Mo Salah’s proper hair, and 7 other things we need in FIFA 18’s new World Cup game

In October, Spanish radio commentator Manolo Lama went on record to say he was creating new voiceover lines for a World Cup spin-off to FIFA 18. The news wasn’t exactly shocking, given that EA has owned exclusive rights to the official World Cup games since 1998, but even so the publisher remains tight-lipped as to the exact format this official tie-in will take. 

Standalone game? Ultimate Team spin-off? With the finals starting on 14 June, we’ll know very, very soon. In the meantime, it’s at least possible to pinpoint eight essential features the expansion needs to have in order to successfully bridge the gap between FIFA 18 and FIFA 19. Below is our wishlist for Russia 2018.

1. World Cup-specific Ultimate Team rewards

With current-gen consoles in their infancy, EA adopted an unprecedented approach to their 2014 World Cup release. A full-fat game emerged on PS3 and Xbox 360, while the big-brother machines got a bespoke, dedicated mode called Ultimate Team: World Cup. Ostensibly it remained separate from standard Ultimate Team but with an ingenious twist: every pack you earned in that mode *also* granted you a free gold pack for standard Ultimate Team. 

EA is unlikely to be so generous this time around given the astronomical success of FUT since, but it’s always keen to cross-promote different modes, such as granting Ultimate Team rewards each time you complete a chapter in FIFA 18’s The Journey. Expect similar synchronicity if World Cup Ultimate Team is kept separate from the normal version on PS4 and Xbox One. And no FIFA player is going to turn down free packs.

2. International Ultimate Team cards for missing players

Ultimate Team is the best mode in sports gaming, but it isn’t the most comprehensive. While players residing at clubs that aren’t in FIFA 18 are moved to the free agent pool in career mode, there’s no place for them at all in Ultimate Team – so it’s as if former Premier League stars Oscar and Odion Ighalo, who now ply their trade in China, no longer exist. International Ultimate Team cards tied to the World Cup would enable them to return, along with the likes of Morocco’s Mbark Boussoufa, Axel Witsel of Belgium, Serbia’s Nemanja Gudelj, and Christian Cueva of Peru. Witsel aside these may not be household names, but fresh faces within FUT are always welcome, and you can never have too much accuracy.

3. Full qualifying, with every team in the world

While Ultimate Team is likely to provide Russia 2018’s main focus, it’s important that those who don’t play FUT are catered for – beginning with the best feature from past World Cup games. South Africa 2014, for instance, offered a full qualifying campaign in which you could play as nigh-on every team across the globe, down to Oceania minnows Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. This summer’s tournament represents the first time in history that all of FIFA’s 209 member nations entered qualifying, and that’s a landmark that must be celebrated in virtual form. Don’t expect Zimbabwe or Indonesia, though: both were disqualified before they’d played a single match.

4. An international The Journey spin-off

Season two of The Journey teased international fame for protagonist Alex Hunter, but so far his story has been club-focused. Russia 2018 offers a chance to change that. It’s unrealistic to expect a 10-15 hour campaign, but a small, focused storyline starting with Hunter trying to earn a spot in England’s final 23 and ending at the World Cup final (or, more likely, penalty shootout heartbreak) would offer an intriguing, fresh hook. England captain Harry Kane famously featured in The Journey’s first season, so it’s not like the publisher lacks the access required for such a behind-the-scenes narrative.

5. Mo Salah’s proper hair

We’ve been spoilt for Mohamed Salah Ultimate Team cards this year, with the count up to ten as of mid-April – and at least one more to come once Team Of The Season items hit. But for all his goalscoring exploits in both FIFA and real life, the free-scoring Egyptian’s likeness remains four years old, having initially been captured while at Chelsea for FIFA 15. An updated face scan – or, to be specific, hairstyle – is legitimately and understandably one of the most requested new ‘features’ for FIFA 19, and bringing it forward to Russia 2018 would doubtless curry favour with fans.

6. Additional big-name likenesses

The full range of Russian stadia and international kits can be expected in the FIFA 18’s World Cup expansion, but Salah’s likeness isn’t the only one that needs updating for it to truly represent the greatest show on turf. The good news is that FIFA Mobile recently added 27 new faces which haven’t yet appeared in FIFA 18, suggesting that they may be coming to the summer release instead. Here’s the full list, with thanks to Tommy_p_5 from the official FIFA forums:

Ederson (Man City / Brazil)

Bernardo Silva (Man City / Portugal)

Joao Mario (West Ham / Portugal)

Youri Tielemans (Monaco / Belgium)

Keita Balde Diao (Monaco / Senegal)

Thomas Meunier (PSG / Belgium)

Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg / Iceland)

Jonas Hector (Koln / Germany)

Timo Werner (Leipzig / Germany)

Emil Forsberg (Leipzig / Sweden)

Hakim Ziyech (Ajax / Morocco)

Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar / Iran)

Hirving Lozano (PSV / Mexico)

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio / Serbia)

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan / Italy)

Ricardo Rodriguez (Milan / Switzerland)

Dries Mertens (Napoli / Belgium)

Alessandro Florenzi (Roma / Italy)

Rodolfo Pizarro (Guadalajara / Mexico)

Jesus Corona (Porto / Mexico)

Rui Patricio (Sporting / Portugal)

William Carvalho (Sporting / Portugal)

Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan / Iran)

Nawaf Al Abed (Al Hilal / Saudi Arabia)

Casemiro (Real Madrid / Brazil)

Marco Asensio (Real Madrid / Spain)

7. Classic World Cup matches

With EA now owning rights to numerous Icons, there’s more scope than ever to include classic World Cup matches or scenarios as a playable option. From the 1998 final, for instance, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Marcel Desailly, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira are already in FIFA 18, and fans would likely forgive generic likenesses for team-mates. In-game rewards such as Ultimate Team packs could be awarded for emulating what occurred in real-life, or – for a different spin – changing the course of history. Imagine, for instance, taking control of Brazil halfway through the second half of that game, and having 22 minutes to transform a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 triumph.

8. 32-player World Cup mode

An online version of the World Cup as part of the expansion is inevitable – but it’d also be brilliant to revisit the days of playing through the competition with (or against) mates rather than random opponents. Without a personal transport network it’s unlikely you’re ever going to get 31 friends around for a weekend, but the infrastructure exists for such a format to be set up over the nets. And you wouldn’t need all 32 slots filled; you could be France, with pals controlling Brazil, England, Germany, and Iceland, and the AI taking ownership of the remaining 27 teams. No idea is too niche for the best sports games such as NBA 2K18, and nor should this one be.

Russia 2018 is expected on PS4 and Xbox One this summer. For those still entrenched in FIFA 18, be sure to check out our guide to making millions through SBCs and silver packs.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.