It may come as a surprise to hear that global footballing stars such as Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus have never featured at a FIFA World Cup. Well their chance has finally come in 2018. Bayern Munich’s Poland striker and Borussia Dortmund’s Germany forward are at last set to feature on the biggest stage of them all.
And they are not the only Bundesliga players set to make their World Cup bow in Russia, with a number of debutants featuring from up and down the German top-flight table. As the tournament draws ever closer, bundesliga.com presents 11 players about to take centre stage for the first time.
Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg/Belgium)
It speaks volumes for Casteels’ personal performances that he has been included in Roberto Martinez’s preliminary squad despite a less than satisfactory season for his Wolfsburg side. The Wolves only survived the 2017/18 season via the relegation play-off against Holstein Kiel, but Casteels was an ever-present between the posts and made the sixth-most amount of saves in the league.
Still only 25, he has had to remain patient throughout his career. Eventually becoming Hoffenheim’s undisputed No.1 in 2013/14, he had to fight for two seasons at Wolfsburg to dislodge club captain Diego Benaglio. With the Swiss goalkeeper out the way, Casteels has been able to flourish again and featured in every Belgium squad in the last year. He now has the chance to feature on the global stage in Russia.
Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich/Germany)
A player who has seemingly been around for years, 2017/18 was only Kimmich’s third in the Bundesliga. At the time of the last World Cup, he was only 19 and had just secured promotion to Bundesliga 2 with RB Leipzig. Then still a bit of a jack of all trades, Kimmich now heads to Russia as the undisputed first-choice right-back in Joachim Löw’s team following the retirement of Philipp Lahm.
Watch: All of Kimmich's Bundesliga goals and assists
Making his senior Germany debut just weeks ahead of Euro 2016, he played every minute from the final group game until the semi-final loss to hosts France. He went a step further in 2017 by winning the Confederations Cup as an ever-present, and is now on the verge of his maiden World Cup. With a possible seven games to play in Russia, don’t be surprised if the 23-year-old features in all of them.
Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart/France)
The cornerstone of the Bundesliga’s second-best defence in 2017/18, Pavard’s second season with Stuttgart has been his breakthrough one. The 22-year-old was one of just four outfield players to play every single minute of the league season, and he did it in a variety of positions: Centre-back, right-back, defensive midfield and right wing.
Those consistent performances brought him to the attention of France boss Didier Deschamps, who handed the former Lille man his first senior cap for Les Bleus against Wales in November. Two more followed against Germany and Russia, with Pavard clearly showing enough to keep his place in a fancied France squad for a first international tournament and World Cup.
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt/Mexico)
A DFB Cup winner with Frankfurt this season, Salcedo has been a regular with the Mexico national team for a number of years. His appearances, however, have been limited by injuries, such as the dislocated shoulder he sustained at last summer’s Confederations Cup.
Frankfurt's Mexican duo looking forward to their "special" World Cup opener 🇲🇽🇩🇪— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) 7 March 2018
But first, @Csalcedojr and @MarcoFabian_10 have some domestic business to attend to 👉 https://t.co/9HDAfdhZPF pic.twitter.com/oQ2GnPUEmO
With that and Copa America experience under his belt, the 24-year-old is now set to make his World Cup bow in Russia, where Mexico face world champions Germany in their opening game in Moscow. He’s joined in El Tri’s squad by fellow Frankfurt man Marco Fabian, who’s going to his second World Cup after featuring in all three group games in Brazil.
Jonas Hector (Cologne/Germany)
Much like Kimmich on the other side, Hector is again nailed on in Löw’s side. He wasn’t in Germany’s plans for the 2014 World Cup, where Benedikt Höwedes in fact featured at left-back. Since then, however, the Cologne man has been one of the first names on the team sheet for club and, more impressively, country.
Since making his debut in 2014, he has featured in all but four of Germany’s matches when fit. Remarkably, when he makes his World Cup debut, the world champions’ first-choice left-back will be from a club that finished the Bundesliga season bottom of the table and will be playing in Bundesliga 2 following the tournament.
Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach/Belgium)
Belgium boss Martinez is clearly a keen observer of the Bundesliga, and has again dipped into the German top flight to add some form players to his squad. The 2017/18 campaign has been the most fruitful of the second-oldest Hazard’s still relatively short career. Finishing as Gladbach’s top scorer with 10 goals, as well as five assists, he featured in all 34 league games for the Foals.
He’s now set to join his older brother Eden in Russia for his first international tournament. It’s been a long wait for Hazard since making his senior Belgium debut in a 2013 friendly against the USA as a 20-year-old. He was named as a standby player for Brazil in 2014 but in fact didn’t play for the Red Devils again until November 2016 after Martinez took over from Marc Wilmots.
Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich/France)
Another Frenchman who has shone brightly in his maiden Bundesliga campaign, ‘Coco’ Tolisso is to be rewarded with a tilt at the World Cup in Russia. While he made his senior France debut as a Lyon player in March 2017, the remainder of his caps have come as one of Bayern's rising stars.
In his first year abroad, he chipped in with six goals and four assists from 26 appearances as the Munich club stormed to the Bundesliga title under Jupp Heynckes. A highly creditable return that did not escape Deschamps’ attention and saw him included in a talented squad of midfielders featuring Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante.
Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich/Spain)
Tolisso’s Bayern teammate may well be the most surprising name making his World Cup bow this summer. Despite winning the 2011 UEFA Champions League and six straight domestic titles, Thiago has failed to cement down a position in the Spain team since making his debut back in 2011.
The two-time U21 European champion has, however, featured more frequently in recent years. He played twice at Euro 2016 under Vicente del Bosque, but has since become a more integral part in the Spanish midfield under Julen Lopetegui and looks like being an experienced yet more youthful alternative to the ageing Andres Iniesta as the 2010 champions go in search of their second World Cup.
Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund/Germany)
Of all the players making their World Cup debut this summer, perhaps none have had such a frustrating wait as Reus. Despite making his Germany debut in 2011, he has only ever been to Euro 2012 with Die Mannschaft because of his rotten luck with injuries. He was originally named in Löw’s squad for Brazil in 2014 but an ankle injury in a pre-tournament friendly forced him to miss out on lifting the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
It now looks like the stars have finally aligned for one of the world’s most talented but unluckiest footballers. Since returning from his latest injury setback in February, Reus scored seven times in just 11 Bundesliga outings to force his way back into Löw’s reckoning. The Germany medical department will now have him wrapped in cotton wool to make sure he finally gets to a World Cup.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland)
Poland's all-time top scorer has been lighting up the Bundesliga and European football as a whole in recent years. For the last three seasons he’s netted over 40 competitive goals for Bayern, and after two European Championships with his nation Lewandowski is finally about to grace the World Cup stage.
Watch: All of Lewandowski's Bundesliga goals in 2017/18
He was the top scorer in global qualifying with 16 goals, scoring in all but one of Poland’s 10 qualifiers as they topped Group E. With fixtures against Senegal, Colombia and Japan in Russia, the Bundesliga’s top scorer may well fancy adding a World Cup Golden Boot to his impressive personal collection, following in the footsteps of Bayern teammates Thomas Müller and James Rodriguez.
Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg/Iceland)
The Icelandic sensation continues. Two years ago they captured fans’ imagination with a barnstorming run at Euro 2016 where they beat England at their first ever major tournament. Now Finnbogason & Co. are back as the smallest nation in World Cup history, and the Augsburg forward is expected to lead the attack with the Icelandic ‘Viking clap’ urging them on in Russia.
Finnbogason arrives at his maiden World Cup as one of the Bundesliga’s most prolific strikers in 2017/18. Playing for an Augsburg side heavily backed to struggle, he netted an impressive 12 goals in just 22 games, with a 10-game injury lay-off the only thing preventing him from adding more. The debutants face a difficult group in Russia with beaten finalists Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia their opponents in Group D, but we all saw what happened in France…