JOHANNESBURG - Bundesliga stars from all four corners of the globe will descend on Russia next summer for the Fifa 2018 World Cup. Some will even come face to face as early as the group stage.
Bayern Munich alone boast their very own mini squad of World Cup candidates, including 2014 winners Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller. Fifa 2017 Confederations Cup champion Joshua Kimmich - Philipp Lahm’s rightful heir at right-back - is his country’s standout starlet-turned-stalwart.
Staying with Bayern, veritable goal machine Robert Lewandowski became the first player to score 16 times in a single European qualifying campaign, a tally that meant he finished as the continent’s top scorer en route to Russia 2018. Barring injury, the Poland captain’s debut World Cup promises to be one to savour.
Much like Lewandowski, Colombia No 10 James Rodriguez, winner of the 2014 Golden Boot, again shoulders the expectations of a nation after scoring six goals and four assists in qualifying.
The Bayern teammates and soon-to-be World Cup Group H opponents meet in Kazan on June 24.
France pair Kingsley Coman and Corentin Tolisso and Spain midfield matador Thiago Alcantara are three other Bayern names with the talent and ambition befitting the World Cup stage.
Borussia Dortmund’s World Cup representatives include Mario Götze, scorer of Germany’s dramatic extra-time winner against Argentina in the 2014 final. The potential head-to-head between BVB bosom buddies Marc Bartra (Spain) and Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal) in Group B on June 15 is not one to be missed.
Among those flying the RB Leipzig flag is Timo Werner. Miroslav Klose’s natural successor, the 21-year-old finished as the Bundesliga’s leading German scorer on 21 goals in 2016/17 and joint-top scored at the 2017 Confederations Cup.
It was an accolade the Stuttgart academy graduate shared with Borussia Mönchengladbach captain Lars Stindl and Schalke midfield sensation Leon Goretzka. The trio each hit three goals in Russia and have all continued their fine form at club level in 2017/18.
🏆 What a day! Joachim Löw 🇩🇪 went on a trip through football history in our exhibition, spend some moments with the 2018 @FIFAWorldCup Winner's Trophy, signed our Wall of Champions and met Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic 🇨🇭.#DieMannschaft @DFB_Team_EN pic.twitter.com/8sZNVV5Maj
Hoffenheim’s Sandro Wagner provides an additional string to Joachim Löw’s attacking bow. Five goals in seven belated international appearances have only enhanced the 30-year-old front man’s World Cup credentials.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Fabian and Carlos Salcedo (both Mexico) are set to soar with Mexico - potentially bad news for Group F counterparts Germany - while fellow Eagle Makoto Hasebe is one of seven Bundesliga cast members who could feature for Japan.
African interest comes in the form of Amine Harit (Schalke & Morocco), Salif Sane (Hannover & Senegal) and Leon Balogun (Mainz & Nigeria).
Australian hopes are pinned on Hertha Berlin forward Mathew Leckie.
Whoever boards the plane and however far they go for their respective countries, the Bundesliga’s great and good are guaranteed to leave an indelible mark on Russia 2018.