Ranking the Real Madrid Players on Their Likely World Cup Impact
Following their spectacular capture of the Champions League crown in Lisbon on Saturday, a large collection of Real Madrid players possess the chance to add an elusive World Cup triumph to their CVs.
Given the club's standing at the pinnacle of world football, it's only natural that many Los Blancos stars will line up for the preeminent international teams at the game's showpiece in Brazil next month.
But which Real Madrid representatives will shine brightest on the biggest stage of all? Can any of them rise to be among the most decisive players of the tournament?
Across the following slides, we rank the 13 Real Madrid players heading to Brazil based on their likely impact on sport's grandest event of all.
Note: As reported by Inside Spanish Football, Vicente del Bosque has delayed the naming of his final 23-man Spain squad until possibly June 2 (the provisional 30-man squad can be seen here). Therefore, the Spanish players listed here are expected to appear at the World Cup but have not yet been confirmed.
Real Madrid's World Cup Absentees
While 13 players from the Real Madrid squad look set to take part in Brazil, there are also 10 Los Blancos men who will be unfortunately missing at the World Cup.
The Unlucky Ones
Diego Lopez (Spain): Despite holding down the goalkeeper position for Real Madrid's La Liga campaign, Lopez has been edged out of the Spain squad by teammate and national captain Iker Casillas, Manchester United's David de Gea and Napoli's Pepe Reina.
Jesus Fernandez (Spain): Since switching to Real Madrid from Numancia in 2010, Jesus has made just two league appearances per ESPN FC and is a long way off from national selection.
Alvaro Arbeloa (Spain): After being a regular for Spain under Vicente del Bosque, Arbeloa has watched Cesar Azpilicueta, Daniel Carvajal and Juanfran move ahead of him in the right-back pecking order this season.
Nacho (Spain): Although he's a very versatile defender, Nacho is still in the infancy of his career and isn't pushing for Spain selection after making just 12 league appearances in 2013-14, per WhoScored.com.
Asier Illarramendi (Spain): Illarramendi still hasn't secured his place in the Real Madrid side since moving to the capital from Real Sociedad at the beginning of the season. He's also got a plethora of Spanish midfield stars to compete with, too.
Isco (Spain): After an impressive debut season at Real Madrid, Isco is one of the more unfortunate players to miss out on selection for Spain's World Cup squad. Only a lack of experience and the nation's star-studded midfield stocks counted against him.
Gareth Bale (Wales): It's extremely disappointing that Bale is highly unlikely to ever appear at a World Cup. Despite being one of the planet's finest players, it's difficult to see Wales reaching the World Cup finals during Bale's career.
Casemiro (Brazil): The 22-year-old Casemiro made just two starts for Real Madrid in 2013-14, per WhoScored.com, meaning it was highly unlikely he'd force his way into the Brazilian squad for this year's World Cup.
Alvaro Morata (Spain): He didn't make the cut this time, but it's likely that Morata will represent his country at the senior level at some point during his career provided the young attacker continues on his current trajectory.
Jese (Spain): Another young Spaniard set to miss out on the World Cup, Jese is currently sidelined with a serious knee injury, as reported by Sky Sports.
13. Daniel Carvajal (Spain)
The first player on this list owns a huge asterisk next to his name.
Firstly, Daniel Carvajal is yet to be confirmed in Spain's squad. Secondly, if he does make the cut, it's still unclear how Vicente del Bosque may use the 22-year-old, given that he's yet to make his senior international debut.
However, if the promising defender forces his way into the manager's XI, it's possible that Carvajal could enjoy a stunning World Cup campaign.
Since replacing Alvaro Arbeloa in Real Madrid's line-up, the right-back has been immensely impressive. Particularly in attack, Carvajal's pace up and down the sideline and strong crossing ability have posed a significant threat to Madrid's La Liga opponents this season.
Those skills would be highly beneficial for Spain. If there is a criticism that can be levelled at Del Bosque's world champions, it's that the team can become predictable and narrow in attack with the nation's plethora of technical midfielders.
In conjunction with Jordi Alba at the left side of the defence, Carvajal's presence on the right would give La Roja significantly more width going forward, opening up space centrally for the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi.
Yet, it's still possible that Carvajal could fall behind either Cesar Azpilicueta or Juanfran at his position and be denied the opportunity to impact the World Cup.
Consequently, the emerging star finds himself at the bottom of these rankings, but that could all change very quickly if the selection cards fall Carvajal's way.
12. Sami Khedira (Germany)
Sami Khedira has been an exceptional performer at both club and international level throughout his career, but injury has severely derailed his 2013-14 campaign.
After missing the majority of Real Madrid's season following serious knee ligament damage in November, the Germany international endured the difficult late-season return that could only be expected, given the severity of the injury and length of his layoff.
That culminated in a vastly disappointing performance against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.
Prior to Khedira's substitution, Los Blancos lacked fluency, pace and control in the midfield against Diego Simeone's robust outfit. That quickly changed when Isco replaced the 27-year-old.
As a result, it's difficult to envisage Khedira playing a leading role for Germany under Joachim Low.
At full fitness, the Real Madrid midfielder would fiercely compete with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Lars Bender for a central position. But being underdone and short on conditioning, Khedira is more likely to play a supporting role for Low behind his German teammates.
11. Raphael Varane (France)
On both form and potential, Raphael Varane would be an excellent option to partner Laurent Koscielny at the centre of the French defence.
Quick across the ground, strong in the air and comfortable on the ball, the 21-year-old looks to be a truly elite centre-back in the making—something that was made evident by his superb display in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid.
However, it's still not certain that Varane will consistently take his place in Didier Deschamps's starting XI, given that he's made just six senior international appearances, per ESPN FC.
The Real Madrid star did, of course, play an important role in France's qualifying effort, starting in Les Blues' dramatic 3-0 victory over Ukraine that propelled France into the World Cup finals.
Yet his main competitor for the second central-defensive position, Mamadou Sakho, scored twice in that pivotal match against Ukraine and could be preferred over his younger compatriot.
Thus, while few doubt his talent, Varane's playing time could potentially be limited in Brazil, meaning he's likely to impact this World Cup to a lesser extent than 10 of his Los Blancos teammates.
10. Luka Modric (Croatia)
Alongside Sevilla's Ivan Rakitic, Luke Modric will ensure that Niko Kovac's Croatian team possesses a skilful and potentially incisive midfield core.
Indeed, Modric has enjoyed a fine season at the Bernabeu in 2013-14, having established himself as Carlo Ancelotti's primary option to start alongside Xabi Alonso.
However, it's likely that the 28-year-old's influence will be tempered by the overall strength of his own team in Brazil this summer.
Croatia were hardly convincing in qualifying for this year's World Cup finals. After labouring through UEFA Group A to finish nine points behind Belgium, the Vatreni made hard work of their two-leg playoff encounter with Iceland.
The Croatians also face the difficult task of taking on the host nation in the tournament opener, which will be made more arduous by Mario Mandzukic's one-game suspension, as reported by The Telegraph.
Without world-class talent around him, Modric won't be able to use his adept passing to feed prolific forwards and is more likely to be battling opposing midfielders for possession and control.
Of course, the Real Madrid playmaker is a certainty for his team's starting XI, making his likely impact greater than those previously mentioned. But the expected struggle facing his team is likely to harm Modric's capacity to influence matches.
9. Karim Benzema (France)
Karim Benzema should be higher on this list. He really should.
But unlike his situation at Real Madrid, France's play doesn't cater to Benzema's strengths.
As the central figure in Los Blancos' devastating front three, the Frenchman's excellent link-up play and lay-off skills perfectly complement the pace and positional fluidity of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on either side of him.
Consequently, the 26-year-old doesn't solely carry the goal-scoring burden at the Bernabeu, reflected in his 14 assists in 2013-14, per WhoScored.com.
In Didier Deschamps' French side, however, the Real Madrid striker is charged with a greater goal-scoring responsibility alongside the less prolific (scoring-wise, in comparison with Ronaldo and Bale) Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena.
That role doesn't suit Benzema quite so well, given his sometimes inconsistent finishing and lack of truly raw leg-speed.
Furthermore, France have slipped considerably from the heights reached by the nation at the turn of the century. Thus, despite a rather favourable group, it's difficult to see Benzema and his team progressing past the Round of 16, which will further harm the striker's possible influence.
8. Pepe (Portugal)
Portugal may well sit at No. 3 in FIFA's World Rankings, but it would be foolish to suggest that Paulo Bento's team is among the favourites to lift the trophy.
Despite the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal's other attacking pieces—Sylvestre Varela, Nani, Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga—haven't exactly set the world alight in recent times.
Therefore, it's reasonable to expect that Real Madrid's Pepe will perform a critical role for his side in the centre of the Seleccao defence.
A commanding presence and rock-solid defender, the 31-year-old's influence will be essential for Bento's side if it's to emerge safely out of Group G with the powerful Germany.
In addition to his robust and combative defending, Pepe's aerial strength could prove critical in set-piece situations—particularly from corners, given Ronaldo's affinity for goal-attempts from every free-kick.
However, the former Porto star will need to control his often fiery temperament, as any enforced layoffs will cripple the strength of the Portuguese back four.
7. Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)
Fabio Coentrao enjoyed a stellar campaign at the previous World Cup in South Africa and will need to produce his finest if Portugal are to prove successful in Brazil.
Of course, it's down the left-hand side where Portugal's strength lies. With Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of him, Coentrao's ability to provide dangerous attacking width is the key to the team's goal-scoring threat. The left-back's offensive duties are heightened by the winger's inclination to drift centrally to shoot.
The 26-year-old has also proved himself to be a reliable defender, reflected in his selection ahead of Marcelo for the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid.
However, Coentrao's opportunities to push forward may be limited if Paulo Bento's preferred midfield trio of Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso fails to control possession in the manner that was witnessed in Portugal's clinching of a World Cup finals berth with a 3-2 victory over Sweden.
Consequently, the Portuguese finds himself behind his Real Madrid left-back teammate in these rankings.
Coentrao will indeed be critical to his team's performances, but Marcelo is likely to enjoy more attacking opportunities and should be among the most dynamic full-backs of the tournament.
6. Marcelo (Brazil)
Despite being used behind Coentrao in the Champions League final, Marcelo was superb for Real Madrid when he replaced the Portugal international midway through the second half.
Full of dash and attacking flair, the Brazilian immediately spiced up Los Blancos' attack and was instrumental in turning the game in favour of Carlo Ancelotti's men.
Luiz Felipe Scolari will look to Marcelo to provide that same impetus to Brazil's push for World Cup glory this summer.
It's certainly expected that the host nation will play with an attacking mindset throughout the tournament, which will be aided early on by a rather favourable Group A.
Ahead of the left-back will be Barcelona star Neymar. As a pair on the left-hand side in attack, the two men should provide countless headaches for Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. The Blaugrana forward will consistently look to push into the box, leaving Marcelo's pace and attacking threat to provide width and dangerous crosses.
While it's uncertain whether this Brazil team has enough strength and firepower to lift the trophy, it's certainly expected that Marcelo will be among the preeminent full-backs on show.
5. Xabi Alonso (Spain)
Strangely, it can be during a player's absence that their true value to a team is highlighted most.
That's certainly been true for Xabi Alonso in 2013-14.
It wasn't until the midfielder returned from injury last October that Carlo Ancelotti's team began to click. And again in his absence in the Champions League final, Los Blancos were out of sorts in midfield with Sami Khedira taking Alonso's central position.
Under Vicente del Bosque, the Basque midfielder will be critically important alongside Sergio Busquets, as the pair will provide the platform for Xavi and Andres Iniesta to play with significant attacking freedom.
The Real Madrid star also provides the grunt in Spain's midfield with his strong tackling, made evident by his far higher foul rate (1.7 per game) compared with Busquets (0.9), per WhoScored.com.
Furthermore, Alonso's importance will be elevated by Thiago Alcantara's absence due to injury, meaning Del Bosque will have one less elite central midfielder to call upon.
One can expect Alonso to have a hand in every bit of action in the Spanish midfield.
4. Iker Casillas (Spain)
Given the expected midfield dominance of Vicente del Bosque's Spanish team, many would conclude that Iker Casillas will have little to do in Brazil.
Sure, the likes of Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta are likely to marshal the game centrally. But with Spain expected to make another deep run in this year's World Cup, Casillas' excellent shot-stopping is likely to be called upon at some point.
Indeed, Spain's 2010 World Cup triumph demonstrated that the team is far from prolific in front of goal, despite the plethora of midfield maestros. In six victories, La Roja edged their opponents 1-0 on five occasions, per BBC.
A similar theme was evident in every match except the final of EURO 2012. Rarely do Spain blow teams away.
Therefore, the captain's performances could have a large bearing on the nation's fate. A single save (or a number of them in a penalty shootout) could easily be the difference between elation and despair for Del Bosque's men.
3. Sergio Ramos (Spain)
If you weren't to know better, you could be fooled into thinking Sergio Ramos is an elite striker if you were to look solely at his recent stat sheet.
In his last seven appearances, the Real Madrid centre-back has six goals, including his now famous 93rd minute equaliser in the Champions League final, per WhoScored.com.
Indeed, Ramos' recent performances (which, don't forget, have also included his brilliant defending) have simply re-enforced the Spaniard's natural inclination to shine under pressure.
And it's that very quality that Vicente del Bosque will look for from the 28-year-old as Spain aim to become the first side to defend a World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
At the back, the Madrid star will undoubtedly command the box in front of Iker Casillas. While in attack, Ramos will continue to pose a threat from set-pieces with his incredible aerial ability.
And if crunch moments present themselves during La Roja's campaign, look for Ramos to be heavily involved.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
It's undoubtedly a controversial call to place Cristiano Ronaldo at No. 2 on this list. The Portuguese phenomenon has certainly been the world's best player this season and will definitely be the World Cup's biggest talking point this summer.
But there are factors counting against Ronaldo for his trip to Brazil.
The end of the superstar's season has been interrupted by injury concerns. After a series of muscular complaints, the world's preeminent player completed a rather underwhelming performance in the Champions League final. Despite the insistence of Carlo Ancelotti, it was clear Ronaldo was nowhere near 100-percent fitness.
Those lingering health issues could potentially hamper the forward's World Cup dream.
Additionally, Ronaldo will be forced to do some heavy lifting for Portugal in attack. Unlike Real Madrid, the 29-year-old won't be joined by world-class forwards. There will be no Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema to cause opposing defences further headaches.
So while his staggering brilliance is unquestioned, Ronaldo's impact on the World Cup could be curtailed by fitness concerns and a lack of elite assistance going forward.
1. Angel Di Maria (Argentina)
It's definitely possible to envisage Angel di Maria as the Player of the Tournament at the impending World Cup.
In fact, the Argentine's potential to cause havoc in Brazil looks extremely strong, following a brilliant season in an adjusted role at Real Madrid in 2013-14.
Following Gareth Bale's arrival at the Bernabeu, Di Maria was forced into a deeper midfield role than he'd previously played under Jose Mourinho.
After taking a few games to grow accustomed to his new duties, the 26-year-old grew to become one of Los Blancos' outstanding players of the season. No performance was more significant than Di Maria's sublime showing in the Champions League final.
And it's the midfielder's adaption to his new role that is promising for Argentina.
With a front three boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, Di Maria will comfortably slot into Alejandro Sabella's midfield and assume the very same duties.
Given that Argentina have been placed in a very kind group, Di Maria is likely to make a blistering opening to his country's World Cup campaign and could be the finest performer of the tournament from Real Madrid.