Ranking the Top 10 Players at the 2022 World Cup
The wait is nearly over. We’ll be getting our favorite spots on the sofa cleared off and our TVs and screens locked in for a month of the best football the planet has to offer. After a few months longer wait than normal, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is finally upon us. As with every installment of the biggest sports tournament on the planet, the best and brightest talents from nations around the globe come together to put on a spectacle the likes of which aren’t often seen (every four years, to be precise). And with that collection of amazing talent, we can unleash power rankings of the top 10 players headed to Qatar. Ten players, eight nations, and six clubs are represented, and each player has the hopes and dreams of millions resting on their shoulders. Starting at 10th overall, a Brazilian who has been integral to the hopes and recent successes of the club champions of Europe.
10. Vinicius Junior, Brazil
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Officially acquired by Real Madrid right after his 18th birthday, Vini Jr. took some time to burst on to the scene with Los Blancos. Still only 22 years old, the Brazilian had been getting regular minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu since the 2019-20 season, but it was the 21-22 campaign where he really exhibited that star potential. He went from six goals and seven assists the year prior to a whopping 22 goals and 20 assists last season, one in which his team came away winners of La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. Vini was arguably the second-most valuable player during their tremendous season, behind only Karim Benzema, the eventual Ballon d’Or winner. For Brazil, he’ll have a similar role to play with Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain fame the linchpin in the attack. This will give Vini the freedom down the left to create and push into space, where he’ll undoubtedly cause problems for Serbia, Switzerland, and Cameroon’s defenses.
9. Luka Modrić, Croatia
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Next on the list is Vini’s teammate at Real Madrid, a man who contradicts any and all theories of aging, 37-year-old Croatia talisman Luka Modric. Even with Los Blancos bringing in talented young French midfield stars Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni in recent months, Modric has been able to tally over 1,000 minutes of action so far, chipping in five goals and two assists in his 11th year at Madrid. Sure, there’s something to be said for having that level of talent around him, and things will be slightly trickier with his national team, but Modric is supremely gifted and reads the game better than anyone else going to Qatar. Croatia may not be able to replicate its stunning run to the 2018 World Cup final in Russia, but with Modric pulling the strings, the Vatreni cannot be counted out.
8. Harry Kane, England
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Captaining the Three Lions in Qatar will be Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane, who has grown into his role as the face of the England national team in recent years. Following successes in Russia (semifinals) and last summer at Euro 2020 (losing in the final to Italy), Kane and England have expectations higher than ever, which is saying something for this football-crazed nation. On the club side, Kane has been automatic. Through 20 matches this season, Kane has 12 goals and three assists. Standard stuff from a forward who has averaged nearly 30 goals and eight assists over the last five full seasons. No wonder he’s arguably the first name on head coach Gareth Southgate’s teamsheet heading into the tournament. England has struggled with injuries of late with several players trying to get fit for Qatar. Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Kyle Walker, and Kalvin Phillips are just a few who will likely be absent for the Three Lions. It means the load will be even more on Kane’s shoulders to get goals as early and often as possible. With his unquestioned talent and knack for rising to the occasion, you wouldn’t bet against another long run for England.
7. Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Moving away from Bayern Munich this summer was meant to slow Lewandowski down slightly after all those excellent years in Bavaria. Joining a new league in a different country with a retooling team, Lewangoalski picked up where he left off and has scored 18 in just 19 matches, with four assists to boot. Not too shabby for the 34-year-old. If he can keep up that scoring clip all season remains to be seen, but entering the World Cup hot is exactly what the Poland national team was hoping they’d get from its best player after his move in the summer. In a group that features presumed winners Argentina with Mexico and Saudi Arabia, the Polish will think the second spot is theirs for the taking. Lewandowski's goals and leadership could deliver just that. What is most dangerous about Lewy is his expert movement in the box. He always finds the right spaces to apply his lethal finishing, and at the World Cup, this will be paramount for Poland’s chances to advance.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
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It’s a little bit odd to see Cristiano this far down any top-players list, but that’s the reality in 2022. That's not suggesting he doesn’t have "it" anymore, but the living legend has struggled through a tumultuous first half of the season with Manchester United. After almost forcing his way out of the club just one season after returning to Old Trafford, the 37-year-old has been in and out of the lineup and has generally been more of a disturbance than an asset to Erik ten Hag’s transitioning squad. One thing that isn’t in doubt, however, is his value and impact on the Portugal national team. With an incredible 117 goals in 191 matches, Ronaldo is his nation's all-time leading scorer and is integral to Portugal's chances in Qatar—and just about everyone knows it. He’ll captain. He’ll score. He’ll assist. He’ll coach. He'll take on a do-everything type of role that we may see the last of on the international stage following the tournament’s conclusion. He's lower on the list than he’d probably like, mainly because of his difficulties to start the year, but the Euro 2016 winner will likely grab all the headlines come game time.
5. Neymar, Brazil
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You could look at the way Neymar has been playing for PSG (15 goals and 12 assists in 19 matches) and say he could be at the top of this list. Brazil has the potential to be scary good in Qatar, and Neymar is the main reason why. Granted, he’s playing with two of the players in this top five at the club level, but he’s had some serious talent around him in the past and hasn’t been clicking like this. Somehow now in his 30s, the Brazilian superstar will be playing in his third World Cup already and is a good bet to win Golden Boot with the way this national team can pile on the goals (26 in its last seven matches, all wins). The suspected beef with Kylian Mbappé aside, he looks like he’s having fun with his football at the minute, and that usually translates into good things for Brazil. Joined in the squad by the likes of Vinicius Jr., Tottenham’s Richarlison, Barcelona’s Rafinha, and Manchester United’s Antony, Neymar has a supporting cast of talented and game-changing stars who will all look to him to lead the way. It's a perfect recipe for the jogo bonito and a long run for the Seleção.
4. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
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Every player on this list has one thing in common, and that’s the fact that they would all want to play with Kevin De Bruyne. Simply put, KDB makes players better...and most certainly helps their stats. The Belgian is something of a wizard with the ball at his feet, putting it in places that the goal-scorers of the world drool over. His passing ability is matched only by (goalkeepers, cover your eyes) his shooting ability, with which he has produced some stunners in recent years. The Belgium national team version of De Bruyne is of a similar mold to the Manchester City one in that everything goes through him. His presence in the midfield is often felt and never forgotten as he can slice through defenses in an instant with his vision and pinpoint accuracy. Add someone like goal machine Erling Haaland to the end of his crosses and, well, you’ve seen the results. If the Red Devils can provide him with similar spacing and even Haaland-light finishing, they should cruise to a first-place finish in Group F.
3. Karim Benzema, France
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You don’t become one of only two Ballon d’Or winners since 2007 to not be named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo for nothing. Karim Benzema has been electric the last few seasons and is a game-changer in every sense of the word. His penchant for a clutch goal doesn’t hurt, either, as the biggest stage calls for the biggest of stars. As mentioned with Neymar, De Bruyne, and most of the others on this list, these players are made better by the incredible talent around them. Benzema is blessed with arguably the deepest team of the 32 participating nations as France is absolutely stacked, and he will be the tip of a formidable spear. Having won the Champions League for the fifth(!) time with Real Madrid earlier this year, Benzema will be going for his second consecutive World Cup title after Les Bleus’ triumph in 2018. He’s won it all at this point, and victories come naturally to the teams he’s a part of. With the next guy on this list playing down his left side, winning shouldn’t be too difficult in Qatar...though France has surprised us in the past.
2. Kylian Mbappé, France
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Mbappé was one of the rising stars at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but he is well and truly rooted in the upper echelon of the best players in the game right now. And he is only 23 years old. After re-signing with PSG in the summer and scorning long-time admirers Real Madrid, Mbappé continues to do what he does best and basically scores goals with his eyes closed to lead the Parisians to the top of Ligue 1 with a near-perfect record of 12 wins, two draws, and zero losses. Like Neymar’s outstanding numbers, the French superstar has contributed a wow-inducing 18 goals and five assists in just 19 matches. Needless to say, he’s ready for more in Qatar with Les Bleus. Four goals and an assist as a 19-year-old at the 2018 World Cup, one that France won, was an excellent start for Mbappé on the biggest stage. This current France squad is just as stacked but will have the PSG superstar as the key player in all its attacking play—even with Benzema in the starting XI. He’s too quick, too clinical, and too accurate with his finishing for almost all defenders at the tournament, and if anyone gives him space on the flank and it will be curtains. That move inside is lightning, and his shot is even quicker. France should run away with Group D (Australia, Denmark, Tunisia) and will go as far as Mbappé wants to take it this winter.
1. Lionel Messi, Argentina
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The name you’ve all been waiting for. The greatest player who has ever lived: Lionel Messi. If he’s to win a World Cup with Argentina in what is likely his last global tournament, the 35-year-old is going into the thing hot. Like piping hot. So far in his second season with PSG, Leo has netted 12 goals and contributed 14 assists in just 18 matches. Those are good numbers. You may be saying to yourself, “Well Mbappé and Neymar have great numbers, too!” They definitely do, but everything runs through Leo. He’s creating the chances for his other superstars and elevating the team because of it. Similarly for Argentina, he is the unquestioned leader and focal point of the attack that clicks when he is clicking and rarely without him. Was it mentioned that he’s the best player in the world? That helps. With a Copa America (finally) in the bag, the main thing missing from Messi’s outrageous trophy cabinet is a World Cup title with Argentina. He’ll get a good crack in Qatar as his side are heavy favorites to top their group and may only be held up by South American rivals Brazil, who can match the Albiceleste on talent. Leo is a difference-maker, though, and can carry a team on his back and take them to greater heights. After finishing runners-up in 2014, 2018 brought a disappointing exit in the round of 16. That was followed up by the famous Copa America win in 2021. With his club's future to be decided after the tournament, Leo is pushing all his chips to the middle of the World Cup table...and you wouldn't dare bet against him to cash in.