The FIFA World Cup 2018 is almost on us and there are several top players fans are really keen to see in action on the biggest football stage. The international spectacle that will feature the best football players in the world gets underway on June 14 when hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia. Here is a look at the top five players to watch as they grace the pitch for their countries this summer.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
World Cup appearances: 3
Lionel Messi, with his unmatched attacking style and dribbling ability, is expected to be unstoppable for most of his opponents at the World Cup in Russia. He had an incredible run in the 2014 showpiece event but Argentina did not have enough collective firepower to beat Germany in the final. However, this year, Messi might end his wait for an elusive major trophy with his national side.
The man, who regularly scores 50-plus goals a season, turns 31 at the end of June, and this is probably the last shot at getting his hands on a World Cup trophy.
Despite his towering achievements at Barcelona, La Albiceleste's all-time leading goal-scorer has not been able to translate his club success at the international level. Argentina lost the finals of the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America, with the celebrated forward failing to score in all of them.
The criticism took such a toll on him that Messi briefly retired from international football. Still, there is little doubt that his presence alone makes Argentina a formidable side.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
World Cup appearances: 3
Lionel Messi's closest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo might not be the swiftest of players he once was, but he still has a knack for turning a game in his team's favour at any given time. The devastating goal-scorer for Real Madrid has just three goals for his national side Portugal in as many trips to the World Cup and he would love to turn that around at what will likely be his last chance too.
The 34-year-old is a prolific scoring and assist machine. World famous for his speed, skill and never say die attitude, Ronaldo has always found a way to stay on top.
Ronaldo was also plagued by a lack of international titles until he led his country to success in the European Championship in 2016. Even in the twilight years of his career, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner scored 15 goals in the Champions League as the Spanish giants lifted their third straight title.
World Cup appearances: 1
Flamboyant, skilful and confident, Neymar is the flag-bearer of Brazil's hopes of a sixth world title. Similar to Messi for Argentina, Neymar makes Brazil tick. The Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 54 goals for his national team, one behind Romario, who is third on Brazil's all-time list with only Pele and Ronaldo ahead of him.
Neymar's injury derailed Brazil's campaign in 2014 as the current holders Germany thrashed the hosts 7-1 in the semi-final. Brazil, who are no longer the football heavyweights they used to be, but their fans have all their hopes pinned on Neymar to deliver.
The most expensive footballer in the world has been lighting up the sport for some time now and has evolved into one of the best players in the world. The sublime striker was side-lined since the end of February when he fractured his foot playing for PSG in a league victory against Marseille, but he marked his return in spectacular fashion as Brazil beat Croatia 2-0 in a friendly at Anfield.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
World Cup appearances: 1
At 27, Eden Hazard has already won league titles in France and England and amassed 82 international caps. He is one of the main reasons why Belgium are being touted as serious contenders to lift the World Cup trophy.
In a hugely talented team full of the cream Premier League football, Hazard stands out for his pace. With his incredible dribbling ability combined with remarkable attacking vision, the star Chelsea winger can help Red Devils reach their true potential. He is excellent at finding space between defenders. He can be an unbelievable playmaker and can score some stunning goals himself.
With Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne in their prime, Belgium, who were knocked out at the quarter-final stage in 2014 in Brazil, will be the team to beat in Russia.
Harry Kane (England)
World Cup appearances: 0
One of the most interesting stories to follow at football's quadrennial event will be Premier League's most deadly striker, Harry Kane. The 24-year-old talisman, who scored 41 goals across all competitions in 2017/18, will be England's spearhead in Russia.
Kane will be the most important piece in Three Lions' jigsaw puzzle as the dominant striker will be expected to replicate his Tottenham Hotspur form with his national side. Gareth Southgate's team, which lacks experience and pedigree, will be looking to shake off the under-performers tag and the skipper will have to carry most of England's hopes on his young shoulders.
Although Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli are England's most exciting players, Kane is their most important. He will need to bring out his A game for England, who have not seen World Cup glory in 52 years.