World Cup 2014: B/R's Ranking of the Top 250 Players Heading to Brazil

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 8, 2014

World Cup 2014: B/R's Ranking of the Top 250 Players Heading to Brazil

0 of 103

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    Welcome to B/R's World Cup 250.

    With just a few days to go until international football's showpiece event kicks off in Brazil, sink your teeth into our mammoth ranking of the 250 most important and valuable national team players at the World Cup.

    The selection criteria and any exclusions are explained in the two slides preceding kick-off, so do be sure to get yourself acquainted with the method before you begin perusing.

How the Players Are Ranked

1 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    When crafting our 2014 FIFA World Cup 250, we mulled over several choices of how to rank the players.

    Club form isn't always the biggest banker. For every player who stars at the tournament after a strong season domestically, such as Wesley Sneijder in 2010, there are too many—Wayne Rooney, Frank LampardFernando Torres and others—who collapse.

    We also decided not to rank it on perceived "overall class/ability," meaning reputation is more or less thrown out of the window.

    Instead, we decided to rank the players on their value, importance and form for the national team. That does incorporate a certain element of recent form, as domestic and international often intertwine here, but in some cases—a la Vincent Kompany—it most certainly does not.

    Eden Hazard is not our top-ranked Belgian player because he's not the lifeblood of the Red Devils; someone else is. Some players may seem higher than necessary due to a late scheme change (Mexico, Netherlands), while late bloomers are explained in the following slide.

    Impact is a vital part of the equation too, so the list naturally leans toward the bigger teams and places the best players nearer the top.

    For example, while both Andrea Pirlo and Javad Nekounam are the heartbeats of their respective sides, Italy could win the tournament while Iran are highly unlikely to make it out of their group. This is reflected in the ranking.

    Players on this list may become injured between now and the tournament, which will be noted accordingly.

Noteworthy Late Bloomers

2 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    The basis of our ranking—qualifying form leading up to the World Cup and a player's importance to the system—naturally disregards late bloomers and those who made a late, successful run at the squad.

    As such, here's a list of players who stand to play a role in Brazil but are not found in our Top 250.

    Fernandinho, Brazil

    Willian, Brazil

    Cesar Azpilicueta, Spain

    Diego Costa, Spain

    Koke, Spain

    Jordan Henderson, England

    Raheem Sterling, England

    Ross Barkley, England

    Ciro Immobile, Italy

    Antoine Griezmann, France


3 of 103

    Jeff Curry/Getty Images

    250. Josip Drmic, Switzerland

    249. Erik Durm, Germany

    248. Juan Carlos Paredes, Ecuador

    247. Javier Aquino Mexico

    246. Felipe Caicedo, Ecuador

    245. Fabian Schaer, Switzerland

    244. Alexandros Tziolis, Greece

    243. Mousa Dembele, Belgium

    242. Aurelien Chedjou, Cameroon

    241. Yoichiro Kakitani, Japan

    240. Johan Djourou, Switzerland

    239. Jerome Boateng, Germany

    238. Georgios Samaras, Greece

    237. Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria

    236. Daniel Opare, Ghana

    235. Danijel Pranjic*, Croatia

    234. Jorge Guagua, Ecuador

    233. Toby Alderweireld, Belgium

    232. Fredy Guarin, Colombia

    231. Yasuyuki Konno, Japan

    230. Mathew Ryan, Australia

    229. Ivan Perisic, Croatia

    228. Diego Reyes, Mexico

    227. Pablo Armero, Colombia

    226. Jalal Hosseini, Iran

    225. Antonio Candreva, Italy

    224. Mile Jedinak, Australia

    223. Godfrey Oboabona, Nigeria

    222. Victor Bernardez, Honduras

    221. El Arabi Soudani, Algeria

    220. Walter Ayovi, Ecuador

    219. Jerry Bengtson, Honduras

    218. Kim Young-Gwon, South Korea

    217. Walter Gargano, Uruguay

    216. Michael Essien, Ghana

    215. Faouzi Ghoulam, Algeria

    214. Reza Ghoochannejhad, Iran

    213. Rais M'Bolhi, Algeria

    212. Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Russia

    211. Sejad Salihovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    210. Steve von Bergen, Switzerland

    209. Marouane Fellaini, Belgium

    208. Rickie Lambert, England

    207. Thomas Vermaelen, Belgium

    206. Marcos Rojo, Argentina

    205. Stefan de Vrij, Netherlands

    204. Mattia De Sciglio, Italy

    203. Sead Kolasinac, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    202. Ashkan Dejagah, Iran

    201. Enner Valencia, Ecuador

    *Note: Is carrying an injury into the tournament


4 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    200. Emmanuel Emenike, Nigeria

    199. Han Kook-Young, South Korea

    198. Ogenyi Onazi, Nigeria

    197. Alessio Cerci, Italy

    196. Efe Ambrose, Nigeria

    195. Carlo Costly, Honduras

    194. Makoto Hasebe, Japan

    193. Javad Nekounam, Iran

    192. Juanfran, Spain

    191. Jack Wilshere, England

    190. Stephane M'Bia, Cameroon

    189. Jordy Clasie, Netherlands

    188. Igor Akinfeev, Russia

    187. Atsuto Uchida, Japan

    186. Sergei Ignashevich, Russia

    185. Maya Yoshida, Japan

    184. Eiji Kawashima, Japan

    183. Park Chu-Young, South Korea

    182. Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria

    181. Valon Behrami, Switzerland

    180. Madjid Bougherra, Algeria

    179. Emir Spahic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    178. Jozy Altidore, USA

    177. Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast

    176. Sol Bamba, Ivory Coast

    175. Miguel Layun, Mexico

    174. Mathieu Valbuena, France

    173. Raphael Varane, France

    172. Nigel de Jong, Netherlands

    171. Zvjezdan Misimovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    170. Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica

    169. Joe Hart, England

    168. Dejan Lovren, Croatia

    167. Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Cameroon

    166. Andres Guardado, Mexico

    165. Alan Dzagoev, Russia

    164. Son Heung-Min, South Korea

    163. Abel Aguilar, Colombia

    162. Giovani dos Santos, Mexico

    161. Dante, Brazil

    160. Kevin Mirallas, Belgium

    159. Ramires, Brazil

    158. Christian Noboa, Ecuador

    157. Vincent Aboubakar, Cameroon

    156. Kostas Manolas, Greece

    155. Martin Caceres, Uruguay

    154. Bruno Martins Indi, Netherlands

    153. Giannis Maniatis, Greece

    152. Samuel Eto'o, Cameroon

    151. Ron Vlaar, Netherlands


5 of 103

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    150. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ghana

    149. Ron Vlaar, Netherlands

    148. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ghana

    147. Patrice Evra, France

    146. Dries Mertens, Belgium

    145. Charles Aranguiz, Chile

    144. Steven Defour, Belgium

    143. Aleksandr Kokorin, Russia

    142. Toni Kroos, Germany

    141. Diego Perez, Uruguay

    140. Lee Chung-Yong, South Korea

    139. Cheick Tiote, Ivory Coast

    138. Per Mertesacker, Germany

    137. Hulk, Brazil

    136. Vedran Corluka, Croatia

    135. Jan Vertonghen, Belgium

    134. Yohan Cabaye, France

    133. Clint Dempsey, USA

    132. Fernando Muslera, Uruguay

    131. Raul Meireles, Portugal

    130. Tim Cahill, Australia

    129. Tim Howard, USA

    128. Rui Patricio, Portugal

    127. Diego Forlan, Uruguay

    126. Rafa Marquez, Mexico

    125. Antonio Valencia, Ecuador

    124. Sulley Muntari, Ghana

    123. Diego Benaglio, Switzerland

    122. Yuto Nagatomo, Japan

    121. Gervinho, Ivory Coast

    120. Julio Cesar, Brazil

    119. Phil Jagielka, England

    118. Jefferson Montero, Ecuador

    117. Mauricio Isla, Chile

    116. Salomon Kalou, Ivory Coast

    115. Yasuhito Endo, Japan

    114. David Ospina, Colombia

    113. Egidio Arevalo Rios, Uruguay

    112. Eduardo Vargas, Chile

    111. Frickson Erazo, Ecuador

    110. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Greece

    109. Valentin Stocker, Switzerland

    108. Pepe, Portugal

    107. Claudio Bravo, Chile

    106. Victor Moses, Nigeria

    105. Teofilo Gutierrez, Colombia

    104. Kostas Mitroglou, Greece

    103. Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland

    102. Leonardo Bonucci, Italy

    101. Oribe Peralta, Mexico

    100. Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands

    99. Ki Sung-Yueng, South Korea

98. Senad Lulic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

6 of 103

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Senad Lulic gives Bosnia and Herzegovina something no other player offers from their midfield: vertical drive and dribbling ability with the ball to feet.

    He's set to play on the left wing of a 4-2-3-1 or perhaps inside should Safet Susic switch to a 4-3-1-2/diamond look. For those unfamiliar with the role, look for him to try and make an Angel Di Maria-esque impact.

    He's a potentially unsung wild card.

97. Jorge Valdivia, Chile

7 of 103

    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Jorge Sampaoli often plays an odd, near-strikerless system for the most part which requires a very clever No. 10/centre-forward hybrid.

    Jorge Valdivia is close to irreplaceable atop the formation, his clever movement vital in creating pockets of space elsewhere on the pitch.

    Much of the freedom Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas enjoy is afforded by Valdivia's unsung efforts.

96. Shinji Okazaki, Japan

8 of 103

    Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    Shinji Okazaki answered the call so many failed to during previous years for Japan: score goals, win games.

    Much of what Alberto Zaccheroni has built is founded upon a neat passing game, but a true lack of killer instinct has long held the Samurai Blue back when it comes to major tournament progression.

    Okazaki topped scorers in the AFC qualifiers with eight goals.

95. Hugo Lloris, France

9 of 103

    Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

    Hugo Lloris can be a huge factor in any game despite playing in goal; his absurd reflexes, ability to sweep up and accurate goal kicks are a real defensive weapon.

    France have a nice group with the only challenge, seemingly, coming from Switzerland's corner. Moving into the knockout round, things will get significantly tougher, and les Bleus were exceptionally suspect in the defensive phase during Euro 2012.

    Lloris, a natural leader, will step up.

94. Paulinho, Brazil

10 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Paulinho's form for Brazil is so much stronger than it is for Tottenham Hotspur, fans of the club are quietly confused as to how the disparity can be so noticeable.

    He plays as a marauding central midfielder in Luiz Felipe Scolari's 4-2-3-1 formation, tasked with charging forward with the ball at his feet and opening up the pitch for others.

    His muscular, vertical style at national level belies the careful approach adopted at White Hart Lane.

93. Granit Xhaka, Switzerland

11 of 103

    Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

    After recovering from a disappointing debut season in the Bundesliga with Borussia Moenchengladbach, Granit Xhaka is now primed to assault the World Cup on top form.

    The Swiss midfielder stands to play as the No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 under Ottmar Hitzfeld, using both his technical ability and his physicality to win his nation ground and goals in Group E.

92. Gerard Pique, Spain

12 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Gerard Pique will form one part of a two-man partnership at the heart of a team trying to retain the FIFA World Cup.

    After a season of struggle at Barcelona, the mentality of Pique and Co. will be tested in the Brazilian heat, and they'll have to stand up a lot better than their "audition" in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

    His ball-playing prowess, aerial ability and athleticism still impress.

91. Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana

13 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Kwadwo Asamoah, Juventus' flying-wing-back-cum-box-to-box-midfielder, is a hugely influential figure in the Ghana camp.

    Whether he plays on the flank or through the middle, he buccaneers forward with pace and directly impacts the game in the final third.

    He's as fit as they come, works extremely hard and has even developed his right foot to an extent.

90. William Carvalho, Portugal

14 of 103

    Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

    After a flurry of suggestions, via the Express, that William Carvalho could join a Premier League club for more than £30 million this summer, many will be keeping a close eye on the Portuguese midfielder.

    With Fernando failing to re-naturalise in time for the tournament, Paulo Bento is now set to start William in holding midfield rather than opt for the tried and tested Miguel Veloso.

    A true anchor has been what Os Seleccao have been missing for a long time, and the public believe this Sporting youngster is the answer to long-held prayers.

89. Laurent Koscielny, France

15 of 103

    Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

    Laurent Koscielny is France's leader in the defensive line, and while Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane fight it out for the second starting role in Didier Deschamps' setup, the Arsenal man is simply focused on improving his game.

    He recovered from a shaky start in the 2013-14 season to put in one of the best overall campaigns in his career and is headed to Brazil in peak form.

88. Leighton Baines, England

16 of 103

    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Leighton Baines has officially ousted Ashley Cole for the starting left-back slot in the England setup, with Luke Shaw finishing the job by claiming the backup role and forcing the Cole's retirement from national team play.

    Baines, surging forward from deep and underlapping clever wingers, can be a real force on the left side and has long possessed one of the most accurate crosses in Europe.

    He's ideal for any phase of the game, no matter how desperate the situation is, and has a very diverse set of skills.

87. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana

17 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Four years after Ghana's remarkable display at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and they are still reliant on one goalscoring threat.

    Asamoah Gyan, 28, spearheads an energetic, muscular Black Stars lineup that consists largely of midfielders playing out of possession to fill the starting XI.

    No player can replicate the scoring confidence and productiveness Gyan can, with Premier League fans familiar with his one-on-one prowess and ability to be in the right place at the right time.

86. Michael Bradley, United States

18 of 103

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Michael Bradley is the central attacking hope for the U.S. at the 2014 World Cup—and manager Jurgen Klinsmann knows it.

    With Jozy Altidore out of form and youngster Aron Johansson not quite ready to usurp, Bradley will be the man his teammates look to create chances, pass boldly and get on the end of other moves.

    Bradley's hit top form for Toronto FC and stood an underrated player at Roma. Keep your eye on him as the USMNT battle a horrific group stage draw.

85. Luiz Gustavo, Brazil

19 of 103

    USA TODAY Sports

    Luiz Gustavo doesn't seem set to hit many headlines this summer given his unsung position, but watch him carefully for a strong demonstration of how a world-class anchor man plays.

    He's vital in stitching the balance of Brazil's side together, and without him, there's a strong chance the Selecao overload in attack and leave spaces behind.

    He'll clean up any mess Paulinho leaves in surging forward, and he can comfortably filter left to cover Marcelo's runs.

84. Daryl Janmaat, Netherlands

20 of 103

    Peter Dejong/Associated Press

    Daryl Janmaat quickly emerged as the Netherlands' starting right-back during qualifying, but with the switch to 3-5-2 in action, his role takes unprecedented levels of importance.

    With Daley Blind likely on the other side, Janmaat will need to adorn a defensive proviso and restrict his forward runs a little.

    He's the anchoring wing-back; the one player in the squad accustomed to playing in such a role.

83. Federico Fernandez, Argentina

21 of 103

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Federico Fernandez is the brawn in Argentina's central defensive pairing, and his emergence as a consistent partner for Ezequiel Garay has solidified la Albiceleste's traditionally suspect defence.

    The Napoli man impressed in a very similar system under Rafa Benitez this season, playing alongside the more ball-orientated Raul Albiol and improving as the campaign progressed.

82. Ezequiel Garay, Argentina

22 of 103

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Ezequiel Garay has emerged as Argentina's No. 1 centre-back at a time of need, shutting the revolving door in defence and keeping things steady in front of Sergio Romero.

    He's classy on the ball, moves well and looks brilliant in the air; so long as his club future isn't a major distraction as we edge toward the finals, he should be a defensive force in Brazil.

    His partner, Federico Fernandez, is grateful for him and they make a strong pairing.

81. Maxi Pereira, Uruguay

23 of 103

    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    With question marks surrounding Oscar Tabarez's personnel at left-back, the opposite flank has taken on fresh importance in the past few years.

    Maxi Pereira is a demon surging forward and firing in low crosses to confuse defences, and if opponents somehow manage to stifle Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, this is where la Celeste will look next.

80. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica

24 of 103

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Keylor Navas made the most saves in Europe last season with 160, per Opta (via

    That statistic is a product of sitting behind a beleaguered gap-stricken defensive line, true, but he showed off his remarkable athleticism and shot-stopping ability in the process.

    He saved 80.4 percent of the shots fired his way and saved a penalty to cap a miraculous season. He's very, very tough to beat.

79. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium

25 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Romelu Lukaku is tough to project and likely features lower than you'd expect.

    He's been pretty poor for Belgium over the last few years, and it's been very obvious why Marc Wilmots prefers Christian Benteke—the (slightly) lesser player—to the Chelsea man: impact, or a lack of.

    Now with Benteke out, Lukaku is flying, scoring goals during friendlies and making all the right noises. Let's hope he shows up on the big stage.

78. Darijo Srna, Croatia

26 of 103

    Marc Eich/Getty Images

    Darijo Srna is an overbearing, aggressive right-back who takes attacking liberties in the final third.

    He's made his name as a marauding attacker and a fierce leader, but whether or not his tendencies are limited given Croatia's defensive midfield issue is a question yet to be answered.

    With Niko Kovac taking a more conservative approach on the Vateni's weaker left side, Srna looks set to be an impact player.

77. Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria

27 of 103

    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    Vincent Enyeama was one part of an astonishing defence at Lille this past season in Ligue 1.

    The Nigeria international, set to start at his second consecutive World Cup under Stephen Keshi, has miraculous reflexes, strong aerial ability and a great goal kick.

    He was rather busy in South Africa shutting out Lionel Messi, and he'll come up against the Barcelona star once again in Brazil.

76. Camilo Zuniga, Colombia

28 of 103

    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Camilo Zuniga is a hard one to judge, as a near-season-long injury has kept his match practice to a complete minimum this past campaign.

    Napoli doctors admitted, via, that the knee ailment he suffered was a mystery, and only in the past month has he been able to return to action.

    When fit, he's key to los Cafeteros' side, holding the right flank studiously as his flashier counterparts do the damage.

75. Asmir Begovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

29 of 103

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Asmir Begovic stands to be pretty busy in Brazil this summer.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina's defensive line is a bit of a concern given the paucity of quality, and with the Dragons adopting an attack-first approach, the Stoke City man could be pulling off saves early and often.

    Luckily, he's a near-world-class shot-stopper on whom Safet Susic is only too happy to hang his hat.

74. Daley Blind, Netherlands

30 of 103

    Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

    Daley Blind could end up position-sharing this summer, with his natural position of left-back the first priority and central midfield the second.

    His pliability is a major plus-point for Louis van Gaal following the injury to Kevin Strootman, and there's an argument to suggest he's Oranje's most important, all-round midfield presence in the final 23-man squad.

    Once the laughing stock of Ajax, Blind, son of Danny, has risen from his mistakes and stands a premier left-back in world football.

73. David Luiz, Brazil

31 of 103

    Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    David Luiz failed to find a regular place in Chelsea's starting XI this past season, but he's a Luiz Felipe Scolari favourite and frequently partners Thiago Silva in defence.

    He plays a lot better for the Selecao, too, and his ability to travel with the ball can be crucial in tight games. His long, raking passes hit the flanks quickly and efficiently, while he can ably slide out and cover Marcelo's forays forward.

72. Roman Shirokov, Russia

32 of 103

    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Russia will play a 4-3-3 at the finals and Roman Shirokov is the first name on the team sheet.

    He's Fabio Capello's main man on the field, blending tenacity and hard work with defensive instinct and a nose for the opportunistic goal.

    Shirokov will be the driving force, urging his teammates to forget their poor travelling in the past and advance to the knockout stages in Brazil.

71. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Switzerland

33 of 103

    Marc Eich/Getty Images

    Most watching Switzerland will be focusing solely on Ottmar Hitzfeld's more exotic talents; Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Josip Drmic and Ricardo Rodriguez will all command the attention of the neutrals.

    But Stephan Lichtsteiner serves to be a mightily important player for them, and he's a force surging forward from the right-hand side.

    He plays right-back rather than right-wing-back, but he's an influence all the same.

70. Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland

34 of 103

    Marc Eich/Getty Images

    Switzerland have a luxury of midfielders, a glut of goalkeepers and enough centre-backs to last six tournaments.

    What they don't have is an established goal threat, and that's where the fans' adoration of Xherdan Shaqiri kicks in.

    Playing with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at Bayern Munich will have hopefully taught him a few game-winning tricks, but it's also left him out in the cold more often than not and he could be a little rusty.

    Shaqiri looks boom or bust at the finals.

69. Wayne Rooney, England

35 of 103

    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Wayne Rooney endured a so-so 2013-14 Premier League season with Manchester United, and that's a concern heading into the World Cup.

    The talented forward hasn't shown his peak form for England in some time, but when he turns it on, he can be the key to victory in any game.

    Steven Gerrard has emerged as a hugely important figure for England in his new, deeper role, but Rooney is the match-winner, no doubt.

68. Marcelo Diaz, Chile

36 of 103

    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Marcelo Diaz is the signal controller of Chile’s midfield; his role may not look glamorous, but he decides the tempo of the game, which approach to use in their next attack and who receives the ball in attacking areas.

    He's not quite Chile's most valuable player, but he's pretty close to it. He's borderline irreplaceable in Jorge Sampaoli’s intriguing 4-3-3/3-4-3 system.

67. Karim Benzema, France

37 of 103

    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    Karim Benzema went on a pretty horrific scoring drought during qualifying, lasting more than 1,000 minutes without scoring a goal for France.

    But he's bucked his ideas up at the right time and, critically, Didier Deschamps has put goalscoring players around him and allowed him to feed them with chances.

    He's fast developing into one of the most creative forwards around, and players simply love playing with him. Just ask Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

66. Pablo Zabaleta, Argentina

38 of 103

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    With a clear weakness at left-back for Argentina in Marcos Rojo, Pablo Zabaleta will need to be at the top of his game on the opposite flank this summer.

    He combines superbly with Lionel Messi on the flank and keeps the width whilst his teammate ducks inside, and his defensive mettle, going the other way, will come under scrutiny too.

65. Gary Cahill, England

39 of 103

    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    We figure England are set to be under the cosh a little at the World Cup due to the presence of Italy and Uruguay in their group.

    That brings the defensive line into focus, and Gary Cahill has been turning up for manager Roy Hodgson ever since Hodgson began selecting him alongside Phil Jagielka on a regular basis.

    His form over the course of the 2013-14 Premier League season was incredible, and Three Lions fans will be praying he's just as formidable in Brazil.

64. Gary Medel, Chile

40 of 103

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Prepare to see Gary Medel in a much more important, yet slightly different role this summer in Brazil.

    For Sevilla and Cardiff City, we've seen him in defensive midfield, snapping at heels and breaking up play, but for Chile, he stands their most important central defender and a leader in the back line.

    You may be surprised to see him ranked above Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Co. here, but La Roja's blatant lack of top-tier defenders makes Medel's willingness to drop back the key player in holding lofty aspirations intact.

63. Gokhan Inler, Switzerland

41 of 103

    Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Swiss will be entertaining to watch at the World Cup under Ottmar Hitzfeld, and several figures have emerged as key to their success during qualifying.

    Gokhan Inler, playing in central midfield, will be responsible for collecting stray balls following furious pressing and launching longer passes into channels for his runners to collect.

    He could also opt to play it short, maintaining tempo of the game; he's pretty much the signal controller as far as Hitzfeld is concerned.

62. David Silva, Spain

42 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    David Silva's an odd one to figure out with regard to potential impact and value this summer.

    He is a vital cog in Vicente del Bosque's system when he plays because he simply never loses the ball, but it's not guaranteed he will play with Diego Costa, David Villa and Co. all in great form.

    His touch, technique, awareness and passing ticks all the boxes, but will we see him?

61. Claudio Marchisio, Italy

43 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Claudio Marchisio may have been ousted domestically by Paul Pogba, but no one can stand in his way of retaining a starting role for Italy now that Riccardo Montolivo has missed the cut with a broken leg.

    He brings great energy to the midfield whether he's playing centrally or on the wing, but he's at his obvious best when deployed as an LCM and free to drift left and work the space.

    He's remarkably neat and tidy with the ball—far more accomplished than many give him credit for—and he's on the verge of becoming underrated.

60. Shinji Kagawa, Japan

44 of 103

    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Shinji Kagawa plays off the left for Japan rather than centrally, with manager Alberto Zaccheroni eager to get his goalscoring potential into areas where he can split defences.

    To Manchester United fans, that will sound odd as it's never worked for them, but this is an entirely different, slower, more patient system that encourages players like him.

    He was a difference-maker in qualifying.

59. Dani Alves, Brazil

45 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Barcelona's season was one to forget, truly, but Dani Alves turned in a number of excellent performances in the process.

    He's still as dominant as ever on the right wing for la Blaugrana, although we might just see a more tempered role for him in the Brazil starting XI as Marcelo's connection with Neymar is favoured by Luiz Felipe Scolari.

    Either way, the 2013 Confederations Cup proved Alves can slot in and defend aptly; he's not just a marauding athlete.

58. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia

46 of 103

    Marc Eich/Getty Images

    Ivan Rakitic enjoyed a remarkable breakout season with Sevilla in 2013-14, underlining his value as a modern-day box-to-box midfielder who can perform in every area of the pitch.

    His form for Croatia has been equally strong over the past year, and when he combines with Luka Modric in the heart of the Vatreni midfield, there are few who can come between them and chance creation.

    His physicality and robust running will become especially important given Croatia's lack of a true holding midfielder; success or failure for Niko Kovac's men runs directly through the centre.

57. Fred, Brazil

47 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Brazil have endured a bit of a barren run regarding talent up front over the last half decade, but Fred emerged at a time of need last summer and won the 2013 Confederations Cup Silver Boot.

    He's not flashy, tricky or overly skilful, but what he does do is stitch periods of play together, aid the creation of attacks and stick the ball into the back of the net whenever necessary.

    He'll get the job done and Luiz Felipe Scolari knows it.

56. Joao Moutinho, Portugal

48 of 103

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    With question marks surrounding Portugal's midfield, the only sure-fire starter is Joao Moutinho.

    He's your prototypical flat central midfielder who slots into a basic 4-3-3, and he's charged with ensuring the ball is retained, lines are broken and energy remains high.

    He plays a little further forward for AS Monaco as Ligue 1 is so defensive, but he'll slot back into a slightly deeper role with ease for Paulo Bento this summer.

55. Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

49 of 103

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Miralem Pjanic's excellent season with Roma under Rudi Garcia has inspired hope within Bosnia and Herzegovina fans: Could the playmaker lead the nation to uncharted, unexpected success?

    He's emerged as a difference-maker in the Dragons' camp, taking some of the burden off Edin Dzeko and shouldering it for himself. He's combative, creative, mobile and willing to fight for the cause.

    If you're looking at central midfielders to take the tournament by storm, think Pjanic.

54. Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast

50 of 103

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Despite Yaya Toure's remarkable Premier League season, in which he scored 20 goals from midfield, Didier Drogba is still the revered main man for the Ivory Coast.

    Brazil 2014 will no doubt be his final major tournament, and although he's past his peak, he's still a formidable opponent to deal with.

    He's lost a little pace, but he remains physically dominant and impossible to deal with in the air. If CIV can get runners in and around him, he can do so much damage from a deeper position.

53. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia

51 of 103

    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    That Mario Mandzukic is expected to only miss one of Croatia's group games is a massive relief; without him, the Vatreni suffer greatly in the final third.

    Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic are three of the most creative players around, but with no one to serve, they become superfluous on the pitch.

    Mandzukic's big body, great movement and towering headers are key to Niko Kovac's side's progress.

52. Fabio Coentrao, Portugal

52 of 103

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Fabio Coentrao is nothing but an afterthought at Real Madrid, but for Portugal, he frequently looks like one of the best left-backs going.

    His connection and understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo makes Os Seleccao's left side formidable to say the least, as the two overlap and dip inside each other frequently to create space.

    Coentrao boasts excellent pace, agility, work rate and crossing.

51. Cesc Fabregas, Spain

53 of 103

    USA TODAY Sports

    What will Cesc Fabregas' role be for Spain this summer?

    With Diego Costa struggling for fitness and the likes of Fernando Llorente left at home, the Barcelona man could well start up front as a work-around feature in the short term.

    He likely won't oust Xavi for a starting role in central midfield either, meaning his World Cup could end up as flaky as his transfer window promises to be.

50. John Obi Mikel, Nigeria

54 of 103

    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    John Obi Mikel didn't even crack our Premier League 100 this season—he didn't make nearly enough starts domestically and underwhelmed when he was on the pitch.

    But for Nigeria, he's a different animal; he's released as a more attacking midfielder ahead of the dependable Ogenyi Onazi, free to surge forward, create chances and shoot on goal.

    When he was younger, he won the U-20 World Cup Silver Ball in 2005 as a marauding No. 10. He's never been best as a holding midfielder regardless of manager or philosophy.

    Expect offensive impact from Mikel.

49. Keisuke Honda, Japan

55 of 103

    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Keisuke Honda is an entirely different animal when it comes to international football, and he's arguably Japan's most important player given the setup Alberto Zaccheroni runs.

    The Samurai Blue can be very, very guilty of knocking the ball around too neatly and offering no end product in the final third. Honda is the No. 10, chosen to play riskier balls and cutting passes, so if his radar is off, the team is, too.

    The near definition of MVP.

48. Daniel Sturridge, England

56 of 103

    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Based on his domestic form for Liverpool and the slivers we've seen of him in an England shirt, Daniel Sturridge could well be the difference in any of England's games in Brazil.

    His golazo against Peru broke a tight game in which Roy Hodgson's men were unable to break a poor opposing team down. With the Three Lions boasting an unfortunate history of struggling offensively during tournaments, Sturridge quickly becomes the main man in the camp.

47. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Colombia

57 of 103

    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    By our count, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado stands as Colombia's third-most important player heading into the finals, behind only Radamel Falcao (ordinarily) and James Rodriguez.

    He'll play anywhere down the right-hand side for Jose Pekerman's side, but he's at his most brilliant on the wing where he can commit, beat and turn players inside out.

    He's one of the most accomplished dribblers at the World Cup; Colombia will be a joy to watch because of him.

46. Thomas Muller, Germany

58 of 103

    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Thomas Muller, crowned the "worst best player" by many football aficionados, looks as harmless as a baby giraffe yet remains one of the most productive players in Bayern Munich and German history.

    He will play off the right flank, feeding off Mesut Ozil's through balls and space creation or play as Germany's adopted striker in the wake of a more obvious option.

    England fans still have nightmares over his performance in Bloemfontein.

45. Alexis Sanchez, Chile

59 of 103

    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli will have been very, very happy with Barcelona's season despite the wheels coming off under Gerardo Martino's reign.

    Why? Because Alexis Sanchez registered 19 goals and 10 assists, per ESPN,  from the right, playing in a vertical system akin to Chile's that allowed him to breach space and carry the ball.

    Simply put, he's a match-winner once he's found his rhythm; his strength, raw pace and instinctive shooting can make the difference.

44. Xavi, Spain

60 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Xavi is no longer as influential as he has been in tournaments' past for Spain, and that sees him slide down our rankings as he's not the player he was.

    Still, he's one hell of a guy to have in your starting XI, and he remains a Vincente del Bosque favourite despite his slight slide in playing ability.

    He'll ensure la Roja are on the ball 70 percent of the time or more, pick out runs from full-backs—particularly now that Alvaro Arbeloa isn't playing, the man Xavi simply does not trust—and engineer chances on goal.

43. Mario Goetze, Germany

61 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Mario Goetze will likely take the striking strain on his shoulders this summer.

    With Miroslav Klose not fit for 90 minutes in the heat and no other designated strikers taken, Joachim Loew looks set to trust his Bayern Munich man in a false-nine role at the tip of the team.

    With Thomas Muller running beyond him, there's a real chance he's more a creator than a goalscorer, but his calmness in front of goal will need to translate to the international stage as well.

42. Yaya Toure, Ivory Coast

62 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    In a season in which Yaya Toure hit 20 Premier League goals and labelled himself underrated "because he's African," per ESPN, he really, really, really needs to turn in a good showing in Brazil.

    The Ivory Coast have underwhelmed in extraordinary fashion over the past decade, allowing their golden generation to slip by and win absolutely nothing. With Toure in his perceived prime running the midfield, a knockout stage achievement looks a must.

    If he does turn up, defences will whimper in the face of his immense passing, dribbling, shooting and raw power.

41. Arturo Vidal, Chile

63 of 103

    Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

    Arturo Vidal is the man who turns Chile from a very good side into a potentially great one, such is his game-winning ability, aggression and impact on his team-mates.

    The former Bayer Leverkusen man made a name for himself in the Bundesliga as a terrier off the ball, but at Juventus, he has honed his end-product and now chips in with 10 goals a season.

    He's currently laying claim to the title of best central midfielder in the world, and if the World Cup goes as planned, there will be few who dispute his words.

    Taking him is a gamble given his knee surgery, and there's a chance he won't see the pitch. He's ranked here based on his projected impact should he be fit enough to play.

40. Thibaut Courtois, Belgium

64 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    How valuable can a 22-year-old goalkeeper really be to a group favourite at the World Cup? Thibaut Courtois may yet rewrite our impressions.

    Belgium have a luxury of impressive centre-backs to hold the defensive line, but if push comes to shove in their third, Vincent Kompany and Co. know they have a world-class shot-stopper behind them to pick up the scraps.

    Despite rarely being under pressure during qualifying, the lanky goalkeeper stood out in a Red Devils shirt.

39. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany

65 of 103

    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Bastian Schweinsteiger peaked at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and played through an injury at Euro 2012.

    Ever since the 2010 tournament in South Africa, he's been on the decline, and although that's not a popular opinion among those who worship the midfield maestro, these finals will be the last he participates in while considered an elite player.

    He's battling injury again and will be important to the side—if fit. That "if" is a very real worry for Joachim Loew.

38. Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina

66 of 103

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Gonzalo Higuain impressed hugely during World Cup qualifying (nine goals), has previous tournament experience in South Africa and is coming off the back of a remarkable season at Napoli in Serie A.

    All of this combines to create the feeling he's a good bet for top scorer of the tournament in Brazil provided Argentina can make a run, with his combination play with Lionel Messi a great watch.

    The system created by Alejandro Sabella may be tailor-made for Messi, but it suits Higuain just fine, too.

37. Daniele De Rossi, Italy

67 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Daniele De Rossi will provide both brawn and technical prowess next to Andrea Pirlo in midfield, with his power and aggression vital to the way Cesare Prandelli's setup plays.

    His value to the team was demonstrated at Euro 2012 when he dropped into the defensive line and played a Javi Martinez-esque role from the back, and his ability to play in any central role is often overlooked.

36. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay

68 of 103

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    Six-goal Edinson Cavani stood in the shadow of 11-goal Luis Suarez during CONMEBOL qualifying, but if Uruguay are to succeed, they'll need the firepower of both.

    Cavani can be rather hot and cold while wearing the Celeste jersey, with his last five games for Paris Saint-Germain very much an accurate indicator of his game.

    On his day, the former Napoli man can be the most lethal striker on the planet. Oscar Tabarez will just hope he has a few of those days during the finals in Brazil.

35. Sergio Ramos, Spain

69 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    In 2010, it took a big-game moment from a big-game player to lead Spain into the final: a game-winning header from Carles Puyol from an outswinging corner.

    Sergio Ramos' remarkable impact on games late in the season for Real Madrid may have la Roja fans excited for very similar reasons—when Carlo Ancelotti needed a man to step up, Ramos delivered.

    He's developed into one of the finest centre-backs in world football and appears head and shoulders above Gerard Pique at this point.

34. Blaise Matuidi, France

70 of 103

    Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

    Blaise Matuidi has quickly become integral to the way both Paris Saint-Germain and France operate, with his driving runs and physicality in midfield standing much-sought-after commodities in 2014.

    He can break between lines, dribble with the ball at his feet and keep it simple on the deck. He's refined his technique over the past 12 months and has become a much more viable option in the final third, also.

    Don't expect too many of these, though.

33. Jordi Alba, Spain

71 of 103

    USA TODAY Sports

    Some world football connoisseurs stand concerned over whether Jordi Alba truly is the answer at left-back for Barcelona, but there's no doubting his place in the national setup.

    Spain have suffered from some seriously poor performances at right-back over the last three or four years, and Alba's emergence has given them a new outlet in the wide areas.

    His goal against Italy in the Euro 2012 is iconic, and many forget just how absurdly fast he is. He stretches the pitch, creates an outlet between the lines and can even offer a threat in behind.

32. Giorgio Chiellini, Italy

72 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Giorgio Chiellini's role is as yet undetermined: Depending on whether Cesare Prandelli goes 3-5-2 or 4-3-3, he's slated to play centre-back or left-back respectively.

    He's a clear starter and would beat out Leonardo Bonucci for a role in the team if it came to it, with his fierce aggression, aerial dominance and ability to filter wide very important.

    Like Mamadou Sakho, he looks awkward, but he rarely makes mistakes.

31. Eden Hazard, Belgium

73 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Eden Hazard will be looked to as Belgium's potential game-breaker this summer, and the pressure will be on him to step up and replicate his incredible 2013-14 Chelsea form.

    He has too often underwhelmed in a Red Devils shirt and the Belgian public have made him thoroughly aware of his feelings; if Marc Wilmots' men are to go far in Brazil, it will be reliant on Hazard finding his cutting edge in the final third.

30. Xabi Alonso, Spain

74 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Xabi Alonso was injured for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and his absence was sorely felt.

    Sergio Busquets was overwhelmed as a sole anchor in Vicente del Bosque's 4-3-3 look, struggling to handle two-three midfield runners at once—as any man would—and conceding space between the lines.

    Alonso, acting as a second holding midfielder, gives Spain the assurances they need in deeper areas. With him in position, the full-backs can fly forward, not worry about defensive numbers and impact the final third.

29. Diego Godin, Uruguay

75 of 103

    Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

    Diego Godin, coming off a monster season in which Atletico Madrid did the domestic double, will hope to lead a sturdy, stubborn defensive line in Brazil.

    As Diego Lugano has faded, his namesake Godin has risen to the forefront; the towering centre-back is near unbeatable in the air, surprisingly quick across the ground and vocal in the box.

    Oscar Tabarez can make this Celeste side ridiculously hard to beat when he wants to, and Godin is key to that.

28. Axel Witsel, Belgium

76 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Axel Witsel is the second name on Marc Wilmots' team sheet and a second captain to Vincent Kompany on the pitch.

    Tucked away in Portugal, then later Russia, much of Europe have been withheld from his incredible, impactful midfield game.

    He stands positionally excellent, a clean tackler (for the most part) and an enforcer from the off. His teammates feed off his dominance, and he allows his more creative compatriots to express themselves.

27. Marcelo, Brazil

77 of 103

    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Marcelo is an absolute weapon for Brazil from left-back; pushing forward, occupying markers and committing runners to open up space for Neymar to enjoy.

    There were fears, at one stage, that he'd miss the World Cup because of a bad injury, but he returned to Real Madrid's starting XI for the 2-2 draw against Valencia May 4 and has put together a run of games since.

    His attacking prowess and pace make him a real handful coming forward.

26. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium

78 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    That Kevin de Bruyne is ranked so highly in our World Cup 250—above the mighty Eden Hazard, even!—may come as something of a shock.

    But Hazard has shown no sort of consistency at the national team level, and for long periods Red Devils fans were getting rather fed up that he was seemingly saving his best for Chelsea.

    De Bruyne, on the other hand, is Marc Wilmots' chief creative threat and moved to Wolfsburg in January to ensure he got playing time to make it to the World Cup: a brave but ultimately correct decision in hindsight.

25. Oscar, Brazil

79 of 103

    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Oscar had a poor 2013-14 Premier League campaign, but for Brazil, he always performs his role suitably.

    Although he's a magnificent creative outlet whilst on form, his role for the Selecao is crafted around the idea of opening up space for Neymar to breach. As a result, Oscar does a lot of leg work, drags players around with clever movement and covers holes.

    It's not a glamorous job, but he's integral all the same.

24. Angel Di Maria, Argentina

80 of 103

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Angel Di Maria now plays as a central midfielder for both club and country, his willingness to switch inside for both making his respective managers' jobs a lot easier.

    Di Maria brings drive, verticality and pace to Argentina's central midfield three, and with a solid base behind him, he's free to get in between the lines and carry the ball.

    He can split wide if needed, works extremely hard when tracking runners and has a good eye for a goal, too.

23. Steven Gerrard, England

81 of 103

    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    England captain Steven Gerrard looked to be on his way out of international football after Euro 2012, but Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers helped shape him a new role in midfield and he's prospering once again.

    His legs are fading, so he's unable to commit to lung-busting runs and goalscoring meanders, but his distribution from deep is top notch and he controls the tempo of England's game superbly.

    He's also the most vocal leader the Three Lions have had in years, and fans will be praying he can haul his nation into the latter stages of the tournament—in the same fashion he hauled Liverpool into an unlikely title race.

22. Edin Dzeko, Bosnia and Herzegovina

82 of 103

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Edin Dzeko ended the 2013-14 Premier League with a flourish, and Bosnia and Herzegovina fans will be praying that form continues into the World Cup.

    For the Dragons, Dzeko is the main man. Not Miralem Pjanic, not Senad Lulic, not Vedad Ibisevic. It's the Manchester City forward who delivers on a regular basis in the national setup, and he is their most important player heading to the finals.

    That tidy habit of being in the right place at the right time translates well from domestic to international football.

21. Javier Mascherano, Argentina

83 of 103

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Javier Mascherano plays as a defensive midfielder for Argentina and—yep, you guessed it—he's brilliant, given that it's his natural position.

    The two central midfield slots ahead of him have seen heavy rotation by manager Alejandro Sabella as he tries to find the right balance. Mascherano was the only constant for a while, and he's single-handedly ensured Esteban Cambiasso missed the squad altogether.

    He provides the platform that allows all the flair players to strut their stuff without worrying too much about balance or tracking back.

20. Mario Balotelli, Italy

84 of 103

    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    Mario Balotelli is the only option Cesare Prandelli has up front, given Giuseppe Rossi's failure to make the 23-man squad and Ciro Immobile’s lack of experience on the international stage.

    When he's in the mood, he's unstoppable—just ask Germany what happened in Euro 2012—but he can blow hot and cold.

    A deadly finisher, lethal header of the ball, quick runner and strong as an ox; he has all the tools needed to be an elite modern-day striker.

19. Luka Modric, Croatia

85 of 103

    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Coming off the back of an immense campaign in a Real Madrid shirt—far removed from the label of "worst signing of the season," as voted for by Marca readers (via the Telegraph)—Luka Modric is set to lead his nation into yet another international tournament.

    At 28 years of age, he's in his prime, and there's a chance the Vatreni can pull a 1998 and surprise everyone with an epic finish as long as Modric is pulling the strings from midfield.

    All season long, he's shown his steady passing, creativity and ability to thread the eye of a needle can make the difference in any game.

18. Robin van Persie, Netherlands

86 of 103

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Robin van Persie will enjoy a freer, more versatile role up front for the Netherlands in Louis van Gaal's new 3-5-2 formation.

    He should partner Arjen Robben and continue his excellent goalscoring record during qualifying, where he led the pack with 11 goals—beating off Edin Dzeko, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    LVG has been taking him to games to get him used to the system, observing Feyenoord's near-identical setup.

17. Sergio Aguero, Argentina

87 of 103

    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Provided he's fit—and that's an "if" right now considering his chequered 2013-14 season—Sergio Aguero will line up on the left wing of Argentina's 4-3-3.

    He won't be a true lefty, cutting inside and linking with centre-forward Gonzalo Higuain to create shooting angles, and while you might raise your eyebrow at this, ahem, questionable deployment of the Argentine, it's a system that works well.

    Just another feather in Alejandro Sabella's cap.

16. Manuel Neuer, Germany

88 of 103

    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Goalkeepers are rarely this high in respective value rankings, but Manuel Neuer will need to be at the top of his game to keep clean sheets given the defensive line in front of him.

    His ability to sweep up stray balls and come off his line to help the defence under pressure remains invaluable, and he could well be the difference in a game on multiple occasions.

15. Mesut Ozil, Germany

89 of 103

    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Mesut Ozil's second-half season with Arsenal was heavily disrupted due to poor form and injury, but Joachim Loew’s faith in him has not waned.

    He pulls all the strings for Germany and the team plays through him at all times; Mario Goetze and Thomas Muller are exciting attacking options, but they feed off Ozil whenever possible.

14. Vincent Kompany, Belgium

90 of 103

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Vincent Kompany hasn't been perfect in the Premier League for two seasons now, but for Belgium he's nothing short of world class.

    He's the leader they need, the commanding presence they require, and if he's not on his game in Brazil, things could fall apart rather quickly.

    Belgium don't stand to be defending too much in group stage, but his steadying influence will become vital need during the knockout stages.

13. James Rodriguez, Colombia

91 of 103

    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Radamel Falcao or not, fit enough or not, James Rodriguez is the main man in Colombia's starting XI.

    He's versatile enough to play all across the front three behind the striker but looks his best as a No. 10 in a 4-2-2-2, helping to create chances, work shooting angles and keep possession of the ball.

    He's continued his steep upward trajectory since swapping FC Porto for AS Monaco, and he'll be using the World Cup to prove his name belongs among the elite already.

12. Andrea Barzagli, Italy

92 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Andrea Barzagli is one of the smartest defenders playing the game in 2014, and his presence in a three-man defensive line unmatched across world football.

    He's remarkably strong at identifying where to set his line, when to push in and when to drop off; he's often the one to nip in and confront the runner, stealing the ball off him.

    All of his nous will be required in Brazil.

11. Sergio Busquets, Spain

93 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Sergio Busquets, the world's best defensive midfielder, will need help from Xabi Alonso to stem attacks in the Brazilian heat this summer.

    With the players in front of him aging and their pressing game lacking a little, he's becoming exposed in space and attackers are finding it just a little easier to find space around him.

    We hope to see a return to elite form for "Busi" at the finals as Spain look to retain the trophy. Chile and the Netherlands will provide exceptionally stern tests.

10. Iker Casillas, Spain

94 of 103

    Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    Iker Casillas, despite playing comparatively little domestic football, has emerged one of the most important figures in the Spain camp.

    He's the captain, the boss on the field and the man they all look to; as Xavi's decline has allowed his importance to the side slide, Casillas has taken on a new level of leadership and command.

    It helps that he's also one of the finest goalkeepers in world football, with his Champions League appearances for Real Madrid in 2013-14 nothing short of stunning.

9. Arjen Robben, Netherlands

95 of 103

    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Arjen Robben is the first name on the teamsheet for Dutch manager Louis van Gaal due to niggles sustained by Robin van Persie and a season-ending injury to Kevin Strootman.

    He'll occupy one of the two wing slots in Van Gaal's fluid 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation, and throughout qualifying he emerged as their most electric outlet on the ball.

    His form for Bayern Munich has been excellent, and he's now a dual-edged winger, capable of cutting inside or hitting the byline on his right.

8. Andres Iniesta, Spain

96 of 103

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Andres Iniesta's importance to the national side has been escalating ever since his winning goal in 2010, and now he stands the most integral outfield player for Spain.

    His ability to conjure something out of nothing, break tackles, surge into space and use his agility to engineer an attack from the corner flag cannot be matched by any other in the squad.

    La Roja have several creative outlets on board, but none come close to "Don Andresito."

7. Philipp Lahm, Germany

97 of 103

    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Regardless of whether Philipp Lahm plays right-back or holding midfield, he's set to be an influential player in this Germany side.

    With a dearth of talent evident behind him at full-back, it's highly likely he’ll be in defence, and his ability to bomb forward, own a flank and, critically, never lose the ball helps die Mannschaft retain complete control over games.

    Lahm's a leader.

6. Thiago Silva, Brazil

98 of 103

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Thiago Silva is the best centre-back in the world and ranks as our top-rated defender overall.

    More than any other, he's the man coaches and managers will be asking their own players to watch, learn and emulate wherever possible.

    The Brazilian is absurdly clean in the tackle, able to dispossess and block even the trickiest of dribblers inside the penalty area when the game is on the line.

    He's a leader, a commander and a captain.

5. Andrea Pirlo, Italy

99 of 103

    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    For Italy, everything runs through Andrea Pirlo.

    No matter the midfield shape, no matter the defensive setup, the ball finds its way to his feet and he uses it to torment the opposition with each and every pass.

    He's a majestic ball-player, capable of the seemingly impossible, but that comes with a vice: Nullify him and the Azzurri lack a well-practiced Plan B.

4. Luis Suarez, Uruguay

100 of 103

    Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

    If Luis Suarez takes his 2013-14 Premier League form into the World Cup, England can kiss their hopes of reaching the knockout stages goodbye.

    The Uruguayan forward has become Oscar Tabarez's most lethal outlet—even more so than hit-and-miss Edinson Cavani and fading Diego Forlan—and, critically, can split wide when the formation changes.

    He's so pliable, yet so effective, la Celeste are going to find ways to free him up and let him score. It's inevitable.

3. Lionel Messi, Argentina

101 of 103

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Lionel Messi needs a FIFA World Cup victory to win over those last few doubters regarding his legacy, and he's entering the competition in familiar South American territory, in his prime and at the forefront of a formidable attacking team.

    Alejandro Sabella has crafted a loose 4-3-3 formation around Messi, using him as the focal point and playing him in a free-role off the right. The 10 goals he scored during qualifying, allowing Argentina to top the CONMEBOL group, suggests the method is working rather well.

    Unlike at Barcelona last season, Messi is not the only reliable goalscoring outlet and won't suffer from the burden of heavy expectation.

    If everything clicks into gear, La Albiceleste might just be unstoppable.

2. Neymar, Brazil

102 of 103

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    The star of the host nation and the star of the tournament-to-be, Neymar has the chance to cement a place in Brazilian footballing lore by firing his country to victory in July.

    The Barcelona move has been a little rocky due to tactical concerns, injury niggles and tax fraud, but when he pulls on the Selecao shirt, he's a different animal altogether.

    Operating out of a left-forward role in Luiz Felipe Scolari's 4-2-3-1 formation, the entire system is built around him to ensure he flourishes. His goal return of 30 from 47 appearances suggests whatever they're doing works.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

103 of 103

    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Portugal live and die by Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Unlike in Madrid where Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema can pick up the slack, Os Seleccao crumble without Ronaldo's offensive input, drive and ability to decide games.

    Without a proper centre-forward and a secondary winger blessed with any semblance of form, the [2014] Ballon d'Or winner will be required to find the net if Paulo Bento's men are to progress.

    He will rise to the challenge, no doubt.