Cristiano Ronaldo can complete a spectacular year by finally shining at a FIFA World Cup. The powerful Real Madrid forward scooped the Ballon d'Or and helped Real Madrid win a 10th European Cup.
Now he'll be a key figure for Portugal at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But Ronaldo isn't the only exciting star to watch out for at the tournament.
He is in the same group as a maligned English Premier League ace who needs to rebound on the international stage. As is often the case, Ronaldo's form will also likely be compared to the performances of Argentina talisman Lionel Messi.
Here are the four players, including Ronaldo and Messi, who should garner the most attention in Brazil.
Mesut Ozil, Germany
Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil is under pressure to recover the form that made him one of the most coveted schemers in the game. Since the Gunners paid £42.5 million to lure him from Real Madrid last summer, Ozil has received criticism from all quarters.
Former Germany international Michael Ballack recently suggested the move to England has ruined Ozil, per Jack Wilson of The Daily Star. Ozil was even subjected to boos following a recent draw against Cameroon, something that angered teammate Jerome Boateng, according to Goal.com reporter Chris Davie.
But the jeers that irked Boateng aren't the first sent Ozil's way from German fans this year. He received a torrent of abuse when leaving the field during a 1-0 win over Chile back in March, per Sky Sports.
The scrutiny and pressure on Ozil's performances at the tournament is likely to be intense. The London Evening Standard has detailed how Ozil needs to work hard to meet expectations and fix his damaged standing:
Protected and nurtured through a disastrous spell with the Gunners, he is unlikely to receive preferential treatment at international level. With an opening fixture against Portugal in 10 days’ time, it is about time Ozil rolled up his sleeves.
Having fitted snugly into life at the Bernabeu amongst a number of Galacticos he has struggled to come to terms with personal criticism. Having worked so hard to be placed on a pedestal placed he has unexpectedly become an easy target. Mental strength is becoming increasingly important in the modern game. Ozil needs to prove he possesses it or risk his reputation unravelling further this summer.
Ozil can deliver for Germany, provided those playing around and ahead of him do likewise. That means Arsenal teammate Lukas Podolski and Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller must act as consistent outlets for Ozil's creative acumen.
Like Ozil, Neymar is another player who found his first year at a new club difficult. The former Santos prodigy didn't do enough to make the grade at FC Barcelona, consistently receiving mediocre reviews.
But Neymar remains a critical player for the host nation and tournament favourites. The fleet-footed wide forward must use this competition to remind his critics he is a young player destined for a great future.
That means using his lightning pace and eye for goal to make himself a feared attacker on home soil. Neymar is certainly capable of troubling a defence at any time.
He is quick enough to stretch and get behind every back four he faces. The 22-year-old is also classy and composed enough to find the net with either foot, as well as even posing an aerial threat.
His struggles usually stem from a lack of physical strength. But the more he involves himself in the play, the more Neymar grows into a game.
With his appetite for production likely to be high in his homeland, Neymar has every chance of justifying his immense reputation.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Ronaldo has done it all this season. The only thing his career is missing is true dominance at a major tournament. Achieving that in Brazil won't be easy, given Portugal's place in the same group as Germany, U.S.A and Ghana.
But Ronaldo is certainly the main man for Portugal, with the flow of play channelled to set him free. A lot of his success will probably depend on the technical efficiency of Joao Moutinho.
The midfield pass master is capable of helping release Ronaldo's pace and power at any moment. Moutinho's connection with Ronaldo will be vital in helping an otherwise workmanlike squad make an impact in Brazil.
There's a lot of pressure on Ronaldo to deliver. If he does, he'll be lauded as a player great enough to haul an unfashionable team past talented opposition.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
The last thing Ronaldo will want is to be upstaged by direct rival Lionel Messi. However, the FC Barcelona forward is certainly surrounded by greater talent.
Messi will operate in a forward line also featuring prolific strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. That awesome trio will attack supply created by Real Madrid ace Angel di Maria.
On paper at least, Argentina boasts the strongest attack at the tournament. But turning the potential into a winning reality will still depend a lot on how Messi performs.
Like Ronaldo, he has hardly wowed audiences at international level so far in his otherwise magnificent career. Messi has also just completed a fairly subpar season in La Liga, where he often seemed to lack enthusiasm for the game.
But if he is reinvigorated for Brazil, Messi will be the tournament's most thrilling player. That might even be enough to lift Argentina to the title.
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