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

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

Are there any football fans that can resist the allure of the elegant number ten? The touch and the panache. The skill and the creativity of a player lurking between the lines is a sight to behold, and Russia will play host to the very best of them this summer. 

We take a look at the very best players that will be given the freedom to pick the lock this summer. And no, despite wearing number ten on his back, Neymar doesn’t count.

There are various interpretations of what makes a true number ten. It’s got to be the central player given absolute freedom to unlock the opposition defence, they’re not always just a luxury player in 2018, but they are given complete responsibility to create.

Here are the best five going to Russia.

  1. 1 Christian Eriksen - Denmark

    REUTERS/Liselotte Sabroe

    The Dane has had his best season yet for Tottenham and comes into the tournament bang in form. 

    Eriksen scored 14 goals and made 13 assists in all competitions for Spurs this season, but it's not just his numbers that have impressed this season. 

    He seems to have finally fully embraced the role of chief playmaker, stepping up and taking responsibility for setting the tempo and making his team tick. 

    This willingness to take responsibility was on show at the Aviva Stadium in their playoff second leg against Ireland back in November. After a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen, Eriksen took the second leg by the scruff of the neck, scoring a hat trick to send his country to Russia this summer. 

    KEY STAT: Christian Eriksen scored 11 goals in qualifying, only Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more.

    He has the ability to pass over short and long distances, he can cross, he can shoot. Despite all this, his greatest attribute is his intelligence. Intelligence in his passing, in his movement, and in his pressing. 

    Eriksen now has the lot, and if Denmark are to do well this summer, it will almost certainly have a lot to do with the Tottenham maestro. 

  2. 2 Isco - Spain

    REUTERS/Sergio Perez

    The 26-year-old is the complete number ten. He is everything you could possibly hope for in an attacking midfielder, possessing the required skill and mentality needed to succeed at a club like Real Madrid. 

    Isco doesn't conform to the number ten stereotype, however. He rides challenges brilliantly and responds to heavy tackles with physicality of his own. He's not afraid to give as good as he gets and is a fearsome prospect for those who have to face him in Russia.

    KEY STAT: Scored in the final as Spain under 21s won the Euro Under-21 Championship in 2013. 

    He possesses near perfect spatial awareness, fantastic dribbling ability and the innate ability to release the ball at exactly the right time. 

    Isco's consistency has seen him force his way into both Spain and Real Madrid's starting XIs, no mean feat given who he's up against. He has the potential to be the poster boy of this World Cup, as James Rodriguez was in 2014, speaking of which...

  3. 3 James Rodriguez - Colombia

    REUTERS/Henry Romero

    James Rodriguez was undoubtedly the breakout star of the 2014 World Cup, winning the Golden Boot with six goals. The 26-year-old also won goal of the tournament for his stunning volley against Uruguay, leaving Brazil that summer as a superstar. 

    Galactico status was to follow, with Real Madrid splurging £63 million on the Colombian star. Despite 13 goals and 13 assists in La Liga in his first season at the Bernabeu, it hasn't been the easiest four years for Rodriguez since his breakthrough in Brazil. 

    Rarely a consistent starter under Zinedine Zidane, Rodriguez spent last season on loan at Bayern in the hunt for regular football, likely with the summer's World Cup in mind. 

    KEY STAT: Colombia's top scorer in qualifying with six goals.

    This proved a great decision, rarely missing a game when fit and scoring seven goals, with 11 assists too. 

    Pace and vision, combined with a beautiful left foot, are the skills that make Rodriguez such a devastating number ten. Whilst Colombia may not be one of the sides people are talking about to win the tournament, with an in form Rodriguez, they've always got a chance.

  4. 4 Antoine Griezmann - France

    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

    Winning player of the tournament at Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann has developed into one of the world's most coveted players under the stewardship of Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid. 

    Some may say that Griezmann is not the average number ten, but the way he is capable of shouldering his side's creative burden whilst playing off a main centre forward, likely to be Olivier Giroud this summer, earns him a spot on this list. 

    KEY STAT: Won the Golden Boot at Euro 2016 with six goals, three more than his closest rival.  

    The Frenchman is a tireless runner that will work doggedly for his team. His pace and directness can really stretch teams and he is a lethal finisher in front of goal, scoring 29 goals for Atletico Madrid this season. 

    His movement and vision mark him out as one of the cleverest players that will be going to Russia this summer. He is also a good set piece taker, and plundered 15 assists this season. 

    If France are to do well this summer, even with all the talent they possess, it is likely to be Griezmann that has to shoulder the responsibility going forward.

  5. 5 Lionel Messi - Argentina

    REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

    Who else could we finish this list with than Lionel Messi?

    A joy to behold, Messi will have the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he looks to drag Argentina to do one better than last time out, and win the FIFA World Cup for his country. 

    The one thing that has eluded the all-time great is a trophy at international level, and some critics will simply not shut up until he's won one. 

    He toyed with the idea of international retirement after the Copa America Centenario in 2016, but thankfully for Argentina, was tempted back into the fold. 

    EY STAT: Scored a hat trick in Argentina's crucial 3-1 win over Ecuador to clinch qualification for the finals.

    Argentina are remarkably dependent on their talisman, and Messi will have a free role to make Argentina tick going forward. 

    Many non-Argentinians will be supporting them in Russia this summer, for the sole reason that their number ten deserves this trophy more than any other player in the world. Whether even he can drag them to World Cup glory though, remains to be seen.

  1. Poll: Who will make the biggest impact in Russia?

    1. Christian Eriksen
    2. Isco
    3. James Rodriguez
    4. Antoine Griezmann
    5. Lionel Messi
    119 votes
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