Oct 5, 2017

It might seem like a distant light on the horizon right now, but in reality, the Russia 2018 World Cup is just around the corner. With national team places up for grabs ahead of the illustrious tournament, more than a few players will inevitably be thinking ahead and aiming throughout the 2017/18 domestic campaign to prove they’re worthy of selection with their best displays.
Of course, there’s no shortage of international stars amongst the ranks of Barcelona, some of whom already know the joy of hoisting aloft the most coveted trophy in world football. Impressively, amongst the 24 players in the current Camp Nou first team squad list, only one represents a country outside the top 15 favourite countries. Indeed, such is the current strength and depth at the Catalan club, it’s entirely possible that every current Barca squad member could feature at Russia 2018. Few clubs can boast that strength of quality in their roster, that’s for certain!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the five favourite countries, along with the Barcelona players who will be hoping to book their passage to Russia next summer.

Germany
Barca currently only have the one German representative, but Marc-Andre ter Stegan has already shown that he can be considered amongst the best young goalkeepers in the world, cementing his place as first-choice between the posts at the Camp Nou.
Having started all but one match as Germany won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, plus with Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer out of action until at least January for both club and country, following surgery on a troublesome metatarsal injury, Ter Stegan genuinely has the opportunity to stake his claim as Joachim Low’s primary option at the World Cup.
Reigning champions Germany are 11/2 favourites with most bookmakers in the latest Oddschecker World Cup guide, but several other nations featuring Blaugrana players will undoubtedly provide stiff competition.



Brazil
Following the much talked about departure of Neymar to PSG in the summer, the star attraction as far as Brazil are concerned, is no longer at Barca. Of the two remaining options, one is an established option for his national team, whilst the other is hoping to make the breakthrough.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when the signing of Paulinho was announced from Chinese side, Guangzhou Evergrande, but despite doubts about Barca transfer policy over the summer, few can doubt his experience and midfield versatility. Already featuring regularly and proving his worth, the 29-year-old will be keen to produce the goods for his new club and ensure he’s in the Brazil squad for Russia 2018.
If there’s to be a Brazil showing for Rafinha at the 2018 World Cup, he needs regular games in the Blaugrana shirt. Sadly, after injuring his right knee last April in the win against Granada, the 24-year-old seems no closer to recovery. A second operation was required at the start of October and as yet, the club are reluctant to give estimates on when he might return to action.

Spain
When Spain went through its golden age of winning back-to-back Euro titles and the 2010 World Cup in between, the driving force of the side had a distinctly Barcelona flavour, not least in the tiki-taka style that attracted global admiration. That both Spain and Barcelona enjoyed the most trophy-laden spells of their history during the same period of years, is no coincidence.
After the disappointments at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Euro 2016 in France, a new age of contemplation and experimentation has come in the shape of head coach, Julen Lopetegui. No longer is he relying principally on either Barcelona or Real Madrid to provide the majority of his selections.
In October ahead of the qualifiers against Albania and Israel, Lopetegui included three uncapped players amongst a fluidly changing squad that varies with each international break. Of the Barca contingent, Andres Iniesta was withdrawn from international duty with a hamstring injury, whilst regulars Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique all made the list.
Of those who weren’t called up, all the remaining Spaniards in the current Barcelona squad have at least one full international cap. However, mixed form last season or a basic lack of opportunities over the last twelve months, has had an undeniable impact on getting further opportunities for their national team.
Only the four already mentioned can be guaranteed as options to feature in the 2018 World Cup finals. For the likes of Denis Suarez, Gerard Deulofeu, Paco Alcacer, Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, a significant increase in minutes on the pitch with their club, plus consistently high form, will be vital if they’re to make the trip to Russia next summer. Aside from Vidal, however, all have worked consistently with Lopetegui when he was Spain Under-21 coach, so that could also work in their favour.


France
Over the last 12 months or so, the three Frenchmen in the current Barcelona squad have represented their national team with a fair level of regularity. However, the likelihood of each making it to Russia 2018 is somewhat varied and for different reasons.
Another of the much talked about summer arrivals, Ousmane Dembele, must have been relishing the opportunity to showcase his undoubtable talent. Sadly, that has been blighted by a hamstring injury and news that he could be out of action for anywhere between two to four months. There’s still time for him to bounce back, though, so he must surely be a key option for France in Russia next summer.
Some questioned whether Samuel Umtiti would make much of an impact at Barcelona, but last season the consistent quality of his performances more than answered the doubters. After making the most of his opportunity at Euro 2016, solid and reliable, he has cemented his place as a regular choice for Didier Deschamps.
In the squad for the October matches against Bulgaria and Belarus, a lack of regular matches with Barca hasn’t yet damaged Lucas Digne’s chances. That said, as the tournament in Russia draws ever closer, it could become a factor if the 24-year-old is to underline his capabilities for France. Competing with Jordi Alba for the starting spot at left-back, doesn’t make things any easier.

Argentina
Boasting over 137 appearances for his national team, should Argentina eventually navigate their way Russia after a difficult run in the qualifiers, you can guarantee Javier Mascherano will be there competing in what might also be his last major tournament finals. A marvellous servant for both club and country, the experienced 33-year-old is consistency personified.
We conclude our summary of the five World Cup favourites with none other than Lionel Messi. Simply the most exciting player there is in football today with Barcelona, back in his home country, the 30-year-old remains a hot topic of debate when representing Argentina.
Seemingly accepting that he might never match Maradona in hoisting aloft the World Cup with Argentina, after the Copa America final loss against Chile in June 2016, Messi shocked the world by abruptly announcing his retirement from international football. Following huge outpouring of support in his home country and from fans around the world, after careful thought and consideration, Messi changed his mind.
For current national team coach, Jorge Sampaoli, there is no doubting that Messi will always be the first name scribbled into his squad lists. It has been a bumpy road in qualification for Argentina, but should they eventually make it to Russia, every fan of Messi will be hoping he can achieve his dream of winning the World Cup.


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