The 2022 World Cup’s Most Wanted Players
Despite being more than two years away, Qatar 2022, the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup, is already creating a significant worldwide buzz and is rapidly becoming the most talked-about item on the footballing calendar.
Expectations are understandably high; after all, it is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, and the tournament hosts have told the world to ‘expect amazing’ and are delivering some outstanding stadiums and tournament venues in preparation for the event.
However, regardless of the host nation's preparations, it is the players who define the largest proportion of World Cup events. They are what the competition is primarily about, and they are the performers the spectators come to watch. And, for every FIFA World Cup, there are specific players the fans would love to see in action.
Here, we take a look at five of the stars expected to shine in 2022 going by their present form, their footballing history and their performances at previous tournaments.
1. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
What more can we write about the little genius from Rosario that has not already been written?
More often than not, he is mooted as the best player in the world, if not one of the greatest players of all time. From his ball control and dribbling ability, his unmatched goalscoring talent to his unrivalled playmaking skills, there has never been a player like him in the history of football.
Having won nearly all of football's accolades, bar the greatest of all - the FIFA World Cup, Messi surely has his sights fixed on bettering the second-place finish he and his team had in Brazil 2014. He previously led his team, as captain, into both the 2014 and the 2018 World Cups. In the 2014 tournament, with his prolific goal scoring, he helped the team reach the semis. At the qualifiers for the 2018 games, he scored a hat-trick in the final qualifying match, once again helping his side through to the group stage.
However, many have predicted that Messi won't join his team for the 2022 tournament. Messi himself has admitted to being unsure that he will represent his country again. Many even talk about his declining dribbling and penalty scoring abilities. However, for a man who excels on the pitch as a hard-working team member, one of the best passers and playmakers in the world, as well as champion goalscorer, it is inevitable that team members and fans alike would love to see Messi in Qatar.
With age no longer his side (35 years by 2022), if Messi makes the 2022 tournament, it will probably be his last. But, what a great end to a glorious career it would be if it ended with a World Cup trophy.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
At an age when most players have retired or are at less than their physical peak, 35-year-old Portuguese captain, Cristiano Ronaldo has continued to defy the odds with his continued success.
Ronaldo is arguably the most famous player on and off the pitch, and his record of being the first person to reach 200 million followers on Instagram* is a testament to the love and respect he commands the world over.
However, it's his skills on the pitch that makes him one of the 'most wanted' going into the 2022 tournament. First and foremost, Ronaldo is a prolific goalscorer having scored over 700 senior career goals for both club and country. Indeed, his goal-scoring ability helped the Portuguese national team to the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And, at the 2018 qualifiers, his mighty net-finding skills saw Portugal reach the Round of 16.
Aside from Ronaldo's uncanny ability to score, he is also known for his versatility, speed on and off the ball, dribbling (though less so with age), intelligent play, and ability to create chances and space for his teammates.
Often described as the world's best player by many on his side of the Messi-Ronaldo divide, Ronaldo is almost guaranteed a team place for Qatar- bar injury, a sudden dip in form or retirement, or Portugal's highly unexpected non-qualification.
The Madeira-born player is a crowd-puller any day, and many are going to be in Qatar 2022 just to see him play.
3. Kylian Mbappé (France)
When France defeated Croatia 4-2 to lift their second FIFA World Cup trophy at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, 2018, a 19-year-old player had the unique privilege of scoring the game’s finest goal. In doing so, he became the first teenager to register a goal in the final since Pele in 1958. That player was Kylian Mbappé.
In 2017, Mbappé secured a €180 million move from Monaco to Paris Saint Germain (PSG) in 2017. The move made him the second-most expensive player and most expensive teenager ever. The PSG forward was then described as the next revelation in world football, a title he has proved by racking up some fearsome stats that far exceed his age.
Mbappé, the joint second-highest goalscorer at Russia 2018, is expected to join his French team in Qatar, where he is predicted, with his skilful and versatile play, to help France to defend their title.
Blessed with speed, quick feet and excellent ball control, Mbappé is famous for his dribbling ability; equally, he has a tremendous eye for goal and for finishing well. Amongst his peers, his ability to read and predict play to create chances and provide assists, make him an obvious choice for the 2022 squad.
If social media followership is a proof of popularity, then Mbappé, the Best Young Player of both Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, has it. With about 38.4 million followers on Instagram alone, he is one of the most followed young players and one of the players the world would love to see in Qatar.
4. Mohamed (Mo) Salah (Egypt)
Arguably the most popular Arab footballer of all time, Mo Salah, nicknamed the Egyptian King, is probably the player most Arab fans would love to watch at the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.
The Liverpool forward has been a revelation since moving from Roma to the Premier League in the summer of 2017. The strength of the move emphasised when Salah broke the Premier League scoring record for that 38 game season; or, as top goalscorer amongst the African teams, he helped boot Egypt into the 2018 World Cup group stages; or, when he helped Liverpool win the UEFA Champions League in 2019.
An intelligent player, with impressive technical abilities, speed and an eye for the goal, Salah is considered one of the best in the world. He is also a team player and a fan favourite due to his creative play and flair, and his ethos of hardwork and humility.
That the 2022 FIFA World Cup is being staged on Arab soil for the first time in its 92-year history, makes the Liverpool striker undoubtedly the first choice for many regional fans who would like to see him dazzle on 'home soil'. Should Egypt qualify for their fourth World Cup appearance, Salah would also be among the stars the world's spectators would love to spot in Qatar.
5. Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)
Virgil Van Dijk is thought to be one of the best defenders in the world. His skills are considered unique, in that his style of play encompasses the entire set of defensive skills often meted out across a team's outfield players. Some liken him to an entire defence in himself, placing him in a league of his own.
Indeed, when defenders are generally underrated, Van Dijk's efforts on the pitch have seen the 28-year-old crowned the UEFA Best Player in 2019 and the Premier League Player of the Year for 2018/19. These accolades on the back of a record-breaking transfer fee for a defender in January 2018 - he was signed for Liverpool from Southampton for a reported £75 million.
The transfer fee may have caused many raised eyebrows - surely this was too much to pay for a defender? However, Van Dijk's performance since his Liverpool signing has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that he was a bargain signing, even at that amount.
Van Dijk was as solid as a rock in defence as Liverpool won the 2019 Champions League. Nicknamed "Liverpool's very own brick wall', the Dutchman passed the entire Champions League season without a single opponent dribbling past his defensive boots. He was also on hand in Qatar to ensure the team won its first FIFA Club World Cup in 2019 in the final against Brazilian champions, Flamengo.
With the Netherlands failing to qualify for Russia 2018, Van Dijk will doubtlessly be ready to do all he can to help the Dutch get to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
For Van Dijk, coming back to Qatar in 2022 offers another opportunity to win another 'FIFA World Cup', only that this time around there won't be the word 'Club' attached to the trophy and the teammates will, of course, be different.
Which young players will make it to the 2022 World Cup tournament? We’ve picked our top five favourites - find out who they are in our Rising Young Superstars review.
Our top-five pick of the stars expected to take centre-stage at the 2022 World Cup and in global football for many years to come.
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