With the kickoff of the 2010 World Cup just a few short hours away, anticipation is growing to see the best soccer players on the planet. But with a host of stars like Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Michael Ballack possibly missing the whole tournament who in fact should soccer fans and non-soccer fans keep a eye on in South Africa?
1) Lionel Messi (Argentina)- The young Argentine dynamo is coming off a second consecutive La Liga title with Barcelona and is on top of the list to win FIFA player of the year for a second consecutive time as well. The crafty Messi has yet to realize much success on the international stage though and is the clear individual that will be looked upon to lead the charge for Diego Maradona’s club. Though Maradona’s tactics have been questioned, the talented Messi will look to add another trophy to his vast resume by capturing the World Cup in South Africa.
2) Cristiano Ronaldo(Portugal)- The world’s most expensive player and at times the most frustrating one as well. Ronaldo comes into this World Cup having not scored a goal in the qualification stages for Portugal and will need to rebound significantly if Portugal is to make a serious run at the World Cup. A magician with the ball at his feet, he possess a magnificent shot,deft passing abilities and a rocket of a free kick.
3)Wayne Rooney(England)- The England forward comes into the tournament as one of the leading candidates for player of the year after a phenomenal season for England. He is indeed the England club’s talisman and will need to be at his best in South Africa. Rooney comes into the tournament with a slight injury concern but his temper may be his biggest concern at the moment. A swear fest by Rooney at a recent friendly match has put South African officials on alert for the England forward’s temper. Rooney was red carded in 2006 for a stomp in the quarter-final against Portugal, England would go on to lose the game in penalty kicks.
4)Fernando Torres(Spain)- ‘El Nino’ comes into the tournament much like Rooney in terms of injury concerns. Torres missed lengthy time at Liverpool this campaign with leg problems and is unlikely to be 100% percent throughout the tournament. With a sublime touch on the ball and an uncanny ability to run at defenders, Torres should be a candidate for the Golden Boot as Spain will likely progress quite far in the tournament.
5)Luis Fabiano(Brazil)- With the likes of Ronaldinho, Adriano and Pato not being included in the Brazilian squad, the burden will fall more than ever on the lap of Fabiano. The Sevilla striker has a powerful shot and will need to link up well with teammates Kaka and Robinho in order to open up scoring opportunities. Expect Fabiano to be one of the favourites for the Golden Boot.
6)David Villa(Spain)- The newly signed Barcelona striker was the player to watch at Euro 2008 and makes a deadly partner for Fernando Torres, which gives Spain undoubtedly the best striking duo in all of the World Cup. Villa’s speed and technical ability causes opposing defence’s headaches and that shouldn’t change in South Africa.
7)Nemanja Vidic(Serbia)-The Manchester United centre-back is the driving force in a strong Serbian back-line that will look to surprise at the World Cup. Perhaps the best centre-back in the world, Vidic imposes his physical will on opponents but also possesses strong offensive abilities from dead ball situations as he is quite deft at heading the ball.
8)Julio Cesar(Brazil)- The argument of who the best goalkeeper in the world is usually causes massive debate amongst soccer pundits but few could argue that after his 2010 season that Julio Cesar is not at the top of the list.. Cesar was incredible in net for Champions League winners Inter Milan and has been just as strong for Brazil during qualifying. With Brazil shifting to a more defensive approach, Cesar will be leaned on more than ever.
9)Wesley Sneijder(Holland)- With Arjen Robben being stricken with yet another injury, more responsibility will be given to the crafty Sneijder who’s pace and creativity was a main reason that domestic club Inter Milan won the Champions League. Sneijder’s penchant for scoring highlight reel goals should also endear him to the masses in South Africa.
10)Angel Di Maria(Argentina)- Perhaps a unheralded name, Di Maria is coming off of a tremendous season for Benfica and has garnered the attention of clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United either of which will likely purchase the player this summer . Though he has been a pleasure to watch on the domestic front, Di Maria has been even more dominant internationally, overshadowing Messi at times. The partnership he formed with Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero at the 2007 U-20 World Cup was a dominant one, expect Di Maria not to disappoint at the biggest stage.