THE Leader sports writers each pick six potential stars of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

From superstar Lionel Messi to Uruguay captain Diego Godin, there are plenty of players to watch out for. Here's our 30 to follow:

NICK HARRISON (Sports Editor):

SADIO MANE: There's always one African team who win over the fans at a World Cup and Senegal will have the chance to go one step further than the likes of Egypt, and Nigeria.

While everyone will point towards Mo Salah as the one to watch, I think Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane was hitting top form at the end of the season and was an extremely unlucky loser in the Champions League Final.

He can play on either wing, as an out-an-out striker or in midfield - and no matter where he starts, Mane never stops running.

Maybe that goes back to his early days in Senegal when he ran away from home, aged 15, to attend football trials in the country's capital, Dakar.

The story goes that Mané’s family tracked him down in Dakar, insisted he finished his education before backing him in his pursuit of becoming a professional footballer.

Mane now has the chance to add to his growing reputation in a Group where they could just scrape out of at Poland's expense.

LUIS SUAREZ: He lit up and bit-up the 2010 and 2014 World Cups leading Uruguay to a fourth-place finish in South Africa eight years ago before getting his teeth stuck into Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil last time.

An absolute joy to watch during his time in the Premier League at Anfield, there was no surprise when Barcelona lured him away from Liverpool.

You will never keep Suarez out of the headlines and having improved his game even further in La Liga, if he can hit it off with strike partner, Edinson Cavani, the South Americans, who hosted the first ever World tournament back in 1930, could be the surprise packages.

And that could include knockout victories over Portugal, France and Belgium.

DIEGO GODIN: While Suarez gets the goals, Godin's job is stopping them and the Atletico Madrid defender could captain the Sky Blues all the way to final.

There are not many better readers of the game than Godin, who was immense in the Europa League semi-final double header against Arsenal.

Tough in the tackle, superb in the air and with all the nous needed to throw in a stray elbow or boot when no-one's looking, it's no wonder his managers at club and country level speak so highly of him.

Uruguay boss Óscar Tabárez said of his captain: “He’s a key player and a man, in every sense of the word.”

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN: Godin's Atletico Madrid team-mate Griezmann is the man for the big occasion.

He starred in the Europa League final - and you can't get much bigger than that!

Seriously through, he was Golden Boot in the 2016 European Championship and in a team that has the ability and strength in depth to beat most teams, is this the year when France bring back memories of that World Cup triumph of 1998? If they do, Griezmann, will more than play his part.

IVAN PERISIC: He's scored 17 goals in the 65 international appearances for Croatia and with Luka Modric having the ability to unlock most defences, Perisic could add to that tally.

There was much talk of a move to Manchester United from Inter Milan 12 months ago and now Tottenham are in the market for the Split-born midfielder.

His form hasn't been that good in Serie A heading into the World Cup but maybe that's a case of he's saving himself on two scores. One, to help Croatia to a possible last eight tie with Uruguay and two, to earn a big money transfer next month.

BERNARDO SILVA: Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are the obvious Manchester City players to look out for but the other Silva at Pep Guardiola's disposal was under-used in their Premier League title-winning season.

The Portuguese wide boy has superb touch and at times looks like the traditional right winger of old, hugging the touchline and giving left backs the run-around.

With all eyes on Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be man-marked more than most in Russia, Silva has the chance to star for a Portugal team, who always seem to do pretty well when it matters most in major tournaments.

TOM NORRIS (Deputy Sports Editor):

KYLIAN MBAPPE: He’s not exactly one you’d put in the file ‘under the radar’ but it will be fascinating to see how the 19-year-old fares on the biggest stage. He’s taken pretty much everything in his stride and with electric pace and bewildering skill, it’s hoped he can flourish under the microscope - fitness permitting.

SERGEJ MILINKOVIC-SAVIC: Described as having extraordinary technical ability, creativity and an eye for goal, it’s no wonder that Europe’s big clubs have been linked to the midfielder, who is thought to be commanding a hefty price tag. It will be interesting to see if the hype is justified.

JULIAN BRANDT: Can’t help but be intrigued by the 22-year-old after he seemingly pipped the superb Leroy Sane to a place in the Germany 23-man squad. The Bayer Leverkusen attacker likes players that bring a wow factor and it will be good to see if he can produce a moment of magic.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK: I took a shine to the left-footed attacker during the 2016 European Championships. Two serious knee injuries have curtailed his progress at Napoli, but when fit and firing he forms a deadly strike partnership with Robert Lewandowski. Still only 24, his best years could be ahead of him.

RAHEEM STERLING: Comes into the World Cup in fine form. The attacker has taken his game to another level under Pep Guardiola at Premier League champions Manchester City and can be instrumental in England’s pursuit of a place in the final stages of the competition. If he can find his shooting boots he’s a real threat.

GONCALO GUEDES: I watched him and Rodrigo - who is in the Spain squad - run riot for Valencia against Alaves this season, the PSG loan man showing pace and trickery to bamboozle the best defences. At just 21 and with only nine Portugal caps he might have to be patient, but will look to make an impact when he gets his chance.

RICHARD WILLIAMS (Wrexham FC Correspondent):

LIONEL MESSI: An obvious choice but it's about time Lionel Messi came to the party and performed on the biggest stage of all.

No-one can doubt the quality of Messi who has done it all in La Liga and the Champions League with Barcelona. But putting in those performances in a major championship could see him emulate Maradona and celebrate a world cup success with Argentina which would cap a glittering career.

KEVIN DE BRUYNE: Enjoyed a fantastic season with Manchester City and heads to the World Cup as one of the best midfielders in the world.

Crucial to Belgium's chances of going far in the tournament, De Bruyne's work rate is second to none, he knows where the goal is and he creates goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates, which the likes of Romelu Lukaku will thrive on.

THOMAS MULLER: I fancy Germany to go all the way and if they lift the famous trophy, Thomas Muller will no doubt have played a huge part.

The Bayern Munich striker has experience of doing it in World Cups, scoring five times in each of the two last tournaments, and after bagging nine goals in qualifying, Germany know they have got someone they can depend on when it matters.

NEYMAR: No 'six to watch' would be complete without a Brazilian and Neymar gets my vote.

Back from an injury lay-off with Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar might be lacking match fitness and whilst being the most expensive player in the world is another burden to carry, Neymar has the quality and ability to shown just why he is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

DAVID DE GEA: Goals win games but you also need a solid defence to win a major tournament and a world class goalkeeper.

Spain have that in David de Gea who has won Manchester United's player of the year award yet again, was voted the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and for me, you can add the stand-out gloveman in europe and the world to that.

KYLIAN MBAPPE: There's no shortage of experience in my list but the exuberance of youth counts for a lot and France have it in Kylian Mbappe.

The 19-year-old forward has bags of potential. Since making his France debut last year, the hugely talented Mbappe, who is pacey and loves to run at defences, has done the business for the national team and will relish doing it at the World Cup.

CHARLIE CROASDALE (Chester FC Correspondent):

MOHAMED SALAH: The mercurial Egyptian is coming off an outstanding campaign with Liverpool, becoming the first Reds player since Ian Rush to break the 40-goal mark in one season. Can inspire his nation to qualify for the knockout rounds.

EDINSON CAVANI: I’ve long been an admirer of the PSG centre forward and with Uruguay fancied to go deep into the competition, the 31-year-old could have a tournament to remember. Has the perfect foil in attack in Luis Suarez and can add to his tally of 40 goals during the club season.

KYLE WALKER: England’s standout player at Euro 2016, the right-back has taken his form to a new level at Man City this season and can shine for Gareth Southgate’s men. Intriguing to see if he’ll be deployed at wing back or as part of a three-man central pairing, but he’s adept at either.

GIOVANI LO CELSO: In an Argentine squad blessed with incredible attacking talent, the intelligence and metronomic passing of PSG midfielder Lo Celso could prove a vital component in Jorge Sampaoli’s side.

MARCELO: The best left-back in world football is coming off another Champions League winning campaign with Real Madrid. The Brazilian’s defensive qualities are underrated, while his attacking flair and sheer number of assists and goals effectively make him feel like two players rolled into one.

JOSHUA KIMMICH: A like-for-like replacement for the legend that was Philipp Lahm, Bayern right-back Kimmich already has 28 caps despite being just 23. Very solid defensively and adds plenty of goals and assists to his game. Forms a formidable defence alongside Hector, Boateng and Hummels.

DAN HEALD (Sports Reporter):

MARCO ASENSIO: The gifted 22-year-old Spaniard is tipped as a future Ballan D'Or winner and his performances this term for Real Madrid suggest that is a distinct possibility. It might be their first World Cup, but he an clubmate Isco can be the driving force in a dynamic Spanish attack.

TIMO WERNER: Prolific for Leipzig and with a strike rate of seven in 13 for his country, Werner could spearhead the potent German attack. Mario Götze in the false nine position could be Jochim Low's preferred option, but Werner's quality finishing is likely to be called upon before the group games are over.

PAOLO DYBALA: Another player who faces stern competition for a starting spot. With the likes of Aguero, Higuain among their attacking options, Argentina have plenty of goals in them. But Dybala's dribbling and finishing are exceptional and you can expect to see him deployed behind a front two if the main man Messi is rested.

JAMES RODRIGUEZ: In 2014 the Colombian became the first player since Ronaldo in 2002 to score more than five goals at a World Cup. Having netted 21 times in 62 outings for his country - the dynamic attacking midfielder must be relishing facing the defences of group stage opponents Japan, Senegal and Poland.

OUSMANE DEMBELE: After costing Barcelona an eye-watering of €105 million, Dembele's quality is hardly a secret. An imposing presence in attack, he also has excellent technical ability and awareness. The 21-year-old will be hopeful of playing at least some part for a French side blessed with abundant attacking options.

LUKA MODRIC: Croatia boast quality and experience in many areas of the pitch, with the likes of Mandzukic, Rakitic, Perisic and Kovacic all among their ranks. But midfield creator Modric is the heartbeat of the team, and if Zlatko Dalic's men are to do well, the Real Madrid man will likely be central to their progress.