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Carr now had a lot of things to think about, but the most important thing The Nessers were still an attraction to pro football fans, but their play on the field was a different story, as the Dayton, Buffalo, Rock Island, Hammond, and Detroit were running teams that Should Pep Up But the footballers should make it snappier.
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Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has not always felt comfortable at international level -- "I didn't enjoy being a part of it; I didn't like being selected," he said of life under previous coach Marc Wilmots -- but he has stepped up under Roberto Martinez, his old manager at Everton, and looks secure as the spearhead of a team that must deliver on long-held promise. Nobody has scored more for Belgium; Lukaku can cut an ungainly figure up front when things are not going well, but is one of the world's best strikers when firing. James Rodriguez. He was a breakout star at the previous World Cup, but the subsequent four years have been dogged by frustration at club level: He was signed by Real Madrid before being loaned to Bayern Munich.

By contrast, James loves playing for the national team because his importance is unchallenged -- he is given freedom to roam in search of the space from which he can do most damage. He will look at Russia as a moment to re-emphasise his status among the global elite. Gonzalo Higuain.


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The virtual world has turned him into an object of ridicule after his misses in finals for Argentina, but that is a gross lack of respect for Higuain's superb career. However, to quiet his critics he still needs to pass an important test, and the World Cup will give him a chance to do just that. Gabriel Jesus. Four years ago, Gabriel Jesus was a year-old fan of the Brazil national team, cheering on his country during the World Cup it hosted. Indeed, he joined the festivities by painting the walls and streets around his neighborhood -- Jardim Peri, north of Sao Paulo -- with Canarinho colors.

Four years on and having made his mark in the club game with Manchester City, he is the starting striker in Tite's lineup, finally realising his dream of playing in a World Cup. Son Heung-Min. To get an idea how important Son is to South Korea, consider what coach Shin Tae-yong said in April when asked his plan to get the best from the attacker: "We're trying to implement the formation that Tottenham uses. He left the World Cup in tears but can be more influential this time.

Mesut Ozil. Having started at age 6 at DJK Westfalen Gelsenkirchen, Ozil played for two more clubs in the next five years, searching for a big break. In , his father, Mustafa, asked fourth-division Rot-Weiss Essen youth director Walter Kik to look at the boy juggling the ball outside. Kik needed five minutes to decide and, weeks later, sanctioned a monthly payment for the year-old.

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Schalke 04 then became aware of Ozil, whose career took off when he signed for the Royal Blues in He will arrive in Russia in good shape for his second World Cup, literally. The former Corinthians, Shakhtar Donetsk and Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder has changed his diet in recent years, cutting foods that were affecting his physique.

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  4. More goals, more assists and better all-around play. Willian captained Brazil for the first time in a November friendly vs. Japan, becoming the 14th player to wear the armband under Tite. Mats Hummels.

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    Ulla Holthoff was the first woman to commentate on football in Germany and created the country's first football-focused talk show. She also happens to be the mother of Hummels, who is the most cultured, opinionated and arguably handsome centre-back to ever represent the national team. No wonder Die Welt called Holthoff "the mother of modern football": Germany would be less progressive without her, on and off the pitch.

    Dele Alli. Alli scores goals but also creates them. It is his fiery temperament that is a concern, with indiscipline and reckless challenges always threatening to prove costly and Alli sometimes appearing like a petulant red card waiting to happen. His partnership with Harry Kane is crucial for Tottenham, but we are still waiting to see the pair click together successfully on the international stage.

    Raheem Sterling. One of only five survivors from England's ill-fated World Cup campaign, the Manchester City forward has matured as a player and, in the buildup to Russia, has brushed off criticism over a gun tattoo. Working under Pep Guardiola has enabled Sterling to iron out his flaws and develop into a more dangerous, all-round forward; his national-team manager, Gareth Southgate, will expect the winger to carry on his club form.

    Thibaut Courtois.

    Courtois was no fan of former coach Marc Wilmots. The goalkeeper pointedly said Belgium had been "tactically outclassed" by Italy in a defeat at Euro and, with his father, recently began legal action against the ex-manager for "libel and defamation" after Wilmots allegedly suggested the elder Courtois had leaked team information.

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    Things are more settled under Roberto Martinez, and Courtois, who conceded only six goals during qualifying, remains a world-class last line of defence for his country. Dries Mertens. Napoli's self-styled "street dog" made one of Belgium's more memorable contributions at Brazil , scoring a late winner against Algeria in the group stage.

    It won him a bet with his father, whose moustache he then shaved off. Similar scoring heroics would go down well in Russia, but Mertens has only found the net against relatively weak nations in recent times, despite revelatory form for his club. He should start on the right side of attack. Diego Godin. Uruguay's centre-back, captain and leader has been present throughout the year reign of coach Oscar Washington Tabarez. As intelligent as he is ferocious, Godin organises the defensive line and is a forceful, thoughtful voice on off-the-field questions.

    Moreover, he has a habit of weighing in with vital goals, such as the group-stage winner vs. Italy in He confessed recently that "there isn't a day goes by that I stop thinking about the World Cup. I dream of lifting the trophy. Angel Di Maria. It seems like a curse keeps hunting Di Maria whenever he is on national-team duty. Because of injuries, he could not play the semifinals and final of the World Cup, while he also had to be substituted due to physical discomfort in a pair of Copa America finals against Chile.

    Fideo admitted that international setbacks have taken a physical and psychological toll but, in Russia, he has an opportunity to put those behind him. Marco Asensio. Spain manager Julen Lopetegui might decide that talent is paramount and that Asensio must start, but what looks likely is that he begins the World Cup as the first replacement off the bench, for Andres Iniesta. Fortunately for his country, just one of the remarkable things about this talented attacking midfielder is that Asensio remains as intensely focused and likely to affect whether he starts or comes on.

    Russia offers a stage upon which he could propel himself from super player to all-out superstar. Radamel Falcao. A dynamic, predatory centre-forward, Falcao was so desperate to recover from injury in time for the previous World Cup that it might have had a detrimental effect on his performances in the following two years. This, then, is a big moment, perhaps the most important of his career.

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    The headache for coach Jose Pekerman is that Falcao's lack of back-to-goal skills makes it hard for him to play up front on his own. Ousmane Dembele.

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    In March , Dembele was asked which foot he favoured. The then-Rennes player replied that he preferred his left, to which the puzzled journalist replied, "But you score a lot of goals with your right foot. But I'm still more left-footed," Dembele said. The young star's response was priceless: "Ha, that's because I shoot better with my right foot!

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