World Cup 2018: Who Are Key Players for the Smaller Euro Nations

There is not long to go now before the World Cup 2018 kicks off in Russia and like the preparations of the nations heading there this summer, our preparations are stepping up a gear. Many careers are made at the World Cup but who is going to be the stand out stars this summer? Below we look at some of the players we expect to shine from some of the smaller European nations.

If you missed it, we reviewed the full squads of these nations. Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

Luka Modric

Okay, so we are not exactly starting with the unexpected here. The Real Madrid man has been around for quite a few years and has already proven his qualities time and time again. At club level he has been an integral part of the side which has gone on to win three Champions League titles in a row.

At 32-years-old, it seems unlikely we will see Modric in another World Cup and it is likely he will want to make his mark on the competition. Whilst his nation are not expected to go on and win the whole tournament, they will be expecting to go far in the competition and a top three finish will certainly be a target.

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Modric has 12 goals in 105 caps for his country and has won the Croatian Footballer of the year in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017. He has also won a spot in the FIFPRO World XI on three occasions and was named as La Liga’s best midfielder in 2013–14 and 2015–16.

Christian Eriksen

It is a testament to his obvious talent that Christian Eriksen has already racked up 77 caps since making his international debut for Denmark back in 2010. The 26-years-old has scored 21 times for his nation, but his creative abilities is what really sets him apart from many of his teammates.

Tottenham star is rated among the best in Europe and has repeatedly proven his ability in the Premier League since making his way to England back in 2013. Prior to that, Eriksen came through one of the best youth systems in the world as he broke through the ranks at Ajax.

Now at the peak of his powers, a nation will expect some big things from the diminutive attacking midfielder and the fact he has won the Danish Football Player of the Year in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 certainly adds to that fact.

Xherdan Shaqiri

It has not exactly gone down as a season to remember for Xhedran Shaqiri as his club side, Stoke City, suffered relegation from the Premier League. The 26-years-old actually managed his best season in front of goal since coming to England three years ago and he managed to hit the back of the net eight times in 38 appearances, however, his efforts proved to ultimately fruitless as The Potters will be playing Championship football next season.

Despite this, Shaqiri will not be expected to be one of the players who will be looking to help the side back up at the first attempt with sides such as Liverpool rumoured to be chasing his signiture. If the move is to come off, then you would imagine a big World Cup will only help his price tag and the Swiss superstar has certainly been a key figure for his nation over the years.

He may only be 26, but Shaqiri is already featuring in his third World Cup having previously represented his nation in the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. He also has 20 goals in his 69 caps and with much of his nation’s attacking play going through him, it should be another big summer.

Robert Lewandowski

Experienced frontman Robert Lewandowski is no stranger to the international scene having already claimed 93 caps for his country. Now holding the captain’s armband, Lewandowski leads a side who have perhaps slipped under the radar in the build up to the World Cup, but make no mistake about it, if the striker is on form then Poland have the ability to cause any side trouble.

The 29-years-old striker currently leads the line for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich after he moved from their domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund back in 2014. It was a move which can only be classed as a success as he has managed a magnificent 106 goals in 126 games. A Bundesliga title in each of the years since then has certainly helped increase the silverware in his trophy cabinet and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

It is a testament to Lewandowski’s ability that he has won the Polish Player of the Year seven times in the 10 years since he mad his international debut, and with a strike rate better than one goal in two appearances, it is easy to see why he is so well liked for his nation.

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Igor Akinfeev

Okay, so the host nation may not be fancied to pull up many trees in this years World Cup, but wearing the captain’s armband for them is a player which will go down in his nations history as one of their best ever and certainly deserves some recognition. Igor Akinfeev has 106 caps to his name since making his debut back in 2004 and he has since gone on to win the Lev Yashin Prize for the “Goalkeeper of the year” an excellent six times.

Now into the twilight of his career, the 32-years-old has shown some incredible loyalty as a one club man and he has made 397 appearances for his club side, CSKA Moscow. He made headlines earlier this season as he managed to keep his first clean sheet in the Champions League for the first time since 2006 following a 2-0 victory over Benfica. It was a result which was probably more a reflection on the defensive capabilities of those in front of him rather than his own abilities, but it was no doubt a monkey he was keen to get off his back.

Akinfeev has already proven he worthy of his nations captaincy and he is a member of the Lev Yashin Club and has kept more clean sheets in Russian football than any other goalkeeper.

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