Top Ten World Cup Football Players to Watch
Infographic and print by Elisa Forsgren
Lionel Messi – Argentina
2013/2014: 39 appearances, 36 goals, 2 yellow, 0 red
At only 26 years old, Lionel Messi is arguably one of the best soccer players of all time. Although he has experienced immense success and stockpiled a trove of trophies, “The Atomic Flea” has not moved past the quarterfinals of his previous 2006 and 2010 World Cup appearances. This year might be his best chance to win. Messi is at the top of his game fully healed after last year’s hamstring injury and Argentina’s squad is loaded with stars this year. It will certainly be interesting to see if Argentina can team together behind their forward livewire.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
2013/2014: 46 appearances, 55 goals, 8 yellow, 1 red
Portugal’s team captain, Cristian Ronaldo, is the recent winner of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or best soccer player on the planet. Still widely disputed among fans whether Ronaldo has won the “Who’s the best?” debate that has raged several years between him and Lionel Messi. The World Cup outcome should finally quell the footballer fans’ heated debate. Portugal’s national team desperately needs Ronaldo to make it out of their “Group of Death” that includes Germany, the United States, and Ghana. Although since Ronaldo has played with the Portuguese, the team has never moved past the Group of 16, however, the ever-confident 29-year-old star seems unfazed especially after the museum he had built in his Madeira birthplace he declared, “I have room for more trophies.”
Neymar – Brazil
Now that the tournament is on their home soil and Brazilians will not accept bowing out of the World Cup at the quarterfinal stage like they have the last two World Cups. If Brazil plans to take home their sixth World Cup trophy, Barcelona star Neymar’s slender frame will have to support much of the burden. The 22-year-old, 5-foot-9-inch winger/forward may be one of many stars on this young team, but none pull in Neymar’s $20 million in annual salary and endorsements. The biggest knock against Neymar may be his stature, but doubters silenced after his last year move to Barcelona showing off his lightning fast speed and acceleration, a top-class ability to finish off both feet, and the same doggedness on the pitch that his professional teammate Lionel Messi is known for.
Andres Iniesta – Spain
2013/2014: 48 appearances, 3 goals, 2 yellow, 0 red
Spain’s aging 2010 squad is believed to be one of the best all-time World Cup teams and it is certainly difficult to pick one player. Players like Xavi Hernandez to Cesc Fabregas to Sergio Ramos, Spain’s deep roster makes them favored to repeat their 2010 South Africa triumph in Brazil. However, their hopes rest squarely on the 29-year-old who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final. The last five years in a row, this midfield wizard has made the FIFA XI squad where even fellow team superstar Xavi called him “Spain’s most complete player.” Although his statistics haven’t shown the best for Barcelona, Iniesta finds the passing lanes that no one else sees and shows no sign of aging.
Clint Dempsey – USA
2013/2014: 18 appearances, 7 goals, 0 yellow, 0 red *No Int’l Matches
“Captain America” is the reason the soccer world takes the U.S. men’s team seriously now. Dempsey gave up a professional run last year in the English Premier League to play closer to home for the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer, where the 31-year-old is named among the league’s best players. Some believe the stateside move would hurt his ability overall, but after completing a two-month loan to Fulham, he scored six goals in the first four games of the 2014 MLS season. Dempsey’s ability to finish near the goal and score on crafty free kicks will be crucial to the native Texan and American team to survive the so-called “Group of Death” against Germany, Portugal and Ghana, and make it out of the round of 16.
Wayne Rooney – England
2013/2014: 49 appearances, 22 goals, 9 yellow, 0 red
England, the nation that invented soccer, has not won a World Cup since 1966. While the 28-year-old Rooney may not be England’s best player, he is certainly the face of soccer promotion by Nike and FIFA. The starting forward has been one of the better players on Manchester United’s fading squad leaving England’s soccer fans biting their nails as to whether their team will show up to play this time after South Africa’s World Cup in 2010 finished with a 13th place devastating disappointment. England will need Rooney’s superlative scored goals ability, passing and hustle in order to survive a difficult group stage shared with Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Arjen Robben – The Netherlands
2013/2014: 39 appearances, 36 goals, 2 yellow, 0 red
An argument can be made that Robin van Persie is more important to The Netherlands international powerhouse, but the “Oranje” won’t come near to replicating their 2010 final run without the inspired play of Robben. The 30-year-old winger has been bringing in the points for professional club Bayern Munich, where he’s scored more than 55 goals since joining the team in 2009, and was a crucial reason they hoisted the Champions League trophy last year. He has shown a inclination for best performances on the biggest stages, so watch “The Flying Dutchman” earn his nickname by sprinting down the wing past defenders in Brazil this year.
Mario Balotelli – Italy
2013/2014: 40 appearances, 18 goals, 14 yellow, 1 red
The mysterious 23-year-old of Ghanaian heritage has done a lot of questionable things off the soccer pitch, but no one doubts his ability. Balotelli can finish, pass and run with the best in the world, but has been annoyingly inconsistent since his world stage debut. While Italy may have bowed out during 2010’s group stage, do not count out the four-time World Cup champions, especially if the A.C. Milan striker brings his A-game. Although Balotelli hasn’t shown great form in Series A this year. In February, Balotelli was spotted crying on the bench after being taken off the pitch late in a loss to Napoli. Whether that’s a sign of passion or immaturity is up for speculation, but fans of “Gli Azzurri” insist he is zealous. The Italians need every bit of help they can get to survive this a punitive group stage as they square off against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Mesut Ozil – Germany
2013/2014: 46 appearances, 10 goals, 1 yellow, 0 red
The German national team is favored to take home the Brazil World Cup trophy and their star attacking midfielder will be the key to their success. Currently at Arsenal, the 25-year-old has been compared to French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane for his finesse, precision and improvisational skills. While he suffered a hamstring injury earlier this year, Ozil has returned to club action and looks to get back in form quickly. The Germans are also in the “Group of Death” with the U.S., Portgual, and Ghana, but if Ozil is healthy and leads the charge, Germany will be no problems making a deep run this World Cup.
Luis Suarez – Uruguay
2013/2014: 37 appearances, 31 goals, 6 yellow, 0 red
If you want to see controversy, then this 27-year-old striker truly knows how to stir it up. Luis Suarez was red-carded for a blatant handball that denied a game-winning goal to Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. Then months later, Suarez was suspended by team Ajax after he bit an opponent. The next year, while Suarez was a member of Liverpool, he was suspended for racial abuse against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. In 2013, he was suspended after another he bit another opponent this time Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. But more importantly Suarez knows how to score goals. He is undeniably skilled, netting an eye-popping 30 goals this season for Liverpool. Now he leads a talented Uruguay team that finished fourth in 2010. While Uruguay landed in one of the toughest tournament start groups along with England, Italy and Costa Rica, if Suarez can perform with the form he’s shown for Liverpool, then the other three teams need to worry.
Statistics source: http://www.soccerbase.com