Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his team’s third goal against Bolivia during a qualifying match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, September 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko – Pool)
New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Soccer stars are once again poised to show their talent at the 2022 World Cup, which begins in Qatar in less than 100 days, but for the world’s two biggest starts – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – it will likely be the last time they do it will be featured in action in the soccer extravaganza.
Argentina’s Messi is now 35 and the Portuguese striker 37 and this could likely be their last World Cup. So far, Messi and Ronaldo have yet to win the World Cup and this time both would be determined to add the only trophy missing from their stellar careers.
Both players, who have inspired their respective national teams to continental glory (Portugal at Euro 2016 and Argentina at Copa America 2021), know they represent sides that can win in Qatar if they defeat traditional favorites like France, Brazil and Germany can defeat.
32 teams, 64 games, 28 days. The first World Cup in the Middle East. The tournament starts on November 21st and the final is scheduled for December 18th. Here are the four most popular teams:
Brazil: No. 1 in the FIFA rankings and five-time champions Brazil have the volatile Neymar, touted as the next big thing in international football, Vinicius Junior and Alisson in their ranks, making them firm favorites in Qatar. However, they have not won the trophy since 2002.
France: Defending champions France are also favorites with a star-studded squad that includes Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema. Led by Didier Deschamps, one of the brightest minds in international football, France will seek to make history by winning back-to-back trophies. No team has won the World Cup since Brazil 1962.
Argentina: They haven’t won the World Cup since the days of the great Diego Maradona. This will be the first World Cup since his death in November 2020 and Argentina are improving with Messi still taking center stage. Argentina are hoping for Messi to take the one big honor he has eluded in his remarkable career.
England: semi-finalists at the 2018 World Cup, finalists at the Euro 2021. The weakest performing national team in football is going in the right direction. Under Gareth Southgate, England finished fourth in Russia in 2018, third in the UEFA Nations League in 2019 and second at Euro 2020. Progress is being made. The next step is the biggest, but they can win the world championship.
Apart from these teams, Germany, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands could become dangerous for any team. Portugal have what it takes to cause a stir even though Ronaldo will be 37 when the World Cup begins.
Kylian Mbappe (France): The star of the last World Cup at the age of 19, Mbappe just keeps getting better. The speedy striker could rival Brazil’s great Pele for his first two World Cup titles. Mbappe was great for France as Didier Deschamps’ side clinched the World Cup in 2018 but the PSG star has moved to another level with incredible performances for his club PSG over the past two seasons and is ready to continue his stellar form at the continue World Cup.
Lionel Messi (Argentina): Talk of Messi’s waning powers has been exaggerated this season, but the seven-time World Player of the Year might have saved his 35-year-old legs for one last shot at a world champion’s medal. He is currently PSG’s leading assist provider in Ligue 1 and his enduring quality will be crucial for Argentina at the World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): He has won the European Championship, but the top scorer in international men’s football has not yet played in a World Cup final. Expectations are high for Ronaldo in Qatar as they beat North Macedonia to secure their place at the tournament and the 2016 European champions will once again look to Ronaldo’s ability to direct his attack as a major focus.
Karim Benzema (France): The veteran striker has reminded everyone of his talent for big games in 2021/22 and remains one of the deadliest finishers in the world.
Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium): Widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, his drives are among the best sights in football. Belgium just has to hope he arrives healthy.
Neymar (Brazil): Increasingly overshadowed by Mbappe and Messi at PSG, but still the most important man for Brazil. The spirited Brazilian continues to carry the burden of his country’s hopes on the biggest stage and Qatar 2022 will be no different. One nation expects whenever Neymar dons the shirt he will be desperate to lead the Selecao to their first world title since 2002. Watch out for the tricks and tricks – and, of course, some theatrical tricks too.
Apart from these stars, there are players like Vinicius Jr. (Brazil), Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands), Luka Modric (Croatia), Harry Kane (England) and many others who can wow the world with their amazing skills on the pitch.
Where is India, a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants, located? As always, sitting on the fence, cheering others on and dreaming of being at the World Cup in the distant future!