The 2014 World Cup kicks off with a bang this week, and the world’s 32 best nations are sure to make this an unforgettable summer on the grandest arena of them all. All eyes will be on these top players, all of whom are looking to get crowned king of the great game in Brazil this year.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
You aren’t going to find a more finesse player in the entire field than Messi, who can out-move and out-score just about anyone he’s up against. He’s a four-time Ballon d’Or winner and a future legend, and still only 26 years old! He hasn’t made it out of the World Cup quarterfinals ever, but this may be the year that all changes for “the Atomic Flea.”
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The latest Ballon d’Or winner and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is also the highest paid footballer in the world, pulling in 21 million Euros a year all told. Once you see him attack the wing you can see that it’s money well spent. He’s going to play a big part in helping Portugal survive the dogfight they await in the punishing group selection that pits them against Germany, USA, and Ghana.
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
They call him the Illusionist for the tricky style he has fooling defenders. He is probably the best passer in the game, and has some impressive World Cup experience: remember him kicking the winning goal in South Africa for a little game known as the the 2010 World Cup Final?
Slight and flamboyant Neymar is going to be one of the players to watch throughout the Cup this year. He’s home in Brazil, so the crowd won’t let you forget who it is they think the star of the show is. The winger/forward known for his speed and tenacity on the pitch is only 22 years old—this could be a World Cup that turns him into a superstar.
Clint Dempsey (USA)
The United States actually plays football now! Clint Dempsey is a big reason for that. Call him Captain America, he gave up his spot in the English Premier League to move back home to the US and play for the Seattle Sounders. Unfortunately, Team USA’s chances are not very good, as Dempsey and the team find themselves in the toughest group in the Cup. If USA does manage to make it into the round of 16, Dempsey will be a big part of that.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Germany looks to go far this World Cup, and Mesut Ozil is a big reason for that. The star 25-year-old midfielder plays at Arsenal, and is known for his quick skills and unpredictability. If this year’s earlier hamstring injury doesn’t flare back up, expect to be watching him well into this World Cup.
Special Bonus Player: Pelé!
Since the World Cup is in Brazil this year, you’re going to see more of Pelé this year than you probably have in your entire life. Saying he’s one of the greatest football legends of all time is just a start, as he’s also the highest scoring footballer of all time. He’s also been recognized by the Olympics as the Athlete of the Century and as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century. Pelé will be the highest profile player of this World Cup, even if he isn’t on the field.