The World Cup is a celebration of seeing the biggest stars in the game converging on the same nation at the same time. They will battle it out to see who is the best, and as a result, there are plenty who will lose that battle.
Form, fitness and sheer bad luck can all be blamed, but there are some global icons who will simply not live up to their reputations in Brazil this summer. Below are five of the biggest names in the tournament and how they are likely to fare on the biggest stage in the sport.
After two fairly disappointing World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2010, Messi will be desperate to put on a show with Argentina this time around. Now as the captain of his country, the 26-year-old is in the perfect position to shine as the side has largely been built around him.
It is a system that worked perfectly in qualifying, as Messi scored 10 times and Argentina strolled to the top of the South American group. Now the team has been handed a relatively easy group in Brazil and should be able to build momentum over the first three games with Messi leading the way.
All seems to be perfectly set up for the Barcelona-based superstar, but, by his outrageously high standards, he is not actually in the best of form. His season has been a little disjointed thanks to injuries, and as Barca’s form has dipped at the end of the season, so too has his. His recent comments regarding not needing to win the World Cup to be considered great do not suggest his confidence is great.
He may need the morale boost of a good start to the competition, and that is exactly what he should get against Bosnia-Herzegovina on 15 June. From there on in, it may well be Messi’s World Cup.
Like his great rival, Ronaldo has performed at two World Cups and not really produced his very best in either. Also like Messi, he is captain of his country and the team is built around him; however, with Portugal, he does not have the same calibre of team-mates that Messi enjoys with Argentina.
This problem is set to hinder him again, as he will certainly be his team’s best player, but that team will not last long enough in the event for him to be recognised as the best in the tournament. Portugal face a tricky group which includes Germany, Ghana and USA. They should escape from it, but their next two opponents could well be Belgium and Argentina.
If Ronaldo can inspire his team to defeat that set of opponents, then he will be on course to be the star of the show. If anyone can, it’s him, but it seems too much to ask, even of a man of his talents.
If the pressure is great on Messi and Ronaldo this time around, then it is nothing compared to that placed on Neymar’s shoulders. The 22-year-old has the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders, and given his record in yellow and green, he might just deliver what his adoring public want.
The forward has not exactly dazzled as much as most expected in his debut Barcelona season. Fifteen goals in 40 appearances is not a disaster, but compared to his well-known Argentinian team-mate, it is an unspectacular return.
Brazil legend Pele believes his move to Barca has only been a good thing, regardless of results, per AFP (via NDTV.com):
The best thing for Neymar was to come to play in Spain, to play in Europe, the best thing for Brazil. It was like him going off to university for six months and then coming back to play with Brazil, because then they come with more experience. That was fantastic for him.
However you look at his season in Catalonia, Neymar’s scoring record when representing his nation is something to take note of. To have 47 caps for Brazil at 22 years old is an incredible achievement in itself, but to have struck 30 goals in that time is really astonishing.
On his home turf in the Confederations Cup last year, he showed he had everything he needed to succeed at the World Cup. Goals against Chile, Japan, Mexico and Italy were enough to convince most that he can lead his team to glory this year. Brazil are favourites for the tournament, and if they do reach the final, Neymar will have had plenty to do with it.
The Premier League season may have ended in disappointment for Suarez, but he will have to dust himself down pretty quickly if he wants his team to have an impact this summer in Brazil.
Uruguay may be the favourites to progress from Group D, but they are in for a tough time of things against Italy and England. All three of those teams will be expecting to make it to the last 16. There will be little between them, and one will be disappointed.
If it is to be the South Americans who progress, they will need Suarez at his brilliant best, but also the rest of the team to show significant improvement. The Liverpool man outscored everyone else in South American qualifying, netting 11 times, and yet Uruguay only finished fifth and had to take on Jordan in a play-off. His team-mates managed just 14 goals in 16 games between them, which illustrates just how reliant they are on him.
Worryingly, Suarez’s record against the big teams in the Premier League is woeful, so whether he can be relied upon against England and Italy is yet to be seen. His form dipped towards the end of the season for Liverpool, and he could well be about to continue that trend into the World Cup.
Robin van Persie
It has been a frustrating season for the Dutchman at Old Trafford, as his old injury worries flared up again with worrying regularity. However, he has retained an excellent goals-per-game ratio and can not be said to have been out of form at any point.
He has managed 18 goals from 28 appearances for the Red Devils this campaign, which is no mean feat given the irregularity of those performances. Netherlands are in for a tricky start to the World Cup, though, as they must take on Spain first up, followed by Australia and Chile.
If they make it through that test, it is likely to be as runners-up, which will almost certainly pit them against Brazil in the last 16. RvP will remain a threat, but things look too tough for his Netherlands side for him to steal the show.