World Cup 2018: Five number eights that can light up Russia

With eight days to go until the World Cup finally gets underway, we take a look at some of the number eights that can entertain the watching world this summer.


The World Cup continues to edge ever closer, so with eight days to go, what better time to look at the five best number eights to watch out for this summer. 

You can read RealSport’s best number nines feature HERE.

Ah, the number eight.

The player in the team that can do a bit of everything. Well, if he’s any good that is. And this summer in Russia, the number eights are very, very good. 

The barnstorming presence in the middle of the park, the number eight is expected to get forward, win the ball back for his team, win aerial battles and be a general nuisance for the opposition. A key cog in the machine of a successful team. 

Here are the five that we at RealSport think could make a big impact this summer. 

  1. 1 Sergej Milinkovic-Savic [Serbia]


    REUTERS/Marko Djurica

    The six foot three midfielder has been gaining fans all over Europe this season with his all-action performances for Lazio in Serie A. 

    Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is the perfect blend of snarling physical brute and footballing artist.

    KEY STAT: Milinkovic-Savic was the top scoring midfielder in Serie in the 2017/18 season, netting 12 times.

    The 23-year-old has been compared by some with Paul Pogba and there are definitely similarities with the Frenchman in certain parts of his game. 

    Capable of shooting from range, possessing sublime deftness of touch, and the wizardry to glide past players almost effortlessly, the Serb is already being touted for a big-money move away from Lazio after the World Cup. 

    So beautiful to watch, and protected by fellow midfield brutes Luka Milivojevic and Nemanja Matic, Milinkovic-Savic has the platform to elevate himself into superstar status in Russia, just as James Rodriguez did in Brazil four years ago. 

  2. 2 Leon Goretzka [Germany]


    REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

    The rangy midfielder just sealed his move to Bayern Munich, and it's easy to see why those at FC Hollywood were desperate to sign him. 

    Touted as an outstanding prospect for years, Leon Goretzka has done outstandingly well to recover from a nasty muscle injury that saw him limited to just two Bundesliga starts in the 2014/15 season, to become one of the best players in the league. 

    KEY STAT: Leon Goretzka scored three goals in four appearances as Germany won the Confederations Cup in 2017.

    The 23-year-old possesses that rare and beautiful ability to burst through the lines with the ball at his feet, with glorious poise and control on the ball. 

    He has an excellent passing range both short and long, playing a huge role in Schalke's runner-up finish in Germany this season. 

    Goals aren't a necessity in his game, but he does have the ability to arrive in the box at just the right time. He hit a purple patch in October, scoring three goals in as many games before a niggling injury curtailed his momentum.

    Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira have almost monopolised the midfield spots in Die Mannschaft's starting XI in recent years, but this summer could be Goretzka's time to step up and play a big part as they progress through the tournament.

  3. 3 Koke [Spain]


    REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

    The 26-year-old is now an established name in the Spain squad, and will be an important member of Julen Lopetegui's starting XI in Russia. 

    Koke has had huge boots to fill, effectively taking Xavi's spot in the midfield, but he has taken it all in his stride. 

    KEY STAT: Koke has reached doubled figures for assists four times in his career.

    An integral component of Diego Simeone's extraordinary Atletico Madrid side, he can conduct matches with his outstanding passing ability and vision. Koke plays with an intelligence that makes him so popular with his managers and teammates. 

    He combines this artist-like ability with an impressive drive and versatility, getting around the pitch and making sure he is involved. 

    Spain have had so much success in the last decade, with Vicente del Bosque building a dynasty between 2008 and 2012. This summer, however, Koke will be looking to write a bit of history of his own, as the Spaniards try and wrestle their trophy back. 

  4. 4 Paul Pogba [France]


    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

    Paul Pogba isn't everyone's cup of tea. At times, he can be frustrating, anonymous, wasteful even.

    But he's absolutely fantastic. 

    At others, he's like a classical composer in the middle of the pitch, effortlessly making the other 21 players dance to his tune. For a big man he can move with such grace and poise. This, coupled with his natural athleticism, makes him such a presence with the ball at his feet. 

    KEY STAT: Scored six goals and created ten in the Premier League for Manchester United this season.

    He can pass over any distance and with any technique, he can shoot from distance, and remain composed when released one-on-one. Pogba should be one of the best players in the world.

    Whether it's been the influence of Jose Mourinho, not enjoying life in England, or just not being tactically flexible enough, Paul Pogba has not had the desired effect for club or country that supporters have been hoping for. 

    This led to what should be France's talisman getting jeered by his own supporters in a pre-World Cup warmup match against Italy for taking a dreadful shot from miles out.

    So the pressure is on the Frenchman's, now 25, shoulders to deliver, but he has the character and talent to overcome his critics and be the match-winner that his country is so desperate for him to be.

  5. 5 Matias Vecino


    REUTERS/Andres Stapff

    Another rangy midfielder, 26-year-old Matias Vecino goes into his first World Cup finals with the opportunity to make football fans everywhere sit up and take notice. 

    He's clearly not phased by big moments, having scored the late goal on the final day that saw Inter Milan pip Lazio to the final Champions League spot in Serie A. 

    KEY STAT: Was sent off in his only previous tournament start at the Copa America Centenario in 2016.

    Oscar Tabarez has had to refresh his Uruguay side, particularly in midfield, having lost stalwarts like Walter Gargano, Egidio Arevalo and Diego Perez since the last World Cup. Vecino represents everything good about this evolution. 

    Notoriously a very direct side with midfielders that play very conservatively, Matias Vecino has broken that mould. The Inter Milan man is an absolutely superb dribbler, possessing the ability to carry the ball at pace with consummate ease.

    He often follows up these trademark dribbles with an excellent end product. With Uruguay getting a kind draw, Vecino could gain many new fans worldwide with his performances as Uruguay progress in Russia. 

  1. POLL: Which number eight will have the best World Cup?

    1. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
    2. Paul Pogba
    3. Matias Vecino
    4. Koke
    5. Leon Goretzka
    10 votes
    Share Your Result

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Etienne Fermie

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Étienne Fermie is a writer for RealSport, specialising in football and tennis.

Having featured in the Guardian and on LoveSport Radio, Étienne also co-founded the 3pm Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @etiennefermie 

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