The hopes of a nation hinge on Rooney’s brilliance and industry. He boasts the talent to carry England through a difficult group with Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay, but he must channel it properly in order to propel the Three Lions to the knockout stage.
Getty ImagesAlex Livesey
Robin van Persie (Netherlands)
Van Persie already enters this tournament as the Netherlands’ all-time leading scorer. His sharp runs and precise touches inside the penalty area supply the menace necessary to complement Arjen Robben’s endeavor in the wide areas and round off the quick buildup usually preferred.
Getty ImagesJohn Berry
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
Big international occasions bring out the best in this veteran poacher. He enters this World Cup just one goal shy of Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals in this tournament. Expect him to snatch it with his usual blend of predatory instincts and smart finishes inside the penalty area.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesLars Baron
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Balotelli did not enjoy the best of seasons in a struggling Milan side, but his talent remains undeniable. His blend of pace and power unsettles opposing defenses. If he can keep his head, then he could fire Italy deep into the tournament.
Getty ImagesMarco Luzzani
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Iniesta remains the key piece to Spain’s tiki-taka. His ingenuity slices through the opposition and transforms possession into threat. He must retain his incessant work rate in order to ensure the holders do not get bogged down in their quest to add more purpose to their desire to keep the ball.
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Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Despite all of Belgiums talent, Eden Hazard’s name immediately springs off the page. The 23-year-old winger from La Louviere finished only second to Luis Suarez for the PFA Player of the Year award and is set to take the world by storm this summer. His pace, guile and technical abilities could prove to be the difference between success and failure for the Belgians.
Getty ImagesChristof Koepsel
Luis Suárez (Uruguay)
Production outstripped controversy for the gifted Uruguayan this season. His direct, invasive and predatory style suits both his club and his country well. He must replicate his Liverpool form in order to inspire Uruguay through a difficult group assignment against Costa Rica, England and Italy.
Getty ImagesJoern Pollex
The hopes of the host nation rest upon the blossoming forward’s shoulders. It took Neymar some time to adjust to the bright lights of Barcelona, but his impact for Brazil at the Confederations Cup last summer hints at the influence he can wield on this large stage. He must retain the audacious endeavor displayed a year ago to ensure his clever, slicing runs yield the desired end product.
Getty ImagesFeng Li
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Argentina has waited and waited for Messi to deploy his wizardry in a major tournament. This occasion on South America soil presents the ideal opportunity for the preeminent player of this epoch to fulfill that objective and lead his country to a third title.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
This tournament arrives at the peak of Ronaldo’s considerable powers. His potent combination of confidence, endeavor, power and skill tears apart defenses at will. And those formidable qualities will prove central to Portugal’s success or failure in a difficult group including Germany, Ghana and the United States.