We’ve basically arrived. It’s go time. It’s golden boot time. It’s time to call-in sick to work. It’s time to end the wait. World Cup 2014 is here. I know who I want to win. Hundreds of millions around the world know who they want too. Brazil is the favorite. We are in Brazil. But Spain has won the last three meaningful international tournaments. The United States has never had so much hype, nor support, and all these story lines clash this June, creating a crescendo that will never again be matched. Here are five of the players that will have us all in awe as things come to life this summer:
1. Eden Hazard – This guy is the man. Professionally-speaking, he plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League. Chelsea has never been far off the map. Though some great players have come and gone, for the past two seasons, this Belgium midfielder has been dazzling fans with his extraordinary balance, pace and all-world class. Like Wayne Gretzky behind the net, defenders are afraid to take on Hazard when he has the ball. He is arguably the greatest player in the world at this very moment – on par with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Franck Ribery. He wasn’t around last World Cup. This will be his first chance on this great stage to show what he’s capable of. His supporting cast is rated on par with any nation in this tournament. If Belgium wins this World Cup, it will be thanks to the flying feet of Eden Hazard.
2. Lionel Messi – Has Argentina won a World Cup since Messi has broke into the starting 11? No. That being said, the majority of true soccer fans will be tuned-in to every Argentina game just to see what he will do. Will he prove all the naysayers wrong and lead his team to the top this summer? Many feel that it won’t happen, as there are too many obstacles in he and his team’s path. One major concern is defense; also there are Germany, Spain and Brazil standing in the way. It will take the physically-unfathomable for Argentina to win the World Cup. Messi will have to pull off heart-stopping runs, dizzying ball possession and the heart to fight through many awful tackles to surmount the challenges facing his nation’s team. But we all know Messi can do it. Set your DVR for Argentina games – especially if you’ve never seen this man play before.
3. Neymar – The pride of Brazil. Before playing professionally for Barcelona – arguably the greatest soccer team in the world – Neymar humbly started his professional career in Brazil, where he began to cement his legacy as the country’s best player and once-in-a-generation phenomenon. Now he gets to prove everyone right. Playing for Barcelona is like attending the most prestigious of universities – will his tutelage from playing alongside Xavi, Iniesta and Messi pay off? Support up front will come from international all-stars with names like Hulk; the time is now for Neymar to actually become a superhero.
4. Wayne Rooney – England is a proud country. They are also very proud of their soccer heritage. Without a doubt, this heritage is extremely rich, and so this country is long overdue to win another World Cup. Wayne Rooney is their number one gun. He has as much big game experience as anyone in this tournament, and his country’s hopes ultimately rest with him. Rooney is an underrated passer, exchanging the field of play from sideline to sideline better than anyone in the game. His calm in the box, especially upon a sitting chance, is without equal. Wayne Rooney will need to get his chances. If he does, and he finishes with the years of class that have been priming for this very summer, then England will have as good a chance as any to win the World Cup. One amazing thing to enjoy when you watch this man, this summer – no one will be working harder on the field, to get his country the crown.
5. Manuel Neuer – There are not many goalkeepers that instill fear in the other team, making them dread their chances mid-match. But Manuel Neuer is one such individual. If Germany plays solid in the group stage, and Neuer is extinguishing fires, look for an odd feeling to come over those who draw them in the elimination rounds. He makes disheartening saves, and his command over his team when in form creates doubt in the opponents. Manuel Neuer has much on-field aura as any player in this tournament, and if Germany makes a serious charge to win the World Cup, it will be on the shoulders of this awesome keeper. Woe to those who have to take a penalty kick against Manuel Neuer!