- On Monday the official rosters for the 2018 FIFA World Cup were released as Monday was the deadline for the 32 participating countries to reveal their rosters. This year is the 22nd edition of soccer’s biggest stage and this will be the first time that FIFA has held the event in Russia. This will also be the 11th time that the World Cup has been held on European soil. Latin America and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula will be well represented with ten teams making the trip to the former Soviet Union. Here are the most important Latino and Hispanic players taking part in this year’s festivities….
Argentina’s Lionel Messi–
If there’s one player that will be under the biggest microscope it is Messi. La Albiceleste’s all-time leading goal scorer has always been the bridesmaid but never the bride when it comes to winning international championships. While he has an outstanding number of individual and club accolades with F.C. Barcelona, his national team career (for whom he’s played for since 2005), is lacking to a degree. With Messi in uniform Argentina has been stopped short of glory on the global stage on more than one occasion.
They were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. They reached the title game in 2014 but only to be held scoreless and fall to Germany in extra time. They fell to arch-rival Brazil in the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup Final, and then there’s their run in the Copa America Tournament. They fell to Brazil in the title game of 2007, lost to Uruguay on penalty kicks in the 2011 Copa semifinals, then there are the back-to-back losses to Chile in the championship games in 2015 and the Copa America Centenario in 2016. Messi has taken the bulk of the blame for many of these shortcomings.
The biggest success in the Messi era however was the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. This year is a must win in the eyes of Argentinians, Messi will need to take his game to a whole new level to make that happen.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker has been quite instrumental in his country’s recent success. He led a young “Selecao” squad to the gold medal on home soil at the 2016 Summer Olympics. He also led Brazil to a fourth place finish in the World Cup -also on home soil- two years prior before suffering a back injury. One year before that, he played a role as the Brazilian national team went unbeaten and won the 2013 Confederations Cup. This year however will be a little more challenging.
The 26-year-old is coming off of surgery due to a foot fracture he suffered during the PSG season back in February. He played and scored a goal in Brazil’s recent friendly against Croatia (his first game since the surgery), but come June 14th the competition gets tougher. While the foot is a concern, one thing that won’t be is Neymar’s ability to handle the World Cup stage.
Colombia’s James Rodriguez–
After missing the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, “La Tricolor” came back with a vengeance in 2014 with Rodriguez at the helm. They finished fourth in Brazil and followed that up with a sixth place finish at the 2015 Copa America, and knocked off the United States (who are missing out on this year’s World Cup) to win the third place game at the 2016 Centenario. Rodriguez has 21 international goals, not bad for someone who’s only been on the team since 2011. He’ll have to add to that total if “Los Cafeteros” hope to surpass regional rivals Argentina and Brazil.
Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas–
Costa Rica has one of the more interesting draws in Group E. With powerhouse Brazil, an eager Serbia team (who’s playing in just their second World Cup since separating from Yugoslavia), and a Switzerland team who’s reached the Round of 16 in two of the last three World Cups on their docket, Navas will be quite busy defending his net. But the Real Madrid goalkeeper is up for the challenge as he’s a cornerstone for a team that’s won two of the last three Copa Centroamericana’s (2013 and 2014), finished third in last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, received an invite to 2016’s Copa America Centenario, and reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup.
Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez–
“El Tri” has never won a World Cup in it’s storied history. Which is hard to believe considering the regional success and popularity that the team has. Mexico has failed to get past the Round of 16 in every World Cup since 1990, Hernandez has been on board for the the last two appearances. But in those last two World Cups Hernandez only scored three total goals. If Mexico (this year’s only North American representative) wants to finally reach the promised land, Hernandez needs to find the back of the net more consistently.
These veterans for “Los Canaleros” lead the current squad with 43 international goals each. Despite those numbers this is actually the first time that Panama has ever qualified for the World Cup. They have however made noise in regional tournaments such as the Gold Cup, the Copa Centroamericano, and the abolished CCCF Tournament. They have a combined record of 48-11-38 in those tournaments with the 1951 CCCF and 2009 Centroamericano championships in their trophy case. Now they finally have the world watching as Tejada and Perez look to show that Costa Rica isn’t the only great team from Central America.
Peru’s Paolo Guerrero–
This 34-year-old striker has 34 international goals to his credit but he’s playing in the World Cup for the first time. Peru has only participated in four previous World Cups, with the last one being in 1982 when Guerrero wasn’t even born yet. Their best finish came in 1970 where they reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Brazil. When Guerrero leads his team into Russia, he’ll be looking to make “Los Incas” a household name on the world’s stage and change his country’s legacy in the sport.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo–
The Portuguese team captain is always compared to the aforementioned Lionel Messi when it comes to the debate about who the best player on the planet is. Especially when you consider that these two men have finished in the top two of every Ballon d’Or award vote since 2007 (Each man has won FIFA’s biggest award five times), and have won a combined 13 La Liga titles. But the one area where Ronaldo has the advantage is when it comes to international championships (Portugal won the 2016 Euro tournament). Despite the greatness of Portuguese football, they have never won a World Cup and have only made past the Round of 16 twice (1966 and 2006).
Ronaldo can further distance himself from Messi if he can lead “A Selecao das Quinas” to their first ever World Cup Trophy.
Spain’s Andres Iniesta–
Iniesta lit the soccer world on fire back in April when he announced that he would be leaving F.C. Barcelona -his home for 17 years- after the 2017-2018 La Liga season. Once the World Cup is over, Iniesta will be taking his act to Japan’s J1 League, meaning that his fellow Spanish citizens will only see him stateside when he wears the national team’s uniform. Iniesta will always be remembered for scoring the championship winning goal in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and for his contributions to the 2008 and 2012 Euro Championship teams. Winning the this year’s World Cup would be the ideal send off before the 34-year-old departs for the Far East.
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez–
Ever since the South American forward joined his country’s national team in 2007, he’s made the team a constant international contender. It started with a fourth place finish in the 2007 Copa America. From there Suarez guided “La Celeste” to fourth place in the 2010 World Cup (their best finish since 1970), the 2011 Copa America championship, an appearance in the 2012 Summer Olympics (Uruguay’s first Olympic games since 1928), the Round of 16 in the last World Cup, and two wins combined in the 2015 Copa America and 2016 Centenario.
Now the 31-year-old looks to rally his team to win it all as Uruguay hasn’t won the title since winning two of the first four World Cups ever played (1930 and 1950).
We’re only eight days away from kickoff!