World Cup Watch List: 8 veterans likely playing their final World Cup in Qatar

Lionel Messi and Luka Modric go head-to-head during an Argentina-Croatia match at the 2018 World Cup. (Petr David Josek/AP)

The 2022 FIFA World Cup represents ‘The Last Dance’ for a generation of talented footballers.

For some of the game’s most iconic figures, as well as Canada’s captain, Qatar represents their final opportunity to compete at the World Cup and show off their considerable skills on the biggest and most-watched sporting event on the planet.

Here’s a partial list of some of the more notable veterans who’ll more than likely be playing in their last World Cup this year.

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Position: Forward
Age: 35

Lionel Messi has already declared his intentions to retire from international soccer after this World Cup. So, this is his last chance to win it all and join Diego Maradona as a footballing deity who helped deliver a World Cup title to football-mad Argentina. Messi has come close before, reaching the finals of the 2014 tournament in Brazil only to lose to Germany. Other than that run, he’s not found much success at the World Cup, and his lone international honour with his country came in 2021 when they won the Copa America. Some of the sport’s greatest stars never won the World Cup, most notably Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff. If Messi doesn’t win it, it won’t change anything — his place in the football pantheon is assured. But don’t kid yourself: it rankles Messi to no end that he’s never won the World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Club: Manchester United (for now …)
Position: Forward
Age: 37

Cristiano Ronaldo is in the same boat as Lionel Messi. He’s already one of the greatest ever to play the game. He doesn’t need to win the World Cup to cement his legend. But like Messi, he’s driven by a sense of duty to deliver a World Cup title to Portugal, even though he helped his country win a European Championship and a UEFA Nations League, to say nothing of the fact he’s the all-time top scorer in men’s international football with 117 goals in 191 appearances for Portugal. Despite four tournament appearances, he has never played in a World Cup final.

Luka Modric (Croatia)

Club: Real Madrid
Position: Midfield
Age: 37

Is there a more elegant midfielder than Luka Modric? Silky smooth on the ball, the Croatian just oozes class when he’s in possession, or whenever he finds a teammate with one of his trademark immaculate passes. During the past decade of excellence at Real Madrid, he’s won five Champions League titles and three La Liga titles in that time. He was also awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2018, becoming the first player not named Messi or Ronaldo to win it since 2007. World Cup success had been harder to come by for Modric, who has played in three previous tournaments. Four years ago in Russia, Modric helped guide his country to the final and although Croatia lost to France, he was recognized for his superb form by winning the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s MVP.

Thomas Muller (Germany)

Club: Bayern Munich
Position: Midfield
Age: 33

Unlike every other player on this list, Thomas Muller knows what it’s like to win the World Cup. His five goals helped pace Germany to victory at the 2014 tournament in Brazil. He also scored another five in 2010 in South Africa when the Germans finished third, so he knows a thing or two about finding the back of the net at this competition. He fell out of favour with Germany after its poor showing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the 33-year-old was recalled for last summer’s European Championship and provides more of a leadership role with the national team.

Atiba Hutchinson (Canada)

Club: Beşiktaş
Position: Midfield
Age: 39

Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson has experienced the highs and lows (to be honest, there’s been far more lows and highs) with the Canadian men’s team since making his international debut as a 19-year-old in 2003. He’s been a loyal servant to the Canadian program, participating in five different World Cup qualifying cycles and becoming the team’s all-time appearance leader with 98 caps. Most players have retired long before their 39th birthday. Not the Canadian captain, who is still going strong as he creeps ever so closer to turning 40 in February. But you’d have to think that the native of Brampton, Ont., who plays professionally for Turkish club Beşiktaş, will call time on his international career after this World Cup, having finally fulfilled a life-long dream.

Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Club: Nacional
Position: Forward
Age: 35

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez has had a somewhat colourful history at the World Cup. From earning a red card for his handball save against Ghana in the 2010 quarterfinals, to biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder in 2014, Suarez has been involved in a lot of World Cup controversy. But he’s also scored two goals in each of his three tournament appearances, helping his country to a fourth-place finish in 2010. Now, the Nacional striker will be looked to for his leadership and goal-scoring ability to help deliver Uruguay its third World Cup crown and first since 1950.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

Club: Barcelona
Position: Forward
Age: 34

You have to feel somewhat sorry for Robert Lewandowski. In any other era, he’d have been a multiple Ballon d’Or winner and regarded as the best player in the world after plundering more than 300 goals at club level. But he had the misfortune of hitting his peak at the same time as Messi and Ronaldo, and he was forever overshadowed by the pair. He never received the credit or recognition he deserved. Now he’s 34, and still looking to score his first World Cup goal after being kept off the scoresheet in his only previous appearance in 2018 when Poland was eliminated at the group stage.

Dani Alves (Brazil)

Club: UNAM
Position: Right Back
Age: 39

A veteran of only two World Cups (in 2010 and 2014), Brazil’s Dani Alves missed out four years ago in Russia when a knee injury ruled him out of the tournament. That seemed to spell the end of his international career, but the former FC Barcelona star went on to be named MVP of the 2019 Copa America as Brazil won the South American championship for a ninth time. He followed that up by helping his country win the gold medal at last summer’s Olympics. Now the 39-year-old Alves, once considered the best right fullback in the world, has one last shot at adding the one trophy that eluded him thus far: the World Cup.

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