Robert Lewandowski, Thiago and Marco Reus make our World Cup Debutants XI

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Robert Lewandowski.

The World Cup can be a breeding ground for superstars – James Rodriguez can certainly attest to that – but there are some accomplished and highly reputed players who have been denied their share of time on sport’s grandest stage for one reason or another.

Some of the game’s most famous stars have missed out in the past through injury, competition for places or have just failed to qualify.

Here’s a look at some of the more recognised and seasoned pros who will rather surprisingly be making their World Cup debuts in Russia …


He followed in the footsteps of his father Peter Schmeichel when he made his international bow in 2013. Denmark didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 2014 and it was the same year that the custodian began to rise to prominence with Leicester City. He’s now the undisputed number one for the national team.


As a winger, he came up against plenty of competition in the national team set-up but Ashley Young’s performances at full-back has finally earned him a place in an England World Cup squad at the age of 32. He can play on either flank and it’s that versatility that’s made him an asset to the team.


Given how long Kyle Walker has been around, it is a surprise that he’s playing his first World Cup. He would likely have been the first choice right-back for England but his transformation under Pep Guardiola has prompted Gareth Southgate to give him the responsibility of operating on the right side of a defensive three instead.


He ended Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 10-year reign when he voted Swedish Player of the Year for 2017. Having replaced the iconic striker as the national team’s captain, the 33-year-old has come a long way from his disappointing stint with Wigan in 2007. He was immense for Sweden in qualifying and heroic during the play-offs against Italy.


With 38 appearances for Germany, Jonas Hector has been part of the national team set-up for some time but rather surprisingly features for the first time at the World Cup. The 28-year-old was first called up in November 2014, missing out on the tournament in Brazil but is considered the first-choice left-back now ahead of Philipp Max.


Douglas Costa burst onto the European club scene with Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010 and was an established star by the time 2014 came around. Given the attacking talent at Brazil’s disposal, he was overlooked on both occasions and finally gets his opportunity in Russia ahead of his 28th birthday this September.


The Manchester City midfielder made his debut for the national team in 2011 and was an integral part of the squad ahead of the 2014 World Cup but ended up missing out with a serious back injury that has plagued him ever since. Having overcome it for much of this season though, he’s set to feature in Russia.


Spain have an embarrassment of riches in midfield and no one knows that better than Thiago Alcantara. The 27-year-old was Xavi’s heir apparent for club and country but left Barcelona in 2013 to play regularly at Bayern Munich where he’s become their midfield linchpin. Finally, he gets his chance to shine in Spain’s set-up as well.

LM: MARCO REUS – Germany

Marco Reus is one of the most gifted creative players of his generation but has missed two World Cups (2010 and 2014) as well as Euro 2012 through injury. The Borussia Dortmund star has seemingly managed to steer clear of such misfortune this time though and make a long overdue World Cup debut at the age of 29.


He’s Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer and widely regarded as the most complete number nine in world football but Robert Lewandowski is eagerly awaiting his first World Cup appearance. That may come as a surprise but Poland haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 2006, the year the Bayern Munich striker had only just made his professional debut.

ST: FALCAO – Colombia

Having finished as Colombia’s top scorer during World Cup 2014 qualification with nine goals, Radamel Falcao was expected to lead the team into the tournament in Brazil. However, he suffered an ACL injury in January that year and didn’t recover in time for the competition, meaning he 32-year-old will finally realise his dream this time around.

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