5 players to watch during the European playoffs for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
The UEFA Qualifiers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup are on the verge of ending, and this November, we will find out which the remaining four teams that will represent Europe in the FIFA World Cup next year will be. Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Croatia, Greece, Switzerland and Northern Ireland are all vying for a World Cup berth.
The matches that will determine which teams will advance and which ones will go home were decided weeks ago, and we are going to see some epic battles and some intense matches all over the continent.
Italy will square off against Sweden, trying to maintain their streak of World Cup appearances alive, Ireland will play against Denmark in a battle of two evenly-matched teams, Croatia will battle against Greece, looking to translate their on-paper superiority to the pitch, and Switzerland will meet with Northern Ireland hoping to re-validate everything they did in the group stage, where they registered nine wins and just one defeat.
All eight teams have quality players, but there are a few names that stand out above the rest and that should lead their teams in the respective draws.
Names that, either due to their immense international experience, their presence in a top-tier club, or simply due to what they mean for their respective countries, are ticketed to play a huge role for their respective countries.
Without further ado, here are 5 players to watch during the 2018 UEFA World Cup playoff round.
#5 Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece)
Let's be honest. Greece do not have much of a realistic chance to reach the 2018 World Cup, considering they must defeat Croatia if they want to advance. The Hellenic side simply do not have the talent, the experience, or the overall quality to the attacking firepower to potentially upset one of the most balanced teams in the continent.
But let's take a trip down to memory lane, shall we? Experts said the exact same thing about Greece prior to the 2004 European Championship, and they won the title.
Therefore, they must repeat their focus in this two-legged playoff tie against Croatia and rely on their defence - as well as Kostas Mitroglou upfront - if they want to pull the upset. And Greece's defensive line starts with one name: Sokratis Papastathopoulos
The Borussia Dortmund centre-back has been one of the most reliable and consistent defenders in the Bundesliga over the past few seasons, and he has emerged as the undisputed leader of Greece's defensive line over the past five years.
His partnership at the back alongside AS Roma's Kostas Manolas is an impressive one, and together, both have enough experience to deal with the threat of players such as Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic, among others.
Greece's focus can't be to solely defend during both matches. But they know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, so they can't lie to themselves about it. They know they must limit Croatia's attacking power just to have a chance. And Sokratis will play a huge role in that department.