Ramos, a 21-year-old forward who only made his Portugal debut last month, demonstrated the kind of clinical finishing for which Ronaldo was once known in scoring the first goal in the 17th minute and adding others in the 51st and 67th.
The emergence of Vinicius Jr since Real Madrid started using him as their main attacking outlet has been nothing short of remarkable. This World Cup comes mid-season, but last term he won the Champions League, scoring a whopping 22 times and getting 20 assists in all competitions. That is hardly the reason he is here though. Vinicius has been blamed for being too tricky and disrespecting opponents – and responded with doing more of the same in matches that followed – an act of defiance that has brought him plaudits as footballers should always be able to express. Neymar has called him the best player in the world. That should convince you to watch him.
In case you’re wondering why a 34-year-old is on this list, it is because he has probably been the most complete striker in the world over the last four years. Emerging from the shadows of Cristiano Ronaldo since CR7 left Madrid, Benzema is favourite to win the world’s best player award, and has captained Real Madrid in a glorious phase of his career. After being banished for over five years from the France team due to a scandal, Benzema is back, and this time, he will lead his country along with the incredible Kylian Mbappé to add to his collection of five Champions League titles
A player doesn’t have to rack up goals and assists to be exciting. And while Pedri can do all that, his main task will be to run the show for Spain from midfield. Pedri will turn 20 during the World Cup, but he is already showing shades of his legends – Spain’s Xavi Hernandez and Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta – in his game. A wily operator who can turn, pass, get out of tight areas, and be a dazzling menace in the middle of the park means he might be the first name on the teamsheet for Luis Enrique’s Spain. If they are to dominate world football like they did between 2008 and 2012, then Pedri has to be the centre-piece.
De Bruyne is the heartbeat of Belgium’s golden generation which, despite their third place at the last World Cup, have fallen short of expectation. Those expectations will be at the fore once again in Qatar, and especially on De Bruyne, who has won three Premier League titles with Manchester City in the last four years, and will go to the World Cup in incredible form. He won’t have Erling Haaland to aim for, but Belgium has enough talent going forward. That said, it will come down to De Bruyne to create the goals. That’s what he does best.
The teenager represented England at youth level, but eventually chose Germany as his senior side. It has been a massive gain for the Germans because Musiala’s movement across the midfield is simply brilliant. He has an eye for a goal and has scored some spectacular efforts for Bayern Munich, contributing to 15 goals in just 13 matches, putting immense pressure on Thomas Muller for his position
Hailed as one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game, Modric is the one credited with breaking the Ronaldo-Messi monopoly when it comes to winning the world’s best player award. With five Champions League, and an incredible knack of scoring ridiculous goals from distance, Modric is still Croatia’s best player despite being 37. He’s also probably Croatia’s best ever player. No excuses to not watch this guy
Sadio Mane left for Bayern Munich this season, but after an illustrious career with Liverpool where he won the Premier League and the Champions League as well. Senegal have Netherlands, Qatar, and Ecuador in their group and are still expected to make it to the knockouts. Mane is their main man and no stranger to the big stage. He has been in sparkling form since moving to the Bundesliga and is a remarkably efficient player who can cause havoc in the box
Having a fullback on this list was a must, given how important they are to the ambitions of a team defensively and offensively. Hakimi has, over the last four years, emerged as one of the most entertaining players on the right side of defence. It helps that he has Mbappé, Messi, Neymar, and the stars of PSG to combine with. At Morocco, he has the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri in support and anything good they do will have Hakimi at the heart of it.
It is very difficult to not like Son. The Spurs player is probably the biggest sporting celebrity in South Korea and overcame a difficult start to the season with a phenomenal hat-trick earlier in the Premier League. On Son’s shoulders lie the hopes of his nation, their best finish being 4th place way back in World Cup 2002 (in Korea and Japan). Son will have to be at his best to end 20 years of waiting to get into the knockouts.
The excitement around Bellingham is real. This name could easily have been Phil Foden, who is exceptionally talented himself, but Bellingham belies his age. Experts have called him better than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard at their prime. The most wanted English talent in the world will be one to watch out for.
The stadium’s distinctive tent-like structure is inspired by the bayt al sha’ar of Qatar’s nomadic people. The stadium will host the opening match, as well as five other group matches, one Round-16 match, one quarter-final and one semi-final.
The stadium is designed to look like Fanar lanterns, a filigree of light and darkness. The stadium will host the final - but before that, it is set to see six group matches, one Round-16 match, one quarter and one semi-final.
The new stadium on the edge of a desert is connected to the city via a new railway. The Mall of Qatar is in the area, too. The stadium is slated to host six group matches and one Round-16 match.
Zaha Hadid Architects and AECOM drew design inspiration from dhow boats to create this stadium, as a nod to Al Wakrah’s historic pearl fisheries. Six group matches and one Round-16 match will be played here.
Inaugurated just over a year ago, the Al Thumama Stadium was designed to look like a gahfiya or traditional skullcap. Al Thumama is set to host six group-stage matches, one Round-16 match and a quarter-final.
The diamond-shaped stadium has many universities and a golf course nearby. It will host six group matches, a Round-16 match and a quarterfinal. Like some other stadia built for this football World Cup, the stadium will cut down capacity after the tournament.
Qatar’s main football stadium since 1976, Khalifa International is part of a larger complex that also includes the Olympics aquatic centre. The stadium will host six group matches, a Round-16 match and the third-place match.
Built along the shore using shipping containers, this temporary stadium offers great views of the West Bay. Stadium 974 will host six group matches and a Round-16 match.