This article profiles the fans’ favourite player for each of the 32 competing World Cup nations.
Having canvassed the opinions and absorbed the comments of a number of national team experts, Bleacher Report is proud to present the conclusive list of the most popular figures for the teams populating the Group Stage draw.
These are the men who hold a special, unique place in the hearts of fans. They are the characters who supporters will turn to when things aren’t going so well, or when inspiration is sought. They are the stars who understand the importance of wearing the shirt and those who have earned their compatriots’ respect as a result.
Two names spring to mind when identifying Algeria’s Fan Favourite.
Madjid Bougherra is a grizzled old war horse of a centre-back. He lives and breathes Algeria, wears his heart on his sleeve and isn’t afraid of a crunching tackle or two to get the supporters on side.
However, within the current Algerian set-up he is outshone by Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli.
While Bougherra is the “goods out back”, Feghouli is the glitz and the glamour, the player to make you gasp and stand to attention. These qualities carry great weight with North African fans, particularly when the Fennecs side boasts few players at the moment who can truly alter the complexion of a contest.
Feghouli was named by IFFHS as the nation's most popular player in 2012.
While the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and previously Javier Zanetti have earned their place in Argentine folklore due to their battling, committed performances, there can really only be one name for this spot, can’t there?
Lionel Messi is the world’s finest player and is adored by fans across the globe.
It has taken a while for his own compatriots to take him into their hearts, not least because of the perception that he rarely replicated his exceptional club form for the national side. However, as pointed out by Bleacher Report’s South American expert Dan Colasimone, “his name is sung from the stands before and during every national team game.”
Since Mark Schwarzer’s celebrated retirement, no other Australian player embodies the spirit of wearing the shirt quite like Tim Cahill.
The former Everton man is a veteran of both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments and will be looking to complete an unprecedented hat-trick of performances in Brazil next summer.
With an exciting generation of players and a first invitation to the international high table since 2002, there are numerous Belgians who are adored by fans.
However, when it comes to No. 1, he was adamant that there was no question about the name to go for:
“No doubt you could ask 100 Belgians and all of them would point to Vincent Kompany.”
Summarising Kompany’s standing among Red Devils’ fans, Verschueren continued, “He's the fearless leader, the captain, the guy that handles the media and is always asked for all the post-game interviews.”
Kompany is the kind of captain every side needs and every manager dreams of, he will be looking to repay his compatriots’ adoration in Brazil.
Despite being debutants at the World Cup, Bosnia are not short of star power and will head to Brazil buoyed by the presence of such names as Miralem Pjanic, Vedad Ibisevic and Asmir Begovic.
The fans' favourite, however, remains Edin Dzeko.
The Manchester City forward is his nation’s top scorer, having bagged a remarkable 33 goals in 59 games—an international ratio to be proud of. As a Bundesliga and Premier League winner, he can boast the kind of sporting pedigree that few can match.
It’s no wonder he bears the moniker Bosanski Dijamant—the Bosnian Diamond.
Neymar appeals to various different demographics in Brazil, for various different reasons.
Football fans respect and value his terrific ability on the pitch, his unquestionable talent has made him the figurehead of Brazil’s attack and the key hope for the national side next summer.
Beyond this, he also appeals to the broader populace.
According to Bleacher Report’s Dan Colasimone, “Neymar enjoys boyband-like popularity in Brazil. In part due to his charismatic personality and changing hairstyles.”
All eyes will be on the Barcelona man in his homeland.
Samuel Eto’o remains, in the words of West African football expert Andrew Randa, Cameroon’s “poster boy”.
He may not enjoy the unobstructed backing from the federation and his team-mates that he once did, but Eto’o is still the key man in the eyes of the fans.
Despite having a fine tradition of producing excellent footballers, Eto’o is easily Cameroon’s greatest player of all time and, I would argue, Africa’s finest at that.
He has scored goals at World Cups in the past, but for 2014 I would suggest that his greatest contribution will be from a deeper position. Eto’o will be charged with inspiring the Indomitable Lions and prising open opposition defences.
While no one wants to face him, everyone would love to have Gary Medel on their side—be it a football match or even, probably, a war.
South American football expert Dan Colasimone admits that there are more glamorous players in the Chilean side, but no one works harder than the man known as ‘Pitbull’.
Medel puts himself out for the team, regularly playing in a previously unfamiliar centre-back role and consistently delivers committed, uncompromising performances of an exceptionally high quality.
According to Bleacher Report’s South American guru Dan Colasimone, there’s only one man who could be considered as Colombia’s fan favourite.
He wrote: “He's got the looks, he's got the gorgeous girlfriend, and he's got the skills to back it up. Colombia's most popular footballer couldn't be anyone other than golden boy, Falcao.”
Bleacher Report’s MLS Featured Columnist Eduardo Mendez, who describes himself as a “proud Costa Rican”, suggests that there a few names that spread joy within the hearts of his countrymen.
Midfielder Celso Borges, of AIK in Sweden, and Levante’s impressive stopper Keylor Navas are key men who will be expected to perform next summer.
However, Mendez identified Fulham's Bryan Ruiz as probably the most popular player among the current crop of Costa Rican players.
He summarised Ruiz’s qualities as follows, “He's the captain. Dynamic. Can finish from anywhere and has excelled overseas for years now.”
Mendez and his compatriots will be hoping that Ruiz can enjoy one or two of his “good days” come Brazil next summer.
Despite his ageing legs and waning influence on the pitch, Didier Drogba remains—as he has been for some time—much more than a mere footballer in the Cote d’Ivoire.
It was he who once brought a halt to the five-year Ivorian civil war by appealing for a ceasefire. He is the nation’s most-prominent player of all time and his reputation is approaching that of a demi-god in his homeland.
He remains the figurehead of the golden generation who will head to Brazil seeking one final shot at redemption next summer.
While the majority of experts canvassed in the creation of this list nominated their star player as the fan’s favourite, Croatian football writer Aleksandar Holiga suggested a less-heralded face from among the Vatreni collective.
He opted to promote Ivica Olic as the most popular face among fans, explaining his decision as follows:
“Veteran striker Ivica Olić has to be the Croatia fans favorite. His career has been marred by injuries and other setbacks, but he's still going strong at age 34.”
Holiga paints a picture of the former Bayern Munich frontman as one who is beloved by his compatriots, regardless of his defects, “Despite possessing a technique and first touch which are certainly below-par for a player of the highest level, he's well-known for never failing to give all of his relentless energy for the team. And fans love him for it. Sometimes they even joke about his technical proficiency: 'What does a defender do when faced with Olić doing stopovers?' goes the joke. 'He politely waits until Olić finishes, than takes the ball from him'. But it's all good-humoured, because everyone knows that's not his thing—what fans expect from him is constant running, pressing and being at the right place at the right time.”
Like other additions to this list, Holiga identifies modesty and selflessness as key qualities appreciated by the fans. Olic may no longer be one of Croatia’s star men, but “his very presence is important for the team spirit.”
Sometimes a European audience can overlook the emotional weight that a player possesses in their homeland.
Antonio Valencia may be a Manchester United stalwart, but the fairly peripheral role he has played at Old Trafford in recent times is a far cry from his enduring influence with the Ecuadorian national side.
The former Wigan winger is the highest profile player in the Tri-colour squad and, according to Bleacher Report’s Dan Colasimone, he “lifts whenever he plays for the national team.”
In a country where the domestic league, its rivalries and its characters, takes precedence over the national side, it is perhaps natural that there are few players adored universally by England fans.
Prominent stars of the national side in recent years, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, for example, have all had their detractors. Frank Lampard, still a member of the squad, has generally had his England career undermined by unfairly hostile receptions from supporters.
Hopefully, the rising to prominence of fresh faces such as Leighton Baines, Andros Townsend and even someone like Ross Barkley can make it easier for fans to get behind the whole team without any reservations.
Until then, Steven Gerrard is probably the most popular figure among fans. The Liverpool captain has taken the armband for England and treated it with the respect it deserves, while simultaneously retaining his expansive influence in the middle of the park.
In a recent vote in French newspaper Le Parisien, Hugo Lloris was identified by 39% of voters as Les Bleus’ most popular player.
Lloris has largely escaped the tarnished reputations and ill-advised escapades of his countrymen in recent years and, despite receiving a ban following the 2010 World Cup, has, on the whole, been viewed as a mediator and a calm, reasoned voice.
It helps that he is at the top of his game and still possesses an unrelenting desire to compete.
Bleacher Report’s resident Germany expert Clark Whitney identified Mesut Ozil as the national side’s key man heading into next summer’s showpiece.
Ozil, according to Mr. Bundesliga, has been the “Cornerstone of Germany’s attack since 2009”.
His “world-class playmaking, silky smooth touch and tremendous economy have transformed the Mannschaft into a lethal team going forward.” Nobody will relish the prospect of encountering Ozil and his countrymen in the World Cup group stage draw.
Despite the massed talent within the Black Stars’ ranks, there is only one man who is the “man of the fans now.”
He may have endured his hardships in the past, particularly from the penalty spot—but Gyan’s “leadership qualities and down-to-earth approach towards every player” make him a hero among the fans.
He has also delighted with his contributions in front of goal—a sure fire way of playing yourself into the hearts of the fans. He bagged six during the CAF Qualifying programme and don’t be surprised to see him become his nation’s all-time record scorer in Brazil next summer.
Heading to next summer’s World Cup, the man most Greek fans count as their hero is Olympiacos forward Kostas Mitroglou.
2013-14 may well prove to be a breakout year of sorts for the man known as Pistolero—he bagged a marvellous hat-trick in a Champions League game against Anderlecht and is reportedly being tracked by no less than Arsenal and Liverpool.
He scored crucial goals in Greece’s Qualification group, not to mention their play-off against Romania and will look to complete a remarkable 12 months with a bang in Brazil.
In a transitional Dutch side it is one of the older heads that still stirs up the most emotion in the fans according to Dutch football expert Nikos Overheul.
Arjen Robben first burst onto the international scene at Euro 2004 where he was not only Holland’s best player, but also scored the decisive goal in the penalty shoot-out against Sweden. This finish broke the Dutch tradition of being eliminated in shoot-outs and earned Robben the admiration of a nation.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since then, however, and Robben’s “unreliability” and injury record have often cost him kudos in the eyes of fans.
Today, however, “the Dutch public has once again warmed to the winger from Groningen” according to Overheul. His improving fitness and his crucial Champions League goals have clearly been factors; Robben will be keen to ensure his reputation reaches an all-time high next summer.
In Overheul’s eyes he “carries the hopes of the entire orange legion on his back”—no pressure then!
Two names spring to mind when considering Honduras, according to CONCACAF expert Karla Villegas Gama.
New England Revolution’s Jerry Bengtson scored some crucial goals in the Hexagon qualification system, not least against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca where his brace buried the home side. He finished the programme with nine goals, the fifth-highest scorer in the region.
Wilson Palacios may be the most well known player in the camp, but Wigan’s Roger Espinoza deserves acknowledgement here. He was, according to Villegas Gama: “recognized by the international Federation of Football History and Statistics as the third most popular footballer of CONCACAF and first in Honduras.”
He will need to bring all of his defensive nous to the party next summer if Honduras are to stand any chance of progression.
Liege frontman Reza Ghoochannejhad has earned the adoration of his compatriots by firing the Princes of Persia into the World Cup.
As well as bagging three goals in the AFC World Cup qualifying programme, the former Dutch youth international also excelled as Iran attempted to get to the 2015 Asian Cup. He top-scored in this qualification programme with five goals.
These performances prompted Fifa.com to identify him as "Iran's new saviour" and "Iran's golden boy".
He is an exciting attacker who is quick across the ground and capable of getting a shot off from any number of angles, without a moment’s hesitation.
Iran fans will be hoping he can surprise a few defences in Brazil next summer.
I was tempted to ruffle a few feathers here and choose Francesco Totti as my Italian fan favourite. The Roma stalwart was identified by IFFHS as Italy’s favourite son in 2012 and indeed, many hope that the 37-year-old will find a way of forcing himself back into the fold before next summer.
In his absence, Andrea Pirlo is a figure adored across Europe and is one of the most respected footballers on the planet.
He is a veteran of Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, has dazzled fans at each of Italy’s big three (Juventus, Milan and Internazionale) and retains, even considering his advancing years, an air of effortless elegance.
While a number of Japan’s current generation are popular among national team fans, Goal Japan Chief Editor Cesare Polenghi identified Keisuke Honda as “without any doubt” the Blue Samurai’s most popular player.
Like many of the other stars featured on this list, Honda enjoys mass appeal due both to his performances on the pitch as well as his lifestyle off it.
According to Polenghi, “Honda has taken the place of former "national hero" Hidetoshi Nakata in the heart of the Japanese.”
He also envisages that 2014 could be a major year for the playmaker and could take him to another stratosphere within Japanese affections—with a move to Milan secured for January and a World Cup on the horizon, a nation expects.
According to Goal Korea’s Chief Editor Yonghun Lee, his countrymen expect Son Heung-Min to be the new hero for the national side.
While the majority of the team’s European-based players are playing for mid to low table teams, Son represents Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. He is “young, talented and still can develop a lot” making him a particularly exciting prospect for fans back home.
Crucially, Lee reckons there is more to come from the former Hamburg forward: “He will definitely be a bigger star once he moves to England whose league is very popular in Korea.”
Could Son emerge as the “Korean Cristiano Ronaldo”?
Bleacher Report’s Mexican football doyenne Karla Villegas Gama identified Oribe Peralta as El Tri’s most-beloved superstar.
His performances at the London Olympics, where he scored both goals in the final to win the gold medal clearly, and naturally, left an impression.
Amidst the national side's stuttering and spluttering performances over the last 12 months, he has remained a ray of light.
With a terrific 11 goals in seven appearances for the national side in 2013, he has every chance of being a smash hit in Brazil next summer.
Naturally, for a team that conquered a continent within the last 12 months, many Super Eagles players are looked upon with great favour by Nigerian fans.
The youth of the side, as well as the impression that Stephen Keshi has moulded a unit without cynicism and without ego has also helped their reception in the eyes of the supporters.
Youngsters such as Ogenyi Onazi and Victor Moses can hope to become national legends during their careers, while Nigerians are particularly proud of Vincent Enyeama, whose exceptional current form with Lille is earning him huge plaudits.
The favourite, however, remains John Obi Mikel.
This year, the Chelsea man has gone from being the great hope of Nigerian football to being its centrepiece and its beating heart.
There are few feelings quite as fond as witnessing the one you’ve always longed for finally making an appearance, but it happened this year.
"oooh, I love you Cristiano, I want to be like you, do my hair like you, wear an armband like you."
Despite being in a fine team laced with strong players, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo still stands head and shoulders above his compatriots.
The former Manchester United star is one of the most popular players in world football, let alone in his homeland. It hasn’t always been this way, but Ronaldo will head to the World Cup as the great hope and the great darling of the Portuguese nation.
You won’t find anyone cheering for Messi in this neck of the woods!
Andrey Arshavin used to be the most beloved star in Russia but, alas, that one looks to have ended fairly unhappily.
His replacement in the hearts of fans is CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev.
Since being pushed back into a midfield role, Dzagoev has truly found his rhythm and his niche with the national side. He was become an expert prompter and has begun to have much more of an influence in contests.
Dzagoev looked great, in patches, at Euro 2012 and will look to build on that performance next summer. His ability endears him to Russian fans, but it is his impressive workrate that truly carries him into their hearts.
Despite the divisions that exist within Spanish football and particularly between La Liga’s big two, the generation of La Roja stars to have achieved such unprecedented success at international level is naturally broadly adored. This collection of players have brought such happiness to the nation and are unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso and Juan Mata are particularly popular, while Jordi Alba has been a breath of fresh air since his introduction to the team in 2011.
However, as the man whose goal brought the World Cup to Spain, Andres Iniesta will always have a special place within Hispanic affections.
Much of the literature covering Switzerland in recent weeks has focused on their unlikely placement among the World Cup seeds. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men may be considered an “easy touch” and I suspect that many of the other sides in the draw would love to find themselves in La Nati’s group.
Despite this, however, the side have a number of fine players.
Swiss academic Jonas Widmer summarised the mood of a nation when he suggested that Xherdan Shaqiri was the most-beloved player of the current crop.
He may be struggling to assert himself at Bayern Munich, but ever since his performances in the U-21 European Championship in Denmark in 2011, he has been earmarked as a sporting superstar by the Swiss.
It is not just Shaqiri’s success which has won him acclaim, Widmer reckons that his style, particularly his “outstanding dribbling” is what sets Swiss pulses racing.
He may well need to recreate some of this magic in Brazil next summer.
He may not be as influential as he once was, and he may no longer be guaranteed a starting spot, but Diego Forlan remains the darling of Uruguayan football.
Even with the incredible force of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front, Forlan retains major popularity among Uruguay fans.
According to South American football guru Dan Colasimone, “Uruguay's all-time top scorer is adored by fans for all that he has given the Celestes over his career.”
Following the U.S.’s recent good form under Jurgen Klinsmann, the fans are not short of heroes. In canvassing opinions for this feature, a number of names came into the mix.
Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Landon Donovan (the States’ best-ever player according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Cummings) were all given a fair airing, but in the end, the honour goes to Clint Dempsey.
Both Cummings, as well as B/R’s USMNT expert John Halloran agreed that the Seattle Sounders man just had the edge in the fans’ affections.
The pair both touched on Dempsey’s charisma, audacity and personality as key factors in his appeal, while Halloran also chose to acknowledge his “consistent goal-scoring form for the U.S. over the past few years.”