Welcome to our guide to the top 10 players to watch in the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup.
We’ve selected the prime stars, the performances everyone should be taking in, in an attempt to build excitement and anticipation ahead of the showpiece event.
Who made the cut? Which players boast that world-class level of talent you simply can’t resist? Come on in and take a look!
Mario Goetze, Germany
Mario Goetze stunned the world footballing community last season when he agreed to join Bayern Munich just weeks before he was due to face them in the UEFA Champions League final.
The prodigious No. 10, a former favoured son at Borussia Dortmund, where he came through the ranks, has now recovered from injury and begun to make his mark on coach Pep Guardiola’s first team—and boy what an impact he’s having.
Despite being so young, he has an incredible grasp on the tactical side of the game, and with Joachim Loew’s inability to find a striker to suit Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation, expect Goetze to grow into a free-flowing centre-forward’s role soon enough.
Brazil’s newest hero will be expected to shoulder the expectations of millions this summer.
As hosts, the Selecao will be expected to win their sixth FIFA World Cup despite the fact that this team led by Luiz Felipe Scolari is far from special.
That may be a harsh assessment of a side which just convincingly won the 2013 Confederations Cup—seen as a dry run in South America for next summer’s spectacle—but man-for-man, this XI is nowhere close to the glories of old.
Scolari knows this, and in turn he’s built a Brazilian side around their precocious, awe-inspiring talent. Neymar operates in a free role from the left-hand side of the Selecao’s system, with striker Fred deployed to detract attention and create room for his countryman to work in.
The Barcelona trickster has pace, quick feet, an eye for goal and a stunning pass, so keep your eyes peeled whenever he gets on the ball in the final third.
Andrea Pirlo, Italy
Sky Sports have confirmed Andrea Pirlo is to retire from international duty after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, so be sure to drink in every last moment of him strutting his stuff in the Azzurri blue.
Despite his aging legs, he still runs the show for Italy, with manager Cesare Prandelli building a team and selecting a midfield around his star playmaker.
He utilises an unorthodox regista role in the side, sitting in front of the defensive line and creating attacks from a deep-lying, quarterback-style position.
His passing is as incisive as it is deadly accurate, and opposing teams are willing to commit serious resources to stopping Pirlo pulling the strings.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo is the favourite to win the 2013 Ballon d’Or and if he does so, his performances against Sweden in the FIFA World Cup playoffs will have been a major factor.
As is custom, Portugal stuttered over the line in qualifying despite the presence of their talismanic No. 7, settling for a two-legged playoff against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Northern European charges.
Ronaldo scored four, including a scintillating hat-trick in Solna, Sweden, to fire his country to Brazil next summer, and if he continues his current club form there, he’ll be a strong bet for Player of the Tournament.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
For years, it’s been a struggle to get Lionel Messi to perform for Argentina despite his dominance over Europe at club level, but now Alejandro Sabella finally appears to have found the perfect formula.
Argentina have a true centre-forward in Gonzalo Higuain, who regularly rises to the challenge, so Sabella has decided to play Messi in a free role off the front man in order to extract his best.
It’s a decision akin to giving your best player the keys to the formation, and in 14 CONMEBOL qualifying games, the former Newell’s star hit 10 goals—one more than designated striker Higuain.