The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar will see the best in the football world compete for the highest prize for the beautiful game.
Here are the best of the best who will garner the most attention and are expected to shine at the World Cup:
The World Cup is the one major trophy the Argentinian has never had his hands on. Seven years after coming up just short in Brazil in 2014, the legendary Lionel Messi gained a significant measure of consolation by winning the Copa America, his first title with the senior national team. La Pulga (‘The Flea’) will now go in search of the biggest title of them all as the icon of a rejuvenated side and still one of the best players in the world, despite the passage of time and the fact he is now midway through his 30s.
Though he might lack the pace and stamina he once had, Messi has modified his game and remains a match-winner thanks in great part to his ageless left foot. Lionel Scaloni has come up with a system that frees him of all responsibility bar the need to create, a role he fulfils as his side’s main provider and most decisive player.
Not everything revolves around him, however. Profitable new partnerships and understandings have been forged, relieving Messi of some of the creative burden and of the need to take part in every single move. Argentina will arrive in Qatar with their least ‘Messi-dependent’ side since he made his international debut in August 2005, though they can take comfort from the fact that their eternal superhero is as ready as ever to don his cape and come to the rescue.
Cristiano Ronaldo went into his international career as the rising star of the future in a team led by the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa, the main men of Portugal’s so-called “golden generation”. He now finds himself the veteran in a team packed with players who are at, or about to reach, their peak. His ability to worry any defence remains intact, which is why Fernando Santos had him on the pitch for fully 810 minutes during the Qatar 2022 qualifiers, more than any other player in the side, this despite his age – only centre-half Pepe is older.
Ronaldo’s list of honours includes practically every competition he has graced, including UEFA EURO 2016. All that is missing is a World Cup winner’s medal.
The go-to technical player for Brazil since the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, Neymar has become even more important for his country over recent years, with his blistering start to the season for PSG emphasising just how good of a player he is.
Neymar may be used as more of a playmaker for Brazil in Qatar, but he will be given the freedom to operate anywhere in the attacking third and play alongside a young, passionate forward, whoever that may be.
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The Bondy-born Kylian Mbappe burst onto the scene in France’s sensational campaign last time out in Russia. A difference-maker on a consistent basis for Les Bleus since the 2018 showpiece, having hit 23 of his 27 international goals in the ensuing period, Mbappe is set to play a pivotal role in Didier Deschamps’ side in Qatar.
He has already earned 57 caps and seems certain to send all of the national-team records tumbling, including the all-time leading scorer tally, which is currently held by Thierry Henry (51 goals). It is well worth noting that, at the same age as Mbappe, the former Arsenal hotshot had found the net just eight times for his country.
England’s captain remains the first name on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet, and for good reason. One of the world’s foremost forwards, Harry Kane has already scored more goals in competitive matches and major tournaments than any player in England’s history and is closing in fast on Wayne Rooney’s overall record of 53.
Having fired his way to the Golden Boot in Russia 2018, Kane is the bookies’ favourite to top the tournament’s scoring chart once again in Qatar. Although no one in the history of the World Cup has ever managed that in separate editions, few would put it past the Three Lions’ sharpshooting skipper.
Virgil van Dijk
At the relatively old age of 31, Van Dijk, who has never even played in a UEFA EURO, will finally get his chance to shine on the big stage. The Breda boulder has been central to the re-emergence of the Netherlands with his impregnability, leadership and threat from set-pieces.
Having won everything there is to win at club level with Liverpool, he is now desperate to guide his country to the trophy that has somehow eluded some exceptional generations. Van Dijk finished runner-up for The Best FIFA Men’s Player for 2019.
Karim Benzema has established himself as a key figure for Les Bleus, notching an impressive ten goals since his return to the national team set-up at EURO 2020 – which took place in 2021 – to bring his tally to 37.
Didier Deschamps will be looking to Benzema to fire his side to victory at Qatar 2022. Having chalked up 97 caps, the Real Madrid forward is closing in on a century of appearances, a feat achieved by just nine players who have represented France.
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Kevin De Bruyne
With 91 caps to his name, Kevin de Bruyne is one of Belgium’s most experienced players and utterly indispensable to it. Given his form for Manchester City, the 31-year-old is expected to be one of the main contenders to win the Golden Ball.
A No10 for his country and a No8 for his club, Pedri has a big future ahead of him. As for the present, he is already generating plenty of excitement. One of the biggest talents in world football, he combines exquisite technique with the intelligence to sniff out, occupy and make the most of any space available to him.
Brimming with attitude, impudence and confidence, he has shown the character needed to fill two of the most demanding jerseys in the game. Versatile with it, his understanding of the game is such that he can slot in wherever he is needed: wide midfield, in the hole and on the wing.
Now aged 36, Manuel Neuer is still widely considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world and he has won every title it is possible to win in football.
More than his achievements in goal, his qualities as captain: his openness, consistency and communication skills on and off the pitch, truly set him apart. Neuer has been the team captain since 2016 and will play a decisive role in ensuring harmony within the squad at the World Cup.
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