The group draw for the 2014 World Cup takes place today, which means the countdown until the marquee international tournament is officially underway. There are now less than 190 days until the best national football teams in the world battle it out in Brazil.
Of course, one of the main reasons the event always generates so much attention is the star power. Players from every region of the world will converge on South America to put their talent on display and hopefully lead their respective teams deep in the tournament.
With that in mind, let's examine a trio of players sure to make the most of their opportunity to stand out on the global stage. They should leave fans, both diehards and those who only watch football once every four years, in awe.
A perfect storm is brewing for next summer. When you combine the enormity of the World Cup with one of the most exciting young players on the planet getting to play in front of his home fans, the results are likely to provide a boost to the sport.
Neymar, a 21-year-old showman with incredible potential and confidence on the ball usually reserved for seasoned veterans, is ready for his breakout opportunity. He's gaining big-match experience this season with Barcelona and certainly isn't going to shy away from the huge World Cup stage.
Every time he touches the ball, especially in the opening match, the crowd is going to go wild. He's already a player with a unique flair for the dramatic, and that support is going to push him to do even more magic with his feet.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Even though it might seem like Messi has been around for a long time, he's still just 26. For most players, it's the age when they are just reaching their peak. Since Messi has already been viewed as the best in the world for several years, the question is where he goes from here.
Leading Argentina to a World Cup title would be a major addition to his already legendary résumé. In order to make that happen, he must get over a recent string of injury woes, the most recent of which is a hamstring injury that will keep him out until around the new year.
The good news is that he has plenty of time to get back to full strength for the World Cup. His ability to weave around defenders, making some of the best in the world look lost, before unleashing a laser into the net has been making highlight reels for years. It's likely to continue in Brazil.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Portugal didn't qualify directly for the tournament. Instead, it needed to survive a UEFA playoff against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden just to earn a berth. In those two matches, Ronaldo willed his team to Brazil with a remarkable display of skill.
He scored all four goals for the Seleccao, including a hat trick in the second leg, as they advanced 4-2 on aggregate. With a lot of players, the talk is about how talented they are in space. The Real Madrid forward doesn't need space. He can be trapped, take a quick touch and crack an unstoppable shot.
Like the other two players on the list, Ronaldo is a game-changing individual capable of turning an entire match around in an instant. Those are the type of stars who steal the show in big events. Portugal will continue to lean heavily on him, but he appears ready for the task.
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