Every time the World Cup comes around, it’s an opportunity for young or unheralded talents to make their mark on the World Stage. It is also a chance for established stars to seal their legacy, however. In this article, I look at ten such players for whom 2014 could be their last chance at World Cup glory.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
January 28, 1978 (Age when World Cup starts: 36 years)
One of the most highly decorated and respected goalkeepers of all time, Buffon is surely approaching the end of his glittering career. Having already won the World Cup in 2006, he will be hoping to bow out on a high. That said, Italy may find it difficult to progress from the group stage, given both the team’s shortcomings and the fact they have been placed in a group also containing England and Uruguay. It is not out of the question that Buffon will still be playing in Italian colours in four years’ time given his undeniable qualities but he will know it is unlikely and will be focused on making the most of Brazil.
Daniel Alves (Brazil)
May 6, 1983 (Age when World Cup starts: 31 years)
Alves has enjoyed a fine club career during spells with Sevilla and Barcelona. He has also figured prominently for the Brazilian national side since he made his debut against Ecuador in October 2006. He is famous for his attacking verve, offering Brazilian flair even from a theoretically defensive position. He has not won a World Cup with Brazil and will hope to put this right when the tournament visits his homeland this summer. He will be 35 when the 2018 tournament begins in Russia.
Carles Puyol (Spain)
April 13, 1978 (Age when World Cup starts: 36 years)
Puyol may or may not be at the 2014 World Cup. He has recently announced his decision to leave Barcelona at the end of the season and his statement seemed to suggest that he would not be in Brazil this summer. If this is the case, he will be a huge loss to the Spanish side, which he so often led from the back. A brave, tenacious and skilful defender, injuries finally seem to have caught up with Puyol. Even so, do not rule out Del Bosque attempting to convince him to join the squad for one last hurrah.
Xavi (Xavier ‘Xavi’ Hernandez I Creusa) (Spain)
January 25, 1980 (Age when World Cup starts: 34 years)
During his career with both Barcelona and Spain, Xavi has established himself as one of the most gifted midfielders ever to play the game. No space is too small for him to worm through. No pass is too difficult. Not blessed with obvious physical gifts, Xavi was forced to prove the doubters wrong. He was a key component in establishing the ‘tiki-taka’ style of play favoured by both Barcelona and, more recently, by Spain. He has won more trophies and accolades than even he can probably fathom and is still a master of his art, even at 34. Some have suggested his legs are gone and that he isn’t the player he was but they said the same thing about Zidane before the 2006 tournament. Write him off at your peril.
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
November 25, 1981 (Age when World Cup starts: 32 years)
Another key player for Spain, Alonso’s importance was highlighted during his absence this season. Real Madrid’s form immediately picked up on his return. Alonso is an accurate passer, a great linker of play and a willing defensive shield. If Spain is to become the first European team to win the World Cup on South American soil, Alonso will have a big role to play. He will be 36 before the next World Cup begins so this is probably his last chance on the biggest stage of all.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
August 1, 1984 (Age when World Cup starts: 29 years)
The one-time tricky winger turned midfield maestro may still be a force come 2018. Given the strength of football in Germany, there is no guarantee he will still be involved in the national team, however. Even aside from this, Scheiwinsteiger has been so close to international success on so many occasions over the years that he must feel this is his time. This feeling will only be strengthened by the performances of his Bayern Munich team over the last two seasons. He remains a quality player with a mind-set to match. The Germans are potential winners.
Arjen Robben (The Netherlands)
January 23, 1984 (Age when World Cup starts: 30 years)
One of the most exciting players in world football over the past ten years, Robben will still have painful memories of the World Cup Final in 2010. A few uncharacteristically wasteful attempts on goal from Robben made Spain’s task far easier than it might have been. Robben has been exceptional for Bayern Munich and has seemingly gotten better with age, improving both his work rate and his end product. Robben will be 34 when the next World Cup comes around and may well have lost some of his pace by that time. He will be targeting this summer as his chance to write his name into the history books.
Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
May 19, 1979 (Age when World Cup starts: 35 years)
Like Robben, Pirlo also seems to get better with age. His relaxed, accurate passing style, splendid set-pieces and sublime vision have set him apart from the pack since he broke through with Brescia towards the end of the last Millennium. When he left Milan in 2011, it looked like his successful career was drawing to a close. He has since won back to back Serie A titles as part of a three man midfield with Juventus and has repeatedly out-played men many years his junior. His performance and subsequent penalty against England in the 2012 European Championships will live long in the memory. He is the midfielder that England has been lacking for so long. The English perhaps had someone similar in Paul Scholes but chose to favour others in his stead, leading to Scholes’ premature international retirement. Pirlo will hope to remind England of this failing once more in Brazil. If Italy can make it through the group stage, they will inevitably be a team to avoid.
Robin van Persie (The Netherlands)
August 6, 1983 (Age when World Cup starts: 30 years)
When he is fit, Van Persie is one of the most feared strikers in world football. This hasn’t been his most successful season but then the same could be said of every single player at Manchester United. To Van Persie’s credit, his goals and assists total are still very creditable given how infrequently he has been on the pitch. He will surely expect a better class of service from his Dutch team-mates than he has been receiving this season at United. If he can stay fit, he could have a big part to play for the Dutch, a team desperate to shake off the tag of ‘nearly men’. He will be almost 35 in 2018 so this could well be his last World Cup.
Didier Drogba (The Ivory Coast)
March 11, 1978 (Age when World Cup starts: 36 years)
Drogba may not be quite the physical specimen he was in his pomp, but he is still an extremely intelligent, gifted footballer. He also remains capable of scoring and creating goals as he has recently proved by moving into double figures in the Turkish League. Brazil will surely be his international swan song. With the Ivory Coast situated in a group containing Columbia, Greece and Japan, Drogba must believe that his team can cause a few surprises this time around. He is a leader on and off the pitch.
Steven Gerrard (England)
May 30, 1980 (Age when World Cup starts: 33 years)
Gerrard has always been something of an enigma. He is a hugely talented if often ill-disciplined midfielder. In spite of his obvious abilities, coach after coach has struggled to comfortably fit him into their side. Recently, Gerrard has begun to play as a holding midfielder and, whilst there are still questions about his defensive abilities, this deep lying ‘play-maker’ role is one that should suit him. So often England’s best player, he will be hoping that his team can cause a few surprises this summer. In the current context, successfully negotiating a tricky group may be deemed a success in itself. Gerrard may not bow out of International football until after the 2016 European Championships as Roy Hodgson hopes to persuade him to stay on.
Yaya Touré (The Ivory Coast)
May 13, 1983 (age 30 years)
One of the most powerful, dynamic and influential figures in world football, Touré is a hard man to stop. He will very possibly still be playing in four years’ time but it is difficult to imagine that he won’t have lost some of his strength and speed over this period. There are times when he looks almost unstoppable and the Ivory Coast will be crossing all their fingers and toes in the hope that he doesn’t get injured between now and the World Cup. A true game-changer on his day, Touré offers the Ivorians a fear factor they might otherwise lack.
Diego Forlán (Uruguay)
May 19, 1979 (age 34 years)
Voted the player of the tournament four years ago, Forlán has recently moved to the Cerezo Osaka in the J-League with the intention of being properly prepared for the World Cup. Whilst he may start games on the bench this time around, Forlán is still capable of being a force on the international stage. His vision, passing and set pieces are all valuable weapons and when you consider that Uruguay also have Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez at their disposal, one can begin to understand the task facing England. The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil was in 1950. On that occasion, Uruguay won the tournament, bringing despair to their Brazilian neighbours. Forlán and co. will be hoping to repeat the feat. First they will have to get past either England or Italy.