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Messi to Kane: Players To Watch Out For In World Cup Qualifiers

The qualification tournament for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar reaches a crucial stage this weekend as players across continents head back to their home countries to lead their teams to a World Cup berth. While quarantine restrictions are still a headache for clubs and players, the Premier League has allowed players to head back to countries to take part in the qualifiers, unlike last time. With no major nation facing the prospect of an outright elimination, the qualifiers might seem unexciting, the international break can act as a key turning point for many players who are having a slump and are seeking to turn around their fortunes.

Here are our top players to watch out for in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers:

#5: CRISTIANO RONALDO – PORTUGAL

While Lionel Messi struggles in his early days in Paris, Cristiano Ronaldo has blended almost seamlessly with his old team in Manchester. The 36-year-old has already scored five goals for the Red Devils in six appearances. Ronaldo’s contributions to the Selecao have been unparalleled – with 111 goals for the national team, Ronaldo holds the record for the most number of international goals. Despite winning numerous accolades for the team, winning a World Cup remains Ronaldo’s long-cherished dream, and one can be sure he will be at his best throughout the qualifiers.

He has been in phenomenal form for the team this year; he won the Golden Boot award at the Euros despite the Selecao getting eliminated in the round of 16. In the last international break, Ronaldo scored two late goals against Ireland as Portugal registered a 2-1 comeback victory. While Ronaldo has scored thrice for Portugal in the qualifiers, his compatriot Diogo Jota has scored four goals, and the competition between the youngster and the veteran will be exciting to watch. The Selecao will be in action against Luxembourg and Serbia during the break.

#4: ANTOINE GRIEZMANN – FRANCE

It was widely thought that the rise of Kylian Mbappe would mean the end of Antoine Griezmann’s leadership of the defending world champions, but the Atletico Madrid striker has proven so far that he is not going anywhere. The Silver Boot winner of the 2016 World Cup failed to spark in the Euros, scoring just one goal in four appearances for the team in the tournament. But after scoring thrice during the last international break for the Blues, Griezmann proved that there is still a lot of fire left in him.

#3: ROMELU LUKAKU – BELGIUM

Since his record transfer to Chelsea earlier this season, Romelu Lukaku has led the Blues to a spectacular start in the Premier League. He has scored thrice so far in the league to take Thomas Tuchel’s side to the top of the table. As a keystone of Belgium’s Golden Generation, Lukaku has played a key role in making the Red Devils the top-ranked team in the world. With 67 goals from 100 appearances, Lukaku has been the most prolific goal-scorer for Belgium, holding the record by a wide margin.

Despite his contributions to the team and Belgium’s domination of world football, they are yet to win a trophy together. With the Golden Generation of Belgium coming to an end, this might be the last chance for the team to win the World Cup for a while. Lukaku has already scored five goals in the World Cup qualifiers, and with two easy fixtures coming up against Estonia and Wales, he will be aiming to add more goals to his name.

#2: LIONEL MESSI – ARGENTINA

It has been a rough summer for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner – first the pain of leaving Barcelona and then struggling to score at Paris Saint-Germain. But the Argentinian can seek to turn around his season in the international break with three back-to-back fixtures against Paraguay, Uruguay and Peru scheduled over the next two weeks. Messi has already scored five goals in the World Cup qualifiers – including a hat-trick against Bolivia during the last international break in September.

While the relatively simple CONMEBOL qualification process ensures an easy qualification path, Argentina are currently behind Brazil in the qualification campaign, and coach Lionel Scaloni will be keen to reduce the gap to their arch-rivals. Lionel Messi has already won his first piece of silverware for his nation earlier this year when they clinched the Copa America, and he will be keen to lead his team to the ultimate prize.

#1: HARRY KANE – ENGLAND

Gareth Southgate will be keen to better England’s fortunes in the next edition of the World Cup, and there is no doubt that Harry Kane will play a crucial role in any of his plans. But the English captain is having a terrible season at his club – a failed transfer to Manchester City and disastrous form at Tottenham are hurting his morale and piling more pressure for him to deliver at the international stage.

Kane has not scored even a single goal in the Premier League for the Spurs so far this season, but a three-goal haul during the last international break showed there is still spark in the English star and he is waiting for a team that can value his contributions.

Two crucial fixtures against Andorra and Hungary that can secure England’s place in the World Cup finals give Harry Kane the perfect opportunity for Kane to show his potential and break out of his slump.