Italy fans will be lamenting the absence of the Azzurri from the 2018 World Cup but Serie A supporters can still see some of the league’s best players represent their respective countries in Russia.
Although the Italian league does not attract the world’s best players like it did in the 1980s and 1990s, there are still some excellent footballers playing their club football on the Italian peninsula and the World Cup will give football fans a chance to see the league’s stars, starlets, and unsung heroes.
Serie A champions Juventus often provide the basis of the Azzurri squad when they are at the tournament but they are still being represented on the world stage even in Italy’s absence.
Thirty-year-old striker Gonzalo Higuain will be playing for Argentina and he is expected to lead the line under Coach Jorge Sampaoli unless Sergio Aguero from Manchester City is fit enough. “El Pipita” has not scored a goal under the new Argentine tactician but he has scored 31 goals in 72 caps including five at last two World Cups.
Unfortunately for the Albiceleste, Higuain has failed to deliver in three major finals for them – 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America Finals – but he is still in the squad and this will be his last chance to redemption.
His Bianconeri teammate Paulo Dybala is yet to prove himself for Argentina, failing to score in 12 international matches. It is unlikely that the 24-year-old will start any games at the tournament but there is no doubting his mercurial talent so perhaps he could be an impact player off the bench.
Another Juventus player to watch out for is rapid winger Douglas Costa, who will be representing Brazil at the World Cup. The 27-year-old will have to fight with Chelsea attacker Willian for a spot on the right-wing but he was decisive in La Vecchia Signora winning seventh consecutive Serie A title and he might be able to provide the likes of Roberto Firmino and Neymar with the chances score.
His compatriot Alisson has arguably been the goalkeeper in Serie A this season and the Roma shot-stopper will be playing in between the sticks for the Selecao. The 25-year-old is one of the most complete players in his role thanks to his ability to make great saves and also display confidence with the ball at his feet.
Belgium have a squad consisting of English Premier League stars but they do have a Serie A protagonist in their team in Dries Mertens. The versatile forward did not finish the league season with Napoli in sparkling form but he did provide a goal and assist for his country in 4-1 victory against Costa Rica in friendly and this might be the ideal confidence booster leading into the tournament.
One of the best defenders in Italian football is Kalidou Koulibaly and the Napoli centre-back will be representing Senegal at World Cup. He will turn 27 during the tournament and the French-born defender will be expected to provide solidarity and security in the Senegalese backline.
Croatia are one of the dark horses for the tournament and their attack will consist of Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic and Inter winger Ivan Perisic. The Bianconeri forward has scored 30 times in 83 caps for his country and he should provide some tenacity and fighting spirit while the Nerazzurri left-winger has scored 18 goals in 66 games for the Vatreni, and despite his inconsistency, he can create something out of nothing.
Lucas Torreira is one of the most promising youngsters in world football and the Sampdoria defensive midfielder will be representing his native Uruguay at the World Cup. The 22-year-old only made his international debut in March but experienced tactician Oscar Tabarez has been giving the starlet sufficient playing time and World Cup will give him a platform to showcase his talents at the highest level.
Switzerland will have some Serie A representation with the likes of Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler, Bologna midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, and former Juventus stalwart Stephan Lichtsteiner, who will ply his trade in the Premier League with Arsenal after just finishing the season with the Bianconeri. Dzemaili and Lichtsteiner are experienced heads while Freuler is a box-to-box midfielder that has slid under the radar.
There will be a large Serie A contingent in the Poland squad with Napoli players Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zielinski and Sampdoria have provided three players for the Poles in Bartosz Bereszynski, Karol Linetty, and Dawid Kownacki. Bereszynski should play a role in defence but the others can make a difference when the Polish go on the attack.
Although Italian football does not have the same glamour as it used and Italy are not at the World Cup, there are players who do play on the Italian peninsula that are worth watching out for. Some of these players might not be well-known to non-Italian supporters but they might pleasantly surprise spectators at Russia.