Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
All is not well for Ronaldo at Manchester United after his scolding assessment of the club and its manager, yet he has the chance to write his name into the history books for Portugal in Qatar over the next month. He has won the European Championship, the Nations League and become the top scorer in men’s international football with 117 goals in 191 appearances for Portugal, but he has never played in a World Cup final. At 37 years of age, Ronaldo knows this is likely his final chance at World Cup glory and he will be determined to go out on a high. With his United career likely over, and his legacy at Old Trafford tarnished, his focus is now on firing Portugal to the first World Cup in their history, cementing his spot among the best footballers of all time.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Messi has already confirmed that he will be retiring from international football after the World Cup. He will hope to do so with a first World Cup winners’ medal around his neck. The 35-year-old secured a first international trophy last year as he played a key role in helping Argentina to the 2021 Copa América and having come so close to World Cup glory in 2014, WhoScored.com’s highest-rated player is seeking to bow out from the international game on the highest of highs.
Olivier Giroud, France
France are blessed with incredibly talented frontmen in Giroud, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann but they are all coming towards the end of their international careers. Giroud, at 36 years of age, is unlikely to continue with the national team after the tournament in Qatar draws to a close. The Milan forward is not just chasing World Cup glory, but a spot in the national team’s history books. Giroud is now just two goals short of matching Thierry Henry’s 51 goals at the top of France’s all-time scoring charts, as he looks to play his part in helping the world champions retain their crown.
Karim Benzema, France
Another experienced forward in the France squad, Benzema returned to the national team for Euro 2020, earning his first call-up in over five years in the process. While France’s campaign at the Euros did not go according to plan as they were knocked out by Switzerland at the last-16 stage, Didier Deschamps is hoping the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner still has enough goals in the tank to ensure that France do not go the way of previous defending champions and crash out in the group stage. Injuries have restricted Benzema to just seven league appearances for Real Madrid this season but, with five goals to his name, a lack of regular minutes has not impacted the 34-year-old in front of goal, which bodes well for Deschamps.
Sergio Busquets, Spain
Busquets is still one of the most influential members of the Spain squad, which he underlined at the Euros last year. He was absent from the first two group games, both of which Spain failed to win. When he returned to the side, they went on to reach the semi-finals, only losing to Italy on penalties. Whether he still has the legs to play every three days remains to be seen, but he will be a handy option for Luis Enrique should Spain need to shut games down. With 139 caps, the Spain captain has seen it all, having already won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Spain face Germany, Japan and Costa Rica in a testing group, so will need his experience.
Manuel Neuer, Germany
Neuer has been Germany’s No 1 since he made his debut in 2009 and there are no suggestions he will be relinquishing his place anytime soon. Given the longevity of goalkeeping careers, the 36-year-old could still have plenty of gas left. A World Cup winner in 2014, he will be trying to banish the demons of 2018, when he was robbed of possession in the opposing half as Germany chased a late goal against South Korea, allowing Son Heung-min to score as Joachim Löw’s side crashed out at the group stage.
Luis Suárez, Uruguay
Back in July, Suárez returned to former club Nacional, who he left in 2006 to embark on what turned out to be a wholly successful spell in Europe. In his 14 league games, Suárez scored eight times as he played a key role in securing Nacional their 49th Uruguayan Primera División title. The 35-year-old is leaving the club after the World Cup and will do so a hero. His country is now looking to him, his experienced partner Edinson Cavani and the 23-year-old Darwin Núñe, as the men to help Uruguay live up to their billing as dark horses. He is already his country’s all-time top scorer with 66 goals in 133 games; he will hope to add a few more in Qatar.
Jan Vertonghen, Belgium
Belgium’s golden generation is drawing to a close with Vertonghen, at 35, the oldest member of their squad, pipping Dries Mertens by a few days. Now back in Belgium with Anderlecht after mutually terminating his Benfica contract, Vertonghen has not been playing as regularly as he may have wanted, featuring just six times in the league this season. Yet he is Roberto Martínez’s vice-captain for Belgium behind the perennially injured Eden Hazard, so expect the former Tottenham defender to start in Martínez’s favoured three-man backline in Qatar.
Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Will Poland go far at the World Cup? With Lewandowski leading the charge, anything is possible. He scored goals for fun in the Bundesliga while at Bayern Munich and has continued in the same vein at Barcelona, scoring 18 goals in 19 games this season. Poland have not made it past the group stage of the World Cup since Mexico 1986, two years before Lewandowski was born. The 34-year-old will be aiming to repeat that performance in what is likely to be his last World Cup.
Luka Modric, Croatia
There seems to be no stopping Modric. At 37, the Real Madrid midfielder is still dominating games for his club, and he will be aiming to do the same for Croatia this month. Modric won the Golden Ball in 2018 for his role in helping his country reach the final, where they were beaten 4-2 by France. He will be winning his 155th cap when he captains Croatia in their opening game against Morocco next week. If he can continue to prove that age is but a number, who knows how far Croatia will go in Qatar, particularly with the metronomic Modric pulling the strings in the middle of the park.