Mbappé, Neymar, Messi, De Bruyne… The 11 stars to watch from the 2022 World Cup

Mbappé, Neymar, Messi, De Bruyne… The 11 stars to watch from the 2022 World Cup

The 22nd World Cup will take place in Qatar from 20 November to 18 December. For one month, 32 nations will fight to have their names engraved on the most coveted trophy in the world of football. Focus on 11 highly anticipated men during this competition, including superstars at the end of their careers, young prodigies and masters in search of recognition.

Lionel Messi (Argentina), the last chance

He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest players of all time. Perhaps the greatest, according to some. The debate will never really be resolved. But despite his genius, the World Cup has always been denied to Lionel Messi. In 2006 and 2010 Argentina stopped in the quarterfinals. In 2014, they lost to Germany in the final. And in 2018 it was eliminated in the round of 16 against France, the future world champion.

Last year, Leo Messi finally won a national trophy* with the America’s Cup, after three finals lost. At 35, for what could be his last World Cup, can the captain and top scorer in Argentina’s history (91 goals in 165 games) lead his country to a coronation after which it has fallen short since 1986? At that time, number 10 was worn by a certain Diego Maradona… For Lionel Messi, this is undoubtedly the last opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the “Pibe de Oro”.

* He was also crowned Olympic champion in 2008 with a selection made up mainly of Speranze.

Kylian Mbappé (France), the expected boss of the Blues

At just 19 and a half years old, Kylian Mbappé was already world champion. Four and a half years ago, the striker was already a minor phenomenon with his four goals scored, including one in the final. But in Russia, the Parisian was a young adult surrounded by established players like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi or Raphaël Varane. From, the French jewel has taken on a crazy dimensionand as he wished, it is he who now embodies the French team.

In the absence of innkeepers Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, with a Griezmann struggling in recent seasons and a Karim Benzema in uncertain form before the start of this World Cup, the hopes of the reigning world champions rest above all on the shoulders of Kylian Mbappé, who will celebrate his 24th birthday at the end of the competition. Furthermore, the striker is vengeful after his missed shot on target against Switzerland during the last Euro.

Neymar (Brazil), genius on a mission

20 years after Brazil’s last victory at the World Cup, Neymar wants to unite Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the other Kaka with world champions in Japan and South Korea, as well as the Brazilian glories of the past. Eight years ago, during the World Cup at home, a serious back injury forced him to retire from competitions and the striker stood helplessly watching the disastrous semi-final against Germany. In 2018, in Russia, it did not shine.

Now 30, the most expensive player in history (€222m when he moved from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017) is likely to face his last big challenge. He himself has hinted that this World Cup was perhaps his last major competition with the Seleçao. Coached by Tite, the selection arrives in Qatar as a favourite. With Neymar in top form since the start of the season, the chances of him are real.

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé with the PSG shirt, 16 October 2022.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé with the PSG shirt, 16 October 2022. REUTERS – Stephane Mahe

Mario Götze (Germany), the return of the hero

Who would have believed it? While we thought he was lost to the top level after years of difficulty, here is Mario Götze back in the German squad. Hansi Flick chose to put his name on his list when it had been five years since the attacking midfielder hadn’t been called up. Undermined by injuries, the German prodigy was unable to find a place at Bayern Munich (2013-2016). Back in his first home, Borussia Dortmund, he hadn’t regained all his splendor even between 2016 and 2020.

And then, after Covid, Mario Götze went to Holland, to PSV Eindhoven. A wise choice because within two years there the player got back on track. Now in Frankfurt the right-hander continues at the same pace, to the point of having convinced Flick to take him to Qatar. The Nationalmannschaft hopes from Götze the same genius as eight years ago: in 2014 he came off the bench to go and register the winning goal in the final in extra time against Germany.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), an emperor in search of redemption

In his immense career, Cristiano Ronaldo has never experienced such a difficult sporting transition. Returning to Manchester United in the summer of 2021, the Portuguese is going through a nightmare 2022-2023 season. In conflict with his coach Erik ten Hag and his managers, not used to the ground, “CR7” let go of all his unease, his disappointment and his resentment towards the Red Devils. The point of no return seems to have been reached.

Therefore, this World Cup appears as an opportunity to rediscover the light and restart for Cristiano Ronaldo. But will he find the right formula? Because the World Cup has never been the top scorer’s favorite competition in history. Since the 2006 semi-final, the Portuguese have only reached the round of 16 in 2010 and 2018, even stopping in the first round in 2014. For a man of challenges like Cristiano Ronaldo, the World Cup in Qatar is a big shot.

Pedri (Spain), the future of Roja

He will turn 20 at the end of November, in the middle of the World Cup, and he doesn’t look like much at 1.74m and 60kg. But appearances are deceiving: Pedri is a virtuoso in midfield. He has something to hold on to. Coming from Barça’s famed La Masia school, this versatile young player grew up watching Spain conquer the world in 2010 with Xavi and Andrès Iniesta in charge. Now coached by the former, Pedri embodies both the future and the relaunch of the Catalan national team and club.

The individual awards speak for themselves. Golden Boy 2021 (like Leo Messi, Kylian Mbappé or even Erling Haaland before him), Best young player of Euro 2021 where Roja reached the semifinals, winner of the Kopa Trophy in 2021, Pedri is already unanimous. Now is the time to win as a team. And all of Spanish football is counting on him to get back to the top.

Luka Modric (Croatia), the last dance

Years go by, players go by, but Luka Modric is always this elegant midfielder with goldsmith’s feet. Naturally, Karim Benzema appeared on the screen last season and was the main architect of Real Madrid’s new victory in the Champions League. There is still no hiding the importance of the Croatian milieu, 37 years old and still just as skilled and inspired. The vice-world champion remains in charge of Real’s midfield as a Croatian.

The Ballon d’Or 2018 he had taken his family to the final in Russia. In Qatar the undertaking promises to be difficult, because the chess team seems, on paper in any case, less brilliant than four years ago. Obviously be careful not to underestimate her. Luka Modric would see one last feat before concluding his international career, as he has already announced.

Croatian Real Madrid Luka Modric and Spanish FC Barcelona Pedri.
Croatian Real Madrid Luka Modric and Spanish FC Barcelona Pedri. AP – Bernat Armangue

Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), coach of the Red Devils

As so often in recent years, Belgium will enter the competition with ambitions. How could it be otherwise when you have some of Europe’s best talent in your squad? Even if the repeated disappointments hurt and gave the Red Devils the reputation of eternal losers, it is impossible not to distrust a team like this, led by Kevin De Bruyne.

Incredible under the colors of Manchester City and under the orders of Pep Guardiola, the attacking midfielder has also joined the team coached by Roberto Martinez. After Eden Hazard’s physical ordeal from 2019, Kevin De Bruyne has assumed even greater prominence in the Belgian organisation. It is now necessary to materialize this omnipotence by leading Belgium towards a long-awaited recognition.

Luis Suarez (Uruguay), the swan song

The swan is probably not the most suitable animal for Luis Suarez. With its surface predatory instincts and bad propensity to bite (literally), the Uruguayan would rather be compared to a shark. However, this World Cup in Qatar looks like the last major competition for the future 36-year-old striker, whose end of career is approaching.

Luis Suarez already made an important decision last August by leaving Europe, where he panicked defenses for 18 years (Groningen and Ajax in the Netherlands, Liverpool in England, FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid in Spain), to return to the his training club, the National, in Montevideo. He and his friend Edinson Cavani, who will also celebrate his 36th birthday in a few weeks, will play one last World Cup and oversee the new generation of the Uruguayan attack, embodied by Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri.

Christian Eriksen (Denmark), brilliant comeback

No one has forgotten this horrific image of Christian Eriksen lying dead in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021 during a match between Denmark and Finland. Victim of a cardiac arrest, the midfielder was able to be brought back to life. At the time, many thought that his football career was over. However, nothing came of it: now equipped with an automatic defibrillator, the Dane has modestly resumed competitions with Brentford and the national team. And his performances quickly paved his way to Manchester United.

Almost forgotten, the misadventure of 18 months ago. Christian Eriksen is as alive and elegant as ever on the green lawn. ” The selection is better with Christian than without him. His calmness is contagious and the whole team is able to make the right decisions. “said coach Kasper Hjulmand, who didn’t hesitate for a moment to include him in his squad for Qatar, a country Denmark comes to with supposed ambitions. Semi-finalists of the last Euro, the Danes have just beaten world champion France twice in the space of a few months.

Son Heung-min (South Korea), the hope of an entire country

30 years, the age of maturity. Indispensable at Tottenham, his club since 2015, Son Heung-min has reached an impressive level. Hyper-fast, setter and scorer, the South Korean can do it all. At Spurs, he finished top scorer in the Premier League with 23 goals last season (tied with Liverpool’s Egypt’s Mohamed Salah). And 20 years after the exploits of Guus Hiddink, Ahn Jung-hwan, Seol Ki-hyeon and company, who had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, South Korea begins to dream of a new golden destiny, in the wake of Son Heung min .

Fear ran through the crowd when the striker was injured against Marseille in the Champions League at the beginning of November. Victim of an orbital fracture, the son had to undergo surgery, leaving doubts to hang over him. But the South Korean has already warned that he will not miss this meeting ” for nothing in the world “, because it is a” to dream “.

Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, with Tottenham colors in 2019.
Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, with Tottenham colors in 2019. AP – Frank Augstein

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