Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
How much longer can people claim with any great conviction that Robert Lewandowski is among the very finest centre forwards in football?
Anonymous for two consecutive Champions League seasons, the Bayern striker is expected to shoulder Poland’s hopes in Russia.
Unplayable at his best (remember his four goal salvo for Dortmund against Real Madrid and his five against Wolfsburg for Bayern?), there is a sense that he has peaked. The next week will confirm or disprove this hypothesis.
African football needs a strong showing in Russia. Pele’s prediction that an African nation would win the World Cup before the turn of the 21st century proved a triumph of optimism over reality.
Only Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010 have made the quarter finals of any World Cup.
In an era of constant World Cup expansion, it’s hard to justify more places for Africa on merit alone – and the problem with doing so on the basis of political expedience or even for future investment is that the quality of the tournament diminishes.
It’s in everyone’s interest that African football flourishes – but the signs are not good that it will in 2018.