, Iceland could upset some of the bigger nations.

Sigurdsson is nine goals off breaking Iceland's goal record Sigurdsson is nine goals off breaking Iceland's goal record

Croatia - Ivan Rakitic

Rakitic was statistically one of the best players in La Liga this season, helping Barcelona lift the title with his quality in midfield alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

He will provide that key link between defence and attack, and alongside Luka Modric, will run the midfield and break up opposition attacks.

Croatia could be a darkhorse in this tournament, with the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic also at their disposal.

Rakitic is the one that can get his side going forward, and at top form is one of the best midfielders in world football.

Ivan Rakitic Ivan Rakitic

Nigeria - Victor Moses

Moses will likely be deployed in a more attacking role for his country than the right-back role he is used to at Chelsea, but expect him to have just as much success.

He could play at right-wing, with the African side having a host of options out wide, including Joel Obi, Alex Iwobi and Moses Simon, who will look to support main striker Odion Ighalo.

Nigeria reached the last 16 stage in 2014, and if they are to repeat that success, they will need Moses in fine form.

With France almost certainties to top the group, Nigeria will be targeting the match against Croatia as a winner-takes-all tie.

Victor Moses in action at the 2014 World Cup Victor Moses in action at the 2014 World Cup

Words: Johnny Morton

Images: PA

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