Spain: Sergio Busquets
La Roja are looking for the chance to return to the pinnacle of world soccer at the first time of asking after losing their title in 2014 with a group stage exit. After a quarterfinal loss to Italy in the Euros, Vicente Del Bosque departed the national team setup, to be replaced by Julen Lopetegui. The 51-year-old led Spain to qualify to Russia in style, comfortably topping the group having scored 36 goals and conceded just three.
Spain’s form heading into this tournament is harrowing for the rest of the competition and Lopetegui has a wealth of options to choose from. Despite much of the World Cup-winning squad of 2010 having retired from international duty, Spain seems to have walked into yet another golden generation of youngsters. In the place of players like David Villa, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, Isco, Marco Asensio and David Silva have all replaced old heads seamlessly. Among the survivors from the previous generation are Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
Sergio Busquets is the other veteran left standing. Since bursting onto the scene in 2008, he has won all there is to win and yet he hasn’t shown any sign of complacency. Busquets will likely finish the season with yet another domestic double at Barcelona and will no doubt be conductive of all that Spain do well. As Iniesta’s influence wanes, Busquets will be an even more important cog in this Spanish machine that hopes to go all the way in Russia.
Honorable mentions: David de Gea, Andres Iniesta, Diego Costa, Iago Aspas