Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!
The final countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup is here, and for many of the globe’s soccer savants suited and booted for pitch battle, this year’s prestigious tournament In Qatar represents the culmination of illustrious careers, forged through decades of blood, sweat and tears. With so much on the line, for both aging legend and the budding studs looking to replace them, these are the ones to watch – the ones not throwin’ away their shot.
Lionel Messi | Argentina
Arguably the greatest to ever play the game, between his La Liga record-setting 474 goals, six Golden Boots, four Ballon d’Or awards and a myriad of other incredible accolades, Argentina’s 35-year-old captain Lionel Messi has accomplished nearly everything under the sun, but the one thing missing from his iconic career is winning the FIFA World Cup. Hoisting the trophy would not only allow him to surpass his notorious predecessor Diego Maradona as the greatest Argentinian footballer, but it would also truly be the transcendent icing on the cake he needs to forever take the throne as the best of the best.
Neymar | Brazil
Making his third FIFA World Cup appearance, Neymar’s got a lot to prove in Qatar after failing in 2018 to maintain the high caliber of goal-scoring production he’s known for, causing Brazil to fall to Belgium in the quarterfinals. Holding the record as Brazil’s top scorer with 71 goals in international play, he’ll need to channel that ridiculous level of skill if he hopes to propel Brazil to its sixth World Cup title.
Kylian Mbappé | France
Though he’s only been on Earth for less than a quarter century, experience is on the side of French forward Kylian Mbappé after he helped mobilize Les Blues as a teenager and drive them toward World Cup victory in 2018. At 19-years-old during his magnificent 2018 run, he ascended into the ranks of superstardom by becoming the youngest player since Pelé in 1958 to leather a goal in a deciding match. Now, he’s back and thirsty for more. Combining his powers with Karim Benzema who’s second on Real Madrid’s all-time scoring list behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, the two form a lethal attacking pair that’ll be a nightmare for any defense.
Cristiano Ronaldo | Portugal
Oh, Ronaldo. Where does one begin? At 37 years old, he’s the oldest on the list and the age is starting to show as he's in the midst of a tumultuous and unproductive season with Manchester United. But he’s a five-time World Soccer Player of the Year, four-time European Golden Shoe winner and a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, to name just a few of his exhaustive career highlights. Still, his dream of taking home a World Cup is incomplete and time is running out and if the smoldering supernova’s current footy life is a signal of things to come, that dream may have to remain a fantasy. CR7’s second stint with Premier League powerhouse Manchester United has devolved into pure madness this year at Old Trafford, and he’s held nothing back when it comes to vocalizing his displeasure at being consistently benched by manager Erik ten Hag. Now, with the report that he’s missed Portugal’s team training on Wednesday and a warm-up match against Nigeria due to a stomach bug, his ultimate quest may end in ultimate disappointment.
Harry Kane | England
At 29 years old, Harry Kane is the face of the English national team, and as such, bears an enormous amount of pressure to bring a World Cup trophy back to the land of soccer's birth. Having scored 53 goals for England in 120 appearances, he’s the only other Englishman besides Wayne Rooney to reach the 50-goal mark. Set to be bestowed with the Freedom of City of London award in January, the HurriKane is favored to win the World Cup Golden Boot, and with a powerhouse team that also features Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount to name a few, Kane will be expected to lead them to the promised land.
Kevin De Bruyne | Belgium
Kevin De Bruyne has been a bonafide magician in the midfield for Manchester City. Now, he’ll serves as a key playmaker on coach Roberto Martinez’s Belgium squad, bringing not only his signature brand of field vision, but also a wealth of experience honed through his 93 caps and 25 goals for the Red Devils. Though Belgium has never won a World Cup before, FIFA ranks De Bruyne’s team at No. 2 between favorite Brazil and the Messi-led Argentinian squad.
Son Hueng-min | South Korea
South Korea’s Son Hueng-min showed the world the extent of his scoring prowess after he co-won the Premier League Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah last season while playing alongside Kane on Tottenham Hotspur. That said, if he’s a one-man band in Qatar, his uphill path to glory will be difficult to say the least as South Korea’s group includes titans Portugal and Uruguay. Notching just five goals thus far for Tottenham, he'll have to pounce early and as often as possible for South Korea to see success.
Christian Pulisic | USA
Despite his tender age of 24, with a nickname like Captain America, Christian Pulisic knows just how vital he is to the success of the USMNT. Despite an up-and-down past year at Chelsea where he hasn't been able to cement a spot in the starting XI, Pulisic remains a beacon of hope as America continues to strive for footy greatness on the international stage. And not since Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey has the USA had a talisman that could shred defenses and give the Yanks a shot at victory.
USA Insider is your source for all things USA, from behind-the-scenes access to breaking news, information about USA’s original shows, and much more. Sign up for USA Insider and be the first to get extras and updates on your favorite shows.