As the frenzy over the 2018 World Cup heats up, SaharaReporters takes a look at the star attractions to look out for in each of the 32 teams set to light up Russia.
RUSSIA: Aleksandr Golovin
Hosts Russia are not particularly favourites despite being the hosts, but if they are to make a statement in the tournament, they would be relying on poster boy Aleksandr Golovin. Golovin had come through the ranks after winning the Euro U17 championships in 2013 and then got to the finals of the U19 in 2015. He made his senior debut in Belarus that same year, scoring after just 16 minutes of coming on. He has been a regular for the senior side ever since and has also been notching stellar performances for his club, CSKA Moskow.
The central midfielder has been exceptional for the hosts and his club, so much so that he was on the radar of former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger during the January transfer window and in the past days has also been linked to Serie A champions Juventus and French side Monaco. The 22-year-old midfielder will look to impress his suitors as he looks to inspire Russia to glory in the mundial.
SAUDI ARABIA: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi
As Saudi Arabia returns to the world cup since 2006, much of the credit has to go to 31-year-old striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The Al-Nassr striker scored 16 goals to help his team qualify for Russia. He came through the ranks after representing Saudi Arabia at the U-20 level. His first major tournament was the Asian Cup in 2015 and, after an explosive qualifying series, he is set to light up Russia with goals.
Saudi Arabia has never made it beyond the group stage of the World Cup but Al-Sahlawi, who earlier this year had a three-week training with Manchester United, is set to help his team shock the bookmakers in Russia.
EGYPT: Mohammed Salah
Despite his injury concerns, Liverpool sensation, Mohammed Salah is the undisputed shining light of this team. The Egyptians are going to the World Cup for the first time since 1990, thanks to Salah’s inspired performance during the qualifiers, with five goals in six games.
Salah lit up Europe in the just concluded season, scoring over 40 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, including an impressive charge to the Champions League final where he got injured, which almost marred his World cup hopes. He has not trained with the team so far but he might be ready to get back to action from the second group game against hosts Russia.
URUGUAY: Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has been involved in controversies in the last two world cups and having stayed off these issues that have blighted his career in a long time, the Barcelona forward is set to put behind him a not-too-impressive goalscoring season and help Uruguay challenge for the title after a disappointing second-round loss in Brazil.
The Celeste are the favourites in Group A and, together with Edinson Cavani, Suarez is set to lead the team's attacking forays as they take on the rest of the world.
PORTUGAL: Cristiano Ronaldo
After leading Real Madrid to a third consecutive UEFA Champions League, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo is set to help his team move up another notch after a surprising European championships two years ago.
The current FIFA World Footballer of Year, who is also the record scorer for Portugal, remains the shining light in an ageing side. Ronaldo, who has had a trophy-laden career, is looking to challenge for the only trophy missing in his cabinet.
SPAIN: David Silva
The Spaniards had a terrible time defending their World Cup title in Brazil after crashing out in the first round, but under new coach Julen Lopetegui, the Spaniards are set to challenge for the title yet again and Manchester City midfielder, David Silva is the go-to man. After inspiring Manchester to a trailblazing season, the diminutive midfielder will also be championing the Spaniards' cause in Russia.
Silva, together with ageing Andres Iniesta and new kid on the block Isco, will serve as the engine room for Spain as they set to fight for glory in the Mundial.
MORROCCO: Younes belhanda
Morrocco has returned to the World Cup after 20 years, thanks in large part to Coach Herve Rehnard and also the talismanic playmaker Younes Belhanda.
Belhanda, who currently plies his trade in Turkey with champions Galatasaray, is the creator-in-chief, the team built around his prowess. The 28-year-old has been a journeyman in his career having played in France, Ukraine and Germany. Morocco will rely on his experience and exceptional abilities to show the world what they are made of.
IRAN: Saddar Azmoun
Iran were one of the earliest teams to book their place in Russia after a quite seamless qualifying series. As they take on the rest of the world, they will be relying on the goalscoring prowess of 22-year-old Saddar Azmoun.
The Rubin Kazan forward has been prolific for the Asian side ever since he made his debut for the senior team in 2015. He is already being likened to legendary Ali Deai as he has posted 22 international goals. Being familiar with the Russian territory already, he is definitely one of the stars to look out for when the World Cup kicks off on Thursday.
… to be continued.