The compelling festival of football that is a World Cup campaign is famous for bringing world-class players to centre stage while also giving relative unknowns the chance to shine.
We’ve seen the emergence of some fantastic footballers in World Cups of the past and with Brazil 2014 set to showcase the best talent that the world has to offer, more individual stardom is on the horizon.
The World Cup Team of the Tournament celebrates the cream of the crop over the month of tournament action, so which players do we expect to be deemed the best of the best this summer?
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart (England)
After coming under mass criticism and being dropped by Manchester City in the middle of the 2013/14 Premier League season, England goalkeeper Joe Hart made it his personal mission to prove the world wrong and show that he’s better than ever.
He’s certainly done just that, and after being England’s best player throughout Euro 2012, Hart now has his eyes set on a fruitful World Cup 2014 campaign and comes into the tournament in solid form.
The 27-year-old made some crucial saves on the road to City winning their second Premier League title in three years, including the save of the season against Everton in their final away fixture as he got down to thwart a Steven Naismith effort.
Following the match, City skipper Vincent Kompany praised his keeper’s ability and said that England were lucky to have Hart in their ranks—per Mail Online: "He was unbelievable. I guess you guys (England) are getting him in form at the right time for the World Cup."
With England’s Group D opponents including the goalscoring calibre of Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez, Antonio Cassano and Edinson Cavani, Hart is set to have his work cut out when the Three Lions get their campaign underway on June 14.
However, as Hart showed in Euro 2012, he’s a man for the big occasion, and if he can once again find his from at crunch time then England will have a great chance of progressing through the tricky group stage.
Defenders: Dani Alves (Brazil), David Luiz (Brazil), Raphael Varane (France), Jordi Alba (Spain)
With Brazil almost destined for a fruitful World Cup campaign, having several of their players in the Team of the Tournament will be far from a surprise.
In Dani Alves and David Luiz, Brazil have two attack-minded defenders who will keep the hosts ticking and moving forward throughout the World Cup.
Group A appears to be a relatively simple group for the five-time champions and with that in mind, it’s likely that Luiz and Alves will be picking up a clean sheet or three in their opening matches.
According to SoccerWay, Brazil have kept nine clean sheets in their last 14 matches and even managed to keep out the world champions, Spain, during the Confederations Cup final last year.
However, both of these players have the ability to show their offensive ability, too, with Alves’ marauding style and crossing ability just as dangerous as Luiz’s unique dead-ball technique.
Alongside them at the back stands Real Madrid’s young sensation of a centre-back, Raphael Varane, who is making his major tournament debut in Brazil with the French.
The central defensive positions are where France have struggled in recent times, but in Varane they have a player who reads the game beautifully and has the distribution skills to complete every impressive moment of his during a match.
Raphael Varane: Had a better pass accuracy (95.3%) than any other player with 5+ CL apps this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 25, 2014
With France handed the easiest group draw in Brazil, Varane can showcase exactly what he brings to the table and keep out the efforts of Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras to book his place in the Team of the Tournament.
To his left is Jordi Alba, who has demonstrated his credentials as the best left-back on the planet since stepping up to the national team in 2011.
The Barcelona man is keen to make up for a disappointing domestic season that saw the La Liga giants come away without a major trophy. He told Marca (h/t Mail Online): "We know that the World Cup isn't easy. We're going there hoping to put on a good show and win, but knowing that it will be very difficult."
Putting on a good show is something that Alba knows all about after his performances in Euro 2012 and his goal in the final against Italy, and he’ll once again rise to the big occasion in Brazil.
Midfielders: Angel Di Maria (Argentina), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Thomas Muller (Germany), Eden Hazard (Belgium)
It’s official, there are simply too many world-class midfielders to narrow it down to four potential World Cup stars, but this bunch will certainly be doing the business in Brazil.
Fresh from remarkable domestic campaigns with Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively, wingers Angel Di Maria and Eden Hazard will undoubtedly continue their form during the World Cup.
Di Maria has evolved into the complete winger at Real Madrid this season, being instrumental behind their Champions League final success over neighbours Atletico.
The 26-year-old will run riot against the defences of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in Group F, with his ability to provide the telling pass for a goal shining through.
6 - Players in La Liga with more assists in all competitions this season: -Di María 24 -Koke, Cesc, Bale17 -Gabi, Benzema 15 Support— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 27, 2014
Hazard, meanwhile, has been electric for Chelsea this season, notching 14 goals and seven assists for the Blues in the Premier League according to WhoScored.com.
With Belgium expected to be dark horses for the World Cup crown, you can guarantee that Hazard will be behind every flowing move going forward as they look to negotiate Group H with minimal fuss.
His ability to score and create goals against even the most stubborn of defences means that Russia, Algeria, South Korea and likely Portugal (in the second round) will have a mission on their hands in controlling the Belgian maestro.
In central midfield are two players who have proved themselves on the major tournament stage before.
Germany’s Thomas Muller netted five times and added three assists at the last World Cup in South Africa to claim the Golden Boot, figures that he never thought he’d reach—per Bayern Munich’s official website, via The Guardian:
This is just incredible for a newcomer to the World Cup. If anyone had told me I'd end on eight scorer points, I'd have said they were kidding me. It's an honour of course, but at the end of the day, I'd rather have had the World Cup itself.
With his desire, drive and experience at the highest level, Muller will be a cornerstone in Germany’s World Cup quest, as will his Team of the Tournament central midfield partner with Spain, Andres Iniesta.
The Barcelona star was etched into Spanish football history forever after scoring the goal that won them the 2010 World Cup against the Netherlands, and those memories will be driving him towards successive victories in Brazil.
Iniesta has been a rare shining light for Barcelona this season, unlocking defences and dictating play the unique way that he does, though he recently revealed that his World Cup-winning goal took him out of a personal slump—per So Foot, via Goal:
I had a slight depression, but everyone goes through that at some time in their life, don't they? I had a few personal problems which accumulated, and I also had quite a few physical problems... I felt fragile. [The feeling of scoring] was a coming together of all the positive words in the dictionary.
With the 30-year-old now back to his happy best, expect fireworks from him throughout World Cup 2014.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina)
It’s almost short-sighted and obvious to name this pair of superstars in the projected Team of the Tournament, but they’re here for a reason.
There simply aren’t enough words to describe the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo this season, with goals and honours becoming part of his 2013/14 routine.
Although the Real Madrid man has only scored two World Cup goals in his career, there’ll be something inside him driving him to make that tally a lot more glamorous and he’s certainly coming into the tournament in the right form to do so.
As SoccerWay’s statistics show, Ronaldo has scored 11 goals in his last seven internationals, completing two hat-tricks in that time.
The defences of Germany, Ghana and USA will be quaking in their boots at the thought of facing the 29-year-old, who became a Champions League record-breaker this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 17 goals in this season's Champions League. A new record. pic.twitter.com/juNTtxfWDg— Not Match of the Day (@NOT_MOTD) May 25, 2014
Alongside him is Lionel Messi (imagine that in real life), who will be determined to silence his critics in Brazil with some thrilling group performances against defences that he’ll certainly thrive against.
Despite “only” scoring 28 La Liga goals this season, very few players in the world game can handle the 26-year-old, who will enjoy a successful campaign, especially if he forms a strong partnership with Sergio Aguero up front.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria face the task of stopping Messi in the World Cup, but you’d have to back the Argentine 10 times out of 10 in any duel, simply because he is who he is.
With the goals expected to flow, Messi and Ronaldo make up the last of the projected Team of the Tournament, but who do you think is missing?
It’s difficult to sidestep the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer and Neymar, should they have made it?