This isn’t a list of the 10 best players in the tournament, but more a combination of stars, up-and-comers, and players you might not have heard of yet. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on Earth, and with all the top talent in one place, it’s easy to be overloaded on information about so many players. Here’s a quick guide on some to look out for.
10. Willian (Brazil)
One of two on this list that go by only one name (surprise, surprise: both Brazilian), Willian is a quick, smart player that will be creating lots of goal scoring opportunities for the host country. He was transferred to Chelsea in August for £32 million, and the winger will be one of the fastest players on the field at all times.
9. Adnan Janujaz (Belgium)
Who knows how much playing time Janujaz will actually get, but if his sterling play for Manchester United has any bearing he’ll make the starting XI at some point in the 2014 World Cup. Janujaz picked Belgium in April over England, as he could have played for both national teams. The 19-year old winger could be taking over Ryan Giggs’s spot in the United lineup soon, so see all you can of him this summer.
8. Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
The Manchester City midfielder is no secret, but Yaya Toure’s form this season is just impossible to ignore. I think he’s been the best player in the Premier League this year, and the World Cup is the best stage to watch him continue that. Toure is a strong, talented player that overpowers anyone that tries to dispossess him.
7. Mario Gotze (Germany)
Gotze made waves moving from Borussia Dortmund to rival Bayern Munich last season, andthe partnership we’ll see in Brazil between he and former BVB teammate Marco Reus will be a great thing to watch. Gotze is only 21, but he already has over 110 appearances in the Bundesliga. Gotze is one of the best on the ball in the entire world, and he’ll likely only better in the next couple years.
6. Diego Costa (Spain)
Costa will be the most controversial figure leading into the World Cup, having picked to play for Spain after being born and raised in Brazil. Costa also played in two friendly matches for Brazil, but the striker will be suiting up in red. The striker has led Atletico Madrid to the Champions League Final and the club is about to win La Liga behind his 27 league goals.
5. Paul Pogba (France)
Pogba has been one of the most heralded young players in the world, and he’s now leading Juventus to Serie A titles in Italy after his academy upbringing at Manchester United. Pogba was named one of the ten most promising young players in Europe by the Guardian in January and he’s looking to help France out of the gutter after its horrible performance in the 2010 World Cup.
4. Wayne Rooney (England)
Everyone knows who Rooney is, and the English striker knows what is expected of him. English football fans have dropped their expectations of the team as whole over the last few years, but Rooney is still the countries best asset and primary goalscorer. Rooney wants nothing more than to be England’s hero, and he’ll give it his all in Brazil.
3. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Making his debut for Genk at the age of 16, Courtois has grown to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The Belgian was transferred to Chelsea in 2011 and has subsequently been loaned to Atletico Madrid for the last three seasons. The loans will likely end, as Chelsea are ready to reap the rewards from the 6’6 human wall.
2. Neymar (Brazil)
Along with Gareth Bale, Neymar was the biggest story of the last offseason. A huge transfer to Barcelona along with a Confederations Cup win put Neymar’s name on the lips of every soccer fan, and now he’ll be in Brazil’s lineup as we head into the 2014 World Cup. Neymar is a fast, elusive, and deadly finisher and he could one day be on the level of our #1 choices.
1a and 1b: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Was there any doubt? These are the two best players in the world, and they’ll both be looking to make the biggest impact to gain the last thing missing from their careers, a World Cup title. Ronaldo and Messi continue to battle each other in La Liga every year, but if they somehow face off in the World Cup, the entire world will be watching the highest class of football.