The 2014 World Cup is rapidly approaching with some of the best players in the world preparing to take the pitch on the biggest stage in Brazil on June 12. There will be no shortage of elite soccer players in this year's World Cup, from big names from Europe and Asia to emerging stars in North and South America.
Heading into the World Cup, all eyes will be on Andres Iniesta and the Spanish squad as they try to repeat as champions with plenty of their top players returning. Spain will be looking to defend their trophy after a successful campaign back in 2010, in which the talent-packed squad won the World Cup and then went on to win the Euro Championship in 2012.
Although Spain will have a great chance of repeating, the Spaniards will have their work cut out for them with the following players almost certainly making an impact in the upcoming tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo will perhaps be the biggest name on the main stage this July, with the international superstar attempting to lead Portugal to World Cup glory.
The Portuguese have fallen short their last two World Cup appearances with Ronaldo leading the way, but the reigning FIFA Ballon d'Or winner has taken his game to another level heading into the tournament. At 29 years old, he might finally be ready to quiet the critics and lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy on July 13.
Ronaldo has been playing at an elite level during Real Madrid's current run in the Champions League. The Portuguese forward broke Lionel Messi's record for goals in the tournament with 15. Ronaldo's goal in the 33rd minute of the second leg against Bayern Munich helped seal the deal and put him in the history books in the process. Madrid have reached the final as a result of the 4-0 win over Munich and will face the winner of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid on April 30.
The superstar forward will be in top form heading into the tournament pending any injuries after potentially winning a Champions League title with Madrid. Ronaldo has scored 30 goals for Madrid in La Liga this season, putting him three ahead of Barcelona's Messi.
It could be argued that Ronaldo is playing the best soccer of his career, and that may pay dividends with Portugal during the tournament.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Perhaps Ronaldo's biggest rival in La Liga will be standing in his way with Messi set to lead Argentina in the tournament that is much closer to home in South America.
The two-time Champions League winner has been regarded as an elite goalscorer during his time with Barcelona, netting over 350 goals in his career. Messi may be elite in terms of goal scoring with his club, but he has only put 37 behind the goalkeeper in 83 appearances with Argentina.
Messi may have taken a back seat to Ronaldo recently in Spain due to the success of Real Madrid, but the Argentine forward is still considered to be the best player in the world in the opinion of many, including Barcelona teammate Neymar, who said the following according to Rik Sharma of Mail Online:
"I also agree that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world, and I train every day with Messi. I know the way he plays and for me, he is the best of them all."
As long as Messi is in top form come July, Argentina will be a threat to come out on top in the tournament. Messi brings the kind of scoring threat to a team that simply can't be matched, giving the Argentine squad a chance to compete with the best the world has to offer.
Ironically enough, Brazilian legend Pele, widely considered the best to have ever played the game, claims Neymar is better than Messi. The three-time World Cup champion made the controversial statement back in 2012, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.com:
"Pele says Lionel Messi isn't the best player in the world today -- much less of all time. Pele said Wednesday that young Brazilian striker Neymar is better than the Argentina forward, and reiterated that he doesn't think Messi belongs in the conversation about who is the best player ever."
With Neymar set to lead the way for the host country of Brazil, there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on the forward to win it all. As usual, Brazil is considered one of the elite teams in the tournament and may have an easy path out of the Group stage facing the likes of Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A.
Neymar made a name for himself back in 2010 leading the Brazilians in the World Cup, but the team was considered a massive disappointment. Holland knocked out the Brazilian side much earlier than anticipated back in 2010, resulting in only the eighth time the country had failed to reach the semi-finals.
Now that Neymar has four more years of experience under his belt and some time playing alongside greats like Messi in Spain, the Brazilian forward is poised for a breakout performance in front of Brazilian fans that worship the forward.
A lot of attention will center around Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar as the tournament gets underway, but there are plenty of other players that will also make an impact on teams with a legitimate chance to win the World Cup.
Luis Suarez, Uruguay
One player that has burst onto the scene this year is Luis Suarez of Uruguay. The Liverpool forward has been virtually unstoppable in the England Premier League this season and will attempt to carry over that dominance to his national team. Uruguay was solid back in the 2010 World Cup but finished in fourth place behind Germany, Netherlands and Spain.
With PFA Player of the Year winner Suarez coming into his own, Uruguay could be as tough as they come in the upcoming tournament, with Suarez and Diego Forlan being a lethal combination. Suarez seems to improve with every game on the pitch as he's becoming a dominant goalscorer this year.
Suarez currently leads the EPL in goals with 30, which is 10 more than the next player down. Ironically, the player behind him on the list of top goalscorers in the EPL is his teammate Daniel Sturridge.
Now that Suarez has established himself as an elite player in one of the best leagues in the world, the stage is set for Uruguay to take the next step with perhaps the best goalscorer in the tournament leading the way.
Other notable players that will likely turn heads during the 2014 World Cup are Wayne Rooney (England), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Robin van Persie (Netherlands) and Radamel Falcao (Colombia).
At this point in time, Spain is the top dog with perhaps the best combination of players assembled for the tournament with Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez and Fernando Torres leading the way. Despite that being the case, all of the impact players mentioned have an opportunity to cement their legacies and prove their worth on the international stage this summer.
It'll be a World Cup for the ages with every game worth watching as the best players in the world put their skills on display while representing their countries.