SportsPulse: Martin Rogers believes the World Cup group stage is filled with plenty of drama, potential Cinderella stories and star-studded matchups. So much so you’ll forget the U.S. isn’t in it.
USA TODAY Sports
The World Cup starts June 14, and although it is a team game, it’s the individuals who will make their marks in Russia.
USA TODAY Sports has assembled its list of the top 50 players for this year’s World Cup, factoring in impact, form and potential for success.
50. Leroy Sane, Germany
Second-most assists in the English Premier League, and a rising force for a new-look and stacked Germany team.
49. Igor Akinfeev, Russia
Veteran goalkeeper will need to have a big tournament if the host nation is to progress deep.
48. Mats Hummels, Germany
Don’t let that big, strong physique fool you, Hummels has plenty of style and guile to go with his strength.
47. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
Frustrated at being used out of position by club side Juventus, will have more license in Russia.
46. Bernardo Silva, Portugal
His main duty will be to create chances for Cristiano Ronaldo. Few are better at doing just that.
45. Joshua Kimmich, Germany
Mature beyond his years and already part of the furniture for both Germany and Bayern Munich.
44. Son Heung-Min, South Korea
Best player from Asia and the creative force behind the South Korean team.
43. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Powerful, intense and the front man for one of the tournament’s most exciting teams.
42. Sadio Mane, Senegal
Pieced together a superb second half of the season for Liverpool and fronts an entertaining and skillful Senegal side.
41. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
The United States needs no reminding of his abilities. Will be pivotal if Costa Rica is to cause upsets again.
40. James Rodriguez, Colombia
Still has the potential to be one of the very best despite some ups and downs for club and country.
39. Radamel Falcao, Colombia
Colombia’s form tends to mirror his own. Was devastated to miss 2014 tournament through injury.
38. Sergio Busquets, Spain
Long seen as the ultimate team player, he recently surprised many by complaining about not receiving more individual awards.
37. Gerard Pique, Spain
This will likely be the final international tournament for the talented, ball-playing defensive star.
36. Mesut Ozil, Germany
Out of sorts at Arsenal, but still a vital part for Germany and motivated after a poor season.
35. Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
Hasn’t had his finest season, but still possesses remarkable poise for a young goalkeeper.
34. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia
Lionel Messi is so worried about Rakitic leaving Barcelona he’s ordered club chiefs not to let it happen. High praise.
33. Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina
Left broken-hearted when his “goal” in the 2014 final was disallowed as Argentina slipped to defeat to Germany.
32. Dele Alli, England
Still improving and will carry a major burden at the heart of England’s midfield.
31. Isco, Spain
No-nonsense midfielder who has evolved into a key cog for both Real Madrid and Spain.
30. Emil Forsberg, Sweden
Recently linked with a move to Arsenal thanks to consistently elite play in Germany.
29. Timo Werner, Germany
Should win the battle for Germany’s main attacking spot and has the swagger to pull it off.
28. David Silva, Spain
As good as ever, despite personal struggles relating to the health of his baby son.
27. Gabriel Jesus, Brazil
Neymar is the man for Brazil. Jesus is the man in waiting. World Cup defenses won’t enjoy facing both of them.
26. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay
Scored more goals (10) than any other player in South American qualifying.
25. Philippe Coutinho, Brazil
Joined Barcelona in January and did not disappoint, while producing elite performances for Brazil in qualifying.
24. Dries Mertens, Belgium
He is 5-7 and 140 pounds of lightning pace and constant energy, with a knack of finding the perfect pass.
23. Christian Eriksen, Denmark
Gifted and fearless, he will be given the keys to Denmark’s hopeful campaign in a weak group.
22. Marcelo, Brazil
Ridiculous amounts of skill for a left-back and adds an extra dimension to Brazil with devastating forward runs.
21. David De Gea, Spain
One of the best goalkeepers in the world and with a point to prove as Spain seeks redemption for 2014.
20. Paul Pogba, France
Named best young player of the 2014 tournament, says he wants to be “the boss” this time around.
19. Sergio Ramos, Spain
Still fiery, controversial and entirely uncompromising. Has hinted retirement is imminent. Spain will miss him.
18. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Germany
Will get his chance after Manuel Neuer’s injury woes and is an outstanding replacement.
17. Andres Iniesta, Spain
Coming toward the end of a glittering career, that included the winning goal in the 2010 final.
16. Eden Hazard, Belgium
Seems destined for a summer move away from Chelsea, but first, wants to help Belgium reach its potential.
15. Sergio Aguero, Argentina
Knee surgery kept him out of the end of Manchester City’s season but the extra rest might be a blessing.
14. Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Top scorer in the Bundesliga and hungry for success with his national team.
13. Kylian Mbappe, France
Still only 19, and already the second-most expensive player in soccer history. Big things await.
12. Harry Kane, England
Heavy scorer and full of confidence after an excellent campaign with Tottenham. Shoulders England’s hopes.
11. Luis Suarez, Uruguay
Sanctioned for biting at the last World Cup, but still one of the most dynamic forces in the business.
10. Antoine Griezmann, France
Fast and fun and a deadly finisher, he was the top scorer at Euro 2016.
9. N’Golo Kante, France
The best defensive midfielder in the world and crucial to France’s hopes of contending for the title.
8. Paulo Dybala, Argentina
Coming off a pair of big breakout seasons, he is Argentina’s great hope for the future.
7. Toni Kroos, Germany
The heartbeat of the team for the defending champion and at 28, continues to get even sharper.
6. Luka Modric, Croatia
Recently hinted he’d like to end his career in MLS. If he came now, he’d be the league’s best player ever.
5. Neymar, Brazil
Plays with joy and craft, but is recovering from a foot injury that has kept him sidelined since February.
4. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
A master organizer and creator, there may be no smarter player on the planet.
3. Mohamed Salah, Egypt
Coming off a sensational season for Liverpool, and full of energy and enterprise. A joy to watch.
2. Lionel Messi, Argentina
Unstoppable for most opponents, but still waiting for an elusive major trophy with Argentina.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Still superb at 33 and hungry for a World Cup title to add to Portugal’s Euro 2016 success.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.