It is every football player’s dream to win the World Cup—to lift a trophy just over 14 inches tall, but with it, the weight of the hopes and dreams of an entire country.
But, the World Cup has eluded many. Held only every four years, even the best of the best players only get so many shots at winning the title—some never do. And for several of this generation’s football players, this year may be their last chance.
Here, we have 10 football stars likely playing their final World Cup matches in Qatar. But with only one team who can bring home the ultimate prize, which one will make their last dance their best one yet?
1. Ángel Di Maria
Qatar 2022 marks Ángel Di Maria’s fourth World Cup appearance, as he made his debut back in 2010. Also considered one of the best wingers in the world, Di Maria has scored a total of 27 goals for Argentina, including two from his 13 World Cup matches. Will he add to that list on what could be his final dance with Argentina?
2. Olivier Giroud
Club: AC Milan
Olivier Giroud made his World Cup debut in 2014, making this year his third, and possibly his last. That year, he scored his only World Cup goal against Switzerland. But in his next appearance, Giroud was one of the key players that saw France win the World Cup Final against Croatia.
3. Manuel Neuer
Manuel Neuer has been a World Cup go-to for Germany. When he made his debut in 2010, he played in all of the country’s matches except for one, and in 2014, he won the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best keeper. In the last World Cup in Russia, he even captained Germany for the first time against Mexico. Now, he is on his fourth, and likely, his last run with the team.
4. Luis Suárez
Luis Suárez is one of, if not, Uruguay’s best players. He is the country’s top goalscorer in history, and he also holds the record for most goals in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in CONMEBOL. This year will be his fourth World Cup appearance, and if it should be his last, it would mark the final bow of an iconic Uruguayan player.
5. Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani is another one of Uruguay’s best. Similar to Suárez, Cavani also debuted at the World Cup in 2010, where he scored a goal against Germany to finish in fourth place. This year, Uruguay has a balance between young and experienced players. With this, could Cavani and Suárez make their last World Cup their best ever?
6. Luka Modrić
Club: Real Madrid
Luka Modrić is one of the most versatile midfielders in the world, and his presence on the pitch never goes unnoticed. In his third World Cup appearance in 2018, he led Croatia all the way to the finals and received the Golden Ball award as the best player of the tournament. Now, after admitting that this World Cup will be his last, can the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner take Croatia back to the finals this year?
7. Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski isn’t sure if this World Cup will be his last. But, he is going to play as if it will be. The Polish player is arguably one of the best strikers of this generation, with a record of over 500 senior career goals, 76 of which he scored for Poland. But, even though he is Poland’s top scorer, he still has yet to score a goal at the World Cup. If this should be his last, will he finally reach this milestone?
8. Karim Benzema
Club: Real Madrid
After leading Real Madrid to two titles last season, and winning the Ballon d’Or last October, Qatar 2022 was going to Karim Benzema’s comeback for France after being left out of the 2018 World Cup roster. But, in France’s hopes of defending their title, Benzema suffered a thigh injury and has been ruled out of the tournament.
With this, given that he hasn’t confirmed that this will be his last World Cup, we’re not giving up hope that we will see the Frenchman again in another four years.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo is possibly the most successful football player of this generation, winning major titles with every club that he has played for—Sporting CP, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus. In total, he has scored over 800 goals for both club and country, has 32 trophies, and has won the Ballon d’Or six times. But, one more record seems to elude him: a World Cup win.
At his age, and with all the controversy surrounding him at Manchester United, he is likely nearing the end of his career. Thus, 2022 could mark his final shot at a World Cup title. With a promising squad in Portugal, can he lead his team one more time—and this time, all the way to the top?
10. Lionel Messi
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
While Cristiano Ronaldo has not explicitly stated that this World Cup will be his last, Lionel Messi has, putting the pressure on this tournament to cap off his illustrious career.
Considered by many to be the greatest football player, he is just a few goals shy of 700 club goals and has scored 91 international goals since he made his debut for Argentina in 2005. But, his international career is highlighted by his leadership for the country, especially in the World Cup. In 2014, he led the Argentine all the way to the finals, where they ultimately lost the title to Germany.
Now on his fifth and final World Cup, can Messi close out his career with the most coveted football title in the world?
Images from athletes’ Instagram profiles.