The World Cup will feature some of the most talented men’s soccer players in the world, including some historic greats vying for the sport’s biggest prize. Although the focus is on these big names, it takes more than individual brilliance to become world champions, as teams like Argentina, Portugal and Belgium know only too well in recent years. But having world-class talent available gives teams someone to rely on for a game-changing performance – and a psychological lift. Here are seven of the best players in the world to watch in Qatar.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
Arguably the two greatest male footballers in history are taking part in what could be their last World Cup. They are both captains of their national teams and hold their respective country’s record for appearances and goals. The two have won nearly every major team and individual award, in some cases multiple times, but the aging legends have a World Cup-sized hole in their trophy cabinets.
Ronaldo, 37, led Portugal to a European Championship in 2016, the country’s long-awaited first international title. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner as the best player in the world is well known for his prodigious goalscoring, elite physical form and will to win. Playing in his fifth World Cup, he will be looking to claim a fourth-place finish in 2006. The most followed person on Instagram, his global fanbase will be eager to see if he can take Portugal to the final rounds in Qatar. .
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Messi, 35, from Paris St-Germain, has just won the Copa America last year, the first major international title of his career. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has an unfathomable ability to both score and assist, and can turn a game around with a moment of magic. The Barcelona legend had a frustrating international career full of hope and bitter disappointment, including losing four major finals in nine years, which led to his brief retirement from the national team in 2016. He was finally convinced to return and he will be looking to replicate the 2014 run to the final again in December at his fifth World Cup.
The Paris St-Germain star is the heir apparent to Ronaldo and Messi’s attacking dominance – and the 23-year-old already has a World Cup title. With his transfer to PSG from Monaco in 2017, he became the second most expensive signing in history and continues to hold the record for a teenager. He was a rising star at his first World Cup in 2018, scoring four goals, including one in the final to help France win their fourth international trophy. His combination of dribbling, speed and finishing makes him an almost unstoppable attacking threat. Mbappé, along with a full list of stars including Hugo Lloris, Raphaël Varane, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Antoine Griezmann, will be looking to win a second consecutive championship for France.
At just 22 years old, the Brazilian has already established himself as one of the best strikers in the world. The Real Madrid star was a product of the Flamengo academy, making his debut aged 16 and quickly securing a move to Spain’s biggest club. He finished last season on the team’s goalscoring list with 22 goals and scored the winning goal to clinch Real’s 14th Champions League title. Despite being the record title holder and a perennial favourite, Brazil haven’t won the World Cup since 2002. They enter the tournament ranked as the world’s No.1 team and Vinicius, Neymar and Co will be hoping end this wait. in Qatar.
Virgil van Dijk
The Liverpool defender will lead the Netherlands, who return to the World Cup after being out four years ago. The 31-year-old is a powerful centre-back known for his strength and aerial ability – both in defense and attack. He was at the heart of a Liverpool defense that led to a turnaround for the club, helping the team win the Champions League in 2019 and their first league title in 30 years in 2020. His individual genius has been recognized with second place finishes. for the Ballon d’Or and for the Best FIFA Men’s Player, and becoming the only defender to win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award. Appearing in his first World Cup, van Dijk will captain the Netherlands as the tiny country once again seeks to be a major force in the tournament.
The Senegalese star is making his second trip to the World Cup, hoping to lead the top-ranked African side to the knockout stages. Mané, 30, plays for Bayern Munich in Germany after six best seasons at Liverpool. He won the Premier League’s Golden Boot award in 2019 and has consistently been ranked among the best players in the world. He helped Senegal win their first Africa Cup of Nations title last year, scoring the winning goal in a penalty shootout in the final, and was named player of the tournament. He is his country’s top scorer with 34 career goals and he will be hoping to add to that tally to lead his side to their second appearance in the Round of 16.
Kevin De Bruyne
After leading Manchester City to back-to-back league championships, De Bruyne will want to replicate that success with the second-placed Belgian side. He is considered one of the best midfielders to play the game, with his vision on the pitch, two-footed ability and passing range making him a dangerous attacking threat and producing an astonishing amount of assists. The talented 31-year-old is making his third World Cup appearance. After securing the country’s best result with a third-place finish in 2018, he hopes to give Belgium’s golden generation, including Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard, a chance to play for the trophy this year.