Best Players in the 2022 World Cup
Can you be considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time without winning the World Cup? That's the question the best players in the world will have to answer at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
With group play beginning on Nov. 20 and running through the finals on Dec. 18 at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, the biggest sporting event in the world will see legacies defined over the course of one month — for both individual players and the countries they represent.
These are the 10 best players from the 32 teams who qualified for the 2022 World Cup.
10. Virgil van Dijk
Age: 31 years old
Career highlights: UEFA Champions League champion (2019), Premier League Player of the Season (2019), UEFA Player of the Year (2019), Champions League Defender of the Season (2010)
Bottom line: Virgil van Dijk has become an international superstar the last four years playing for Liverpool, where he brought his team its first Premier League championship in 30 years in 2020.
The real proving ground for Virgil — he goes by his first name — will be in the World Cup. He will be making his first appearance in 2022 after Netherlands failed to qualify in 2018, which is kind of misleading because they finished as runner-up in 2010 and third place in 2014.
9. Kevin De Bruyne
Age: 31 years old
Career highlights: FIFA World Cup third place (2018), Champions League runner-up (2021), Bundesliga Player of the Year (2015), Champions League Midfielder of the Season (2020), FIFA World Cup Dream Team (2018)
Bottom line: Belgium is a dark horse to win the 2022 World Cup thanks largely to the play of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who helped lead his country to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup.
De Bruyne has been named Manchester City's Player of the Year four times and was named to the World Cup Dream team in 2018 and is considered one of the most complete players in the world.
8. Joshua Kimmich
Position: Defensive midfielder/right-back
Age: 27 years old
Career highlights: UEFA Champions League champion (2020), two-time German Player of the Year (2017, 2021), Champions League Defender of the Season (2020)
Bottom line: No team was a bigger disappointment than Germany at the 2018 World Cup, when the defending World Cup champions were knocked out in the group stage.
While Joshua Kimmich was on that World Cup team in 2018, he's come into his prime in the four years since then and is now considered one of the most versatile players in the world.
Kimmich is a rare offensive and defensive threat who led Bayern Munich to a Champions League title in 2020 and was named Champions League Defender of the Season. But he also had key assists in the quarterfinals and the finals against Paris Saint-Germain.
7. Robert Lewandowski
Age: 34 years old
Career highlights: Champions League champion (2020), Ballon d'Or Striker of the Year (2021), UEFA Player of the Year (2020), UEFA Team of the Decade 2010s, Champions League Forward of the Season (2020), two-time World Soccer Player of the Year (2020, 2021), two-time Bundesliga Player of the Season (2017, 2020)
Bottom line: Robert Lewandowski has been one of the world's best soccer players for the last decade and scored 16 goals for Poland in World Cup qualifying in 2018 — a record for a European World Cup qualifier.
Lewandowski played every minute for Poland at the 2018 World Cup when it was knocked out in the group stage. His country has a favorable draw in 2022 in Group C, where they have a great shot of making it to the Round of 16 if they can finish ahead of Saudi Arabia and Mexico, with Argentina and superstar Lionel Mesi the clear-cut favorite in the group.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo
Age: 37 years old
Career highlights: Five-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2008, 2004, 2016-18), Five-time Ballon d'Or winner (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017), FIFA World Player of the Year (2008)
Bottom line: Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in the history of team sports — not just soccer — to surpass $1 billion in career earnings in 2020. One thing all that money can't buy is success at the World Cup, where he'll be playing for Portugal for the fifth time in his career.
Ronaldo's best outing at the World Cup came in his first outing, when Portugal finished in fourth place in 2006. If you're thinking this might be his last time playing in the World Cup, please think again.
At 37 years old, Ronaldo is a five-time Ballon d'Or winner and was a finalist once again in 2022. It's not out of the question to think he'll be back to play when the World Cup comes to the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
5. Lionel Messi
Age: 35 years old
Career highlights: Four-time Champions League champion (2006, 2009, 2011, 2015), seven-time Ballon d'Or winner (2009-12, 2015, 2019, 2021), FIFA World Player of the Year (2009), FIFA World Cup Golden Ball (2014)
Bottom line: Unlike his contemporary Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi has actually come close to winning a World Cup, helping lead Argentina to a runner-up finish in 2014, when he scored four goals in seven games before losing to Germany in the finals.
Messi, a seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, is playing in the World Cup for the fifth time, just like Ronaldo, although neither player's country is one of the favorites to win it all.
At 35 years old and coming off a Ballon d'Or win in 2021, don't be surprised to see Messi in the 2026 World Cup.
4. Vinicius Junior
Age: 22 years old
Career highlights: Champions League champion (2022), Ballon d'Or finalist (2022), UEFA Champions League Young Player of the Season (2022)
Bottom line: At just 22 years old, Brazil's Vinicius Junior is playing in his first World Cup for the team favored to win the whole thing and coming off a breakout season for Real Madrid, where he played alongside French superstar Karim Benzema.
Some people already consider Vinicius the best player in the world following his brilliant play in leading Real Madrid to the Champions League championship in 2022 and being nominated for his first Ballon d'Or. The real proof will come in Qatar.
3. Luka Modric
Age: 36 years old
Career highlights: Five-time Champions League champion (2014, 2016-18, 2022), Ballon d'Or winner (2018), FIFA World Cup runner-up (2018), two-time Champions League Midfielder of the Season (2017, 2018), FIFA World Cup Golden Ball (2018), FIFA World Cup Dream Team (2018), 10-time Croatian Player of the Year (2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016-21)
Bottom line: Luka Modric was one of the breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup as he led Croatia to a surprise runner-up finish and brought home the World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.
It was Croatia's best World Cup finish since its first World Cup in 1998, when the country finished in third place after splitting from Yugoslavia.
Modric is a proven winner. He's won five Champions League titles with Real Madrid and is a two-time Champions League Midfielder of the Year.
2. Harry Kane
Age: 29 years old
Career highlights: FIFA World Cup Dream Team (2018), FIFA World Cup Golden Boot (2018), three-time Premier League Golden Boot (2016, 2017, 2021), two-time England Player of the Year (2017, 2018)
Bottom line: England is one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup thanks in large part to striker Harry Kane, who was the leading goalscorer in the 2018 World Cup and brought home Golden Boot honors after leading his country to a fourth-place finish.
He's now in his prime at 29 years old and will play in his second World Cup. Kane has scored 50 goals in 73 appearances for England's national team, and winning his country's first World Cup title since 1966 would make him one of the biggest sports stars in the world.
1. Kylian Mbappe
Age: 23 years old
Career highlights: FIFA World Cup champion (2018), UEFA Nations League champion (2021), FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award (2018), FIFA World Cup Dream Team (2018), two-time French Player of the Year (2018, 2019)
Bottom line: It's kind of amazing to think four years ago that France's Kylian Mbappe was arguably the best player in the 2018 World Cup, where he led France to its first championship in 20 years and was named the Best Young Player at the tournament.
Since then, Mbappe's only gotten better. Paired alongside fellow French superstar Karim Benzema, the duo could make France the first team to repeat as World Cup champion since Pele led Brazil to back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1962.
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