Casey Baughan picks her top five La Liga players turning out for their national sides at the 2018 World Cup and discusses just how much of a difference they can make to their teams.
La Liga is home to some ridiculous footballing talent and plenty of showboating skills, so it comes as no surprise that the Spanish division has supplied many World Cup players. Real Madrid lead the way with 15 players at the tournament and Barcelona follow with 14 men on international duty in Russia.
Across the board in La Liga there is passion and experience that is a necessity in an international team. Players of all ages have been called up to squads, coming from teams such as Villarreal and Deportivo.
It’s easy to reel off plenty of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid players who are influential – Marcelo, Kroos, Griezmann, Pique etc – but it is important to remember others that do just as solid a job.
Here’s my top five to watch in Russia:
Name: Keylor Navas
Club: Real Madrid
Nation: Costa Rica
At 31, Navas has played over 70 times for Costa Rica, winning the Concacaf Goalkeeper of the Year in both 2016 and 2017. Used to winning in La Liga and the Champions League, his growing collection of trophies and he will be vital for mentoring the younger Costa Rican players. In the Champions League ahe has just two clean sheets and he managed three at the 2014 World Cup. Perhaps Navas will perform better with his home country this time round. Costa Rica are going to rely on his safe hands to stop goals from Brazil and Switzerland, both in Group E.
Name: Ivan Rakitić
Club: FC Barcelona
Even though Croatia have the powerhouses of Modric and Kovacic in midfield, 30-year-old Rakitić has the ability to pair up with either of them. The Swiss-Croatian actually started his international career for his parents’ country, making his debut appearance in 2007. His role at both Barcelona and Croatia is a creative one. Statistics for the 2017/18 season show that Rakitić produced 25 chances in 30 matches played in La Liga. Although Messi and Suarez won’t be there to convert the chances he creates at the World Cup, the central midfielder will be integral for the Croatian side.
Name: Diego Godín
Club: Atlético Madrid
Godín is one of the best defenders in the world. He has been molded into an experienced, consistent solid centre-back under the management of Diego Simeone. His communication and leadership skills are crucial to Uruguay succeeding in Russia, both on the pitch and in the dressing room. The 32-year-old’s passion and excitement reminds me of someone making their debut, playing without fear. Not only is he a leader but he also has the ability to block almost every shot that comes his way and intimidates strikers when tackling them. He is an old school defender. Teammate Luis Suarez said: “Godín is a nuisance. He’s always there next to me, he never leaves me alone”. Perfect for the World Cup.
Name: Lionel Messi
Club: FC Barcelona
Position: Forward/False number nine
Of course Lionel Messi had to make the most influential list, without him Argentina lose their creativity and spark. We all know Messi has the ability to change a game. His relentless dribbling skills and vision makes him a stand out player. Argentina would not have made it to Russia without the Barcelona superstar scoring a hat trick against Ecuador to secure their spot – one of six international hat tricks. He has scored 64 goals for Argentina.
Name: Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Real Madrid
Position: Forward/Left wing
Giving Cristiano Ronaldo the number one spot after his underwhelming La Liga season (forgetting Real Madrid’s UCL win) is debatable, but without CR7 Portugal will struggle in Russia. As the Euro 2016 showed, Ronaldo is able to influence his teammates even when he isn’t on the pitch – the nation’s hopes revolve around him. As Portugal’s record-holding goalscorer Ronaldo will be looking to win the only trophy left for him lift. His physique seems to improve with age, as does his self-belief, making it a one-man-show for Portugal. The power that Ronaldo possesses in the air is a major threat, combined with his ability to dribble past players without much effort, he is sure to try his hardest to lift his country to another major title.
You can follow Casey on Twitter @casey_baughan