Well, to be clear, these guys are all ludicrously fit. Maybe the one exception would've been Brazilian Ronaldo in his final World Cup in 1998, in which people started calling him Fat Ronaldo, an unfortunate nickname for one of the best scorers of all time. Regardless, all of the guys in the 2014 World Cup can run punishing sprints for hours on end, but which ones are the fastest and have the most talent and precision that can take their respective teams to higher levels? Here’s a list of some of the best players to watch in the tournament.
Zusi wasn't one of those phenom players recruited by historic European franchises when he had barely hit adolescence yet, but he's continually displayed improvement in the increasing levels of the game—from college at the University of Maryland to his top-notch passing and set-piece skills he's honed with MLS's Sporting Kansas City. Zusi was called up to the U.S. team in 2011 and led the MLS in assists with an impressive 15 in 2012. When Zusi showed up at the Americans' World Cup training camp in January, he logged an astronomical V02 Max of 71ml/kg/min. As the U.S. team's head fitness coach Masa Sakihana told Men's Fitness: "His cardiovascular fitness level is at the very top of the current squad."8 At-Home Workouts to Lose Weight and Build Muscle>>>
Robin van Persie, Forward, Netherlands
Van Persie has proven time and again to be one of the world’s deadliest strikers, always finding new ways to get the ball into the back of the net while also flourishing as a set piece specialist and as a passer—he rings up a ton of assists for a scorer of his caliber. On that note, van Persie is the Dutch’s leading scorer in international competition, with 42 goals in 83 caps, not to mention his prolific career in the English Premier League with Arsenal and Manchester United. This World Cup, he’ll look to lead the offensive attack and help prove that the Dutch’s appearance in the 2010 Final was no fluke.Strengthen Your Knees and Ankles>>>
Neymar, Forward, Brazil
At just 22 years of age, Neymar’s obvious youth is tough to ignore, but his résumé doesn’t seem to reflect that of a player born in the '90s. He’s in his second year playing with Barcelona, won the Golden Ball at the 2013 Confederations Cup and has already compiled 30 goals in international competition with Brazil. Maybe the delirious home crowd cheers will push him toward becoming the next Brazilian soccer legend.Beats by Dre Nails Its World Cup Ad>>>
Michael Bradley, Midfielder, USA
Entering into the Group of Death (along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana) following Landon Donovan’s surprise cut from the team, Bradley will have his work cut out for him as he tries to be the catalyst for an American team that would exceed expectations if they find a way to escape group play. Bradley, who stars for the Toronto MLS franchise, doesn’t score too often, but excels in getting the ball where it needs to be, particularly when making quick, short passes or through balls.5 Infamous World Cup Moments>>>
Giovani dos Santos, Forward, Mexico
Playing in his second World Cup (he was runner-up for the Young Player of the Tournament award last time), dos Santos needs to build off his productive season with La Liga’s Villareal (11 goals, 8 assists) and unleash his speed and screaming long-distance shots in Brazil to get Mexico into the knockout stage, where they can hopefully pull off an upset or two.5 Exercises to Work Your Abs to Exhaustion>>>
Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Forward, Russia
The 31-year-old Kerzhakov has been around the block at this point in his career, collecting more professional goals in his career, mainly in the Russian Premier League (along with a short stint in La Liga), than any other Russian in history. He was on hand for his country’s last World Cup appearance in 2002, in which he only got to play a few minutes off the bench. Now, his team will be relying on his production if they want a fighting chance to progress through the tournament.The New Rules For Getting Ripped>>>
Victor Moses, Forward, Nigeria
Moses doesn’t have close to the international competition résumé of teammate Joseph Yabo, but he’s still only 23 years old, spends his day job in the English Premier League, and picked up some key scores for the Nigerians during World Cup qualification games. With a go-for-broke style that fringes on reckless at times, he’s a wild card, but for heavy underdogs like the Nigerians, they’ll have to take their chances with him.5 Fat-Burning Speed and Agility Drills>>>
Giorgos Karagounis, Midfielder, Greece
Karagounis is a bit of a Greek legend at this point—their most capped player in their history of international competition and the man who sent a blistering long ball into the back of the net against Portugal in 2004, when Greece stunned the continent by winning the UEFA Euro Cup. Aside from that though, he’s not really known for scoring—more for doing all the more blue-collar, gritty work on the field like confusing opponents through his dribbling, and executing creative passes and set plays. This may very well be his last appearance in major international competition, so he’ll want to go out with a bang.7 Ways to Boost Your Endurance and Stamina>>>
Miralem Pjanic, Midfielder, Bosnia-Herzegovina
If there’s any one player who’s been able to propel Bosnia-Herzegovina into its first World Cup, it’s Pjanic, a young, versatile playmaker for Roma who has also managed to step up his country’s level of play in international competition. Pjanic excels in passing, set-pieces, dribbling, and threading long shots through the fray of defensive players—basically in all things teams need to control the ball and score. His skill has helped get them this far; any further accomplishments will simply be a bonus.10 Ways Yoga Boosts Your Endurance Training>>>
Kwadwo Asamoah, Midfielder, Ghana
Asamoah doesn’t chalk up awe-inspiring statistics with Juventus (Serie A), but he’s an undeniably solid player in an elite league, something Ghana will lean on if they’re going to make another Cinderella run (last time, they suffered that devastating PK knockout against Uruguay in the quarters). At age 25 with more experience than his age might dictate, Asamoah is poised to be one of the vets of Ghana’s very young squad, the majority of which is younger than Asamoah. They’ll be looking to him for leadership on the pitch.
Shinji Kagawa, Midfielder, Japan
Kagawa is quite possibly the best Asian soccer player in the world at the moment. He broke new ground in 2012, when he became the first Japanese player to join Manchester United, and although he hasn’t enjoyed as much success there as he had in past leagues, he’s still young and represents Japan’s best hope to pull off a slew of World Cup upsets and go further than anyone thought was possible. He’s a versatile attacker and top-notch passer, someone Japan hopes will make the best of his teammates’ more modest talents.
Wayne Rooney, Forward, England
This guy’s been so good for so long, it’s hard to remember he’s only 28. Rooney has taken up the highest-profile English player job from David Beckham, who’s safely retired now, but he’s clearly much different, as a far grittier-looking guy who mainly just wants to score goals. Rooney has done just that throughout his entire career, which includes 173 English Premier League goals and another 38 in international competition (a crazily high amount, considering England’s far from prolific offense). Seven of those scores came in 2014 World Cup qualification, which led the team. Hopefully, he can stop the English’s long run of international underachievement.
Vincent Kompany, Center Back, Belgium
The 2012 Premier League Player of the Season during Manchester City’s victorious campaign that season, Kompany is a stalwart defensive presence who specializes in spoiling opposing players’ offensive possessions and turning the ball back upfield for his own squad. Since he does so much work on the back end, he rarely enjoys the glory of celebrating a goal, but that’s not his game. He simply puts his team in a position to win games, a good quality for the Belgians, who are playing in their first Cup since 2002.
Iker Casillas, Goalkeeper, Spain
This list has mainly been reserved for the goal scorers and midfielders, but Casillas is simply a master at the craft of goaltending. He’s appeared in an incredible 478 games with Real Madrid and has appeared in more Champions League matches than any other goalie. And more pertinent to the World Cup, he’s close to a brick wall in international competition. Of course, Casillas has been helped significantly by the Spanish team’s unbeatable keep-away skills whenever they get leads in recent years, which is often, but still, the numbers speak for themselves. Spain has won two straight Euro Championships and the last World Cup. Combined in those tournaments, Casillas has allowed just five goals in 19 games. Good luck to any striker forced to face down Casillas and Co.—they’ll need it.
Radamel Falcao, Forward, Colombia
One of the most gifted and fun-to-watch strikers out there, Falcao almost single-handedly (well, footedly) ensured Colombian entry to the World Cup for the first time since 1998, scoring a world-best nine goals during qualification. He’s unfortunately grappling with knee problems heading into the tournament, but hopefully, he can recover enough to still play effectively by the time the Group stage begins.
Arturo Vidal, Midfielder, Chile
This Juventus star will look to lead his country to an unforeseen run during the Cup. Vidal is a surgical slide tackler with exceptional passing ability, ranging from creative short passes to beautifully arcing through balls. It’s not his specialty, but he can score too—he had five goals in the qualification stage to help ensure Chile’s return to the tournament.
Franck Ribery, Midfielder, France
Ribery’s another one of those players who’s used to the international circuit, and likely wants to make his mark in what might be his last World Cup, or at least his last as a top player for his country. Ribery looks to lead France closer to where they ended up eight years ago, when the French came just a couple penalty kicks away from winning it all (with Ribery playing some of his first international games during the tournament). Since then, it’s been a couple dismal Euros and an atrocious 2010 Cup, but Ribery will try to lead a change from all that with his insane dribbling skills and generally wily approach.
Luis Suarez, Forward, Uruguay
One of the best scorers in the game, Suarez won the Premier League Golden Boot this past season by scoring a league-leading 31 goals for Liverpool. The 27-year-old is also no stranger to World Cup competition, leading Uruguay on an unlikely trip to the semifinals in 2010, in which he contributed three goals, won Man of the Match twice, and controversially blocked Ghana’s potential winning goal with his hands during the quarterfinals, allowing Uruguay to advance on PKs. So, basically a highly skilled player who’s not afraid to fight dirty. Watch out.
Yaya Toure, Midfielder, Ivory Coast
Arguably the best African player out there right now, Toure has flanked the aforementioned Belgian Vincent Kompany during Manchester City’s recent success. He was also part of the 2006 and ’10 Ivory Coast World Cup teams, so he’s sure to be looking to lead his team past the group stage for the first time. Like his position dictates, Toure thrives in the middle of the field, often turning away advances quickly and using his tremendous speed and passing ability to get the ball in solid scoring territory.
Mesut Ozil, Midfielder, Germany
In 2013, Ozil was transferred to Arsenal for 42.5 million British pounds (about $71 million), making him the most expensive German player in history (not a small feat). And strangely enough, compared to other quantities of money being tossed around in the pro soccer world, he’s probably worth it. The 25-year-old is often described as being technically perfect, genius and creative with the ball—an assist specialist with scoring ability to boot. He’s also been compared to recent/current greats Zidane and Messi. Regardless, if Germany returns to the Final, it may very well be thanks to Ozil.
Andrea Pirlo, Midfielder, Italy
At age 35 and allegedly headed for retirement post-tournament, Pirlo is still one of the best players the game has to offer. He excels at just about every offensive facet of the game—short passes, long passes, through balls, free kicks, etc. If there’s anyone who can elevate this Italian squad to its 2006 World Cup-winning level, which would be a tall order, it’s Pirlo giving it everything he’s got one last time.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Midfielder, Germany
Schweinsteiger has been a force to be reckoned with for quite some time now, with a pro career that stretches back to 2002 and international competition participation since Euro 2004. He has a scorching shot, excellent dribbling and set-piece skills enviable to all opposition, among other things. As for his career, it’s generally been successful, including seven Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, along with another Champions League title. Internationally, the Germans have collected three third-place finishes and a runner-up in Euro and the World Cup since Schweinsteiger joined the big time—maybe this is when they get over the hump.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward, Portugal
You knew he was coming—this is the guy following in Beckham’s footsteps as that ridiculously good-looking celebrity soccer player. But, regardless of all that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better goal scorer. Ronaldo has somehow netted more than a goal per game since moving to Real Madrid in 2009 (177 scores in 165 matches). However, international competition has proven tougher on him, mainly because he has to elevate a solid team to elite levels of the world’s top soccer nations. With Ronaldo, they’ve made runs deep into both the Euro and World Cup, but never a win in the final. Once again, the odds are stacked up against Portugal to make a run at countries like Spain and Brazil—we’ll see what Ronaldo can do about that.
Lionel Messi, Forward, Argentina
Flanking Ronaldo in the “pure, perfect scorer” department is of course, Lionel Messi. He’s already compiled 243 scores for Barcelona in 276 games, at age 26, plus another 37 international goals for his country in various fixtures since 2005. Messi dominates opponents with quick bursts of acceleration and pinpoint passing and shooting, among other things, but his dribbling skills may be the most devastating—his control is second to none. Argentina hasn’t gotten past the quarterfinals since 1990, but Messi is why they’re still considered a potent threat.
Andres Iniesta, Midfielder, Spain
Iniesta doesn’t score goals like Ronaldo or Messi, or several other top strikers for that matter, but often in international competition, he’s been the best player on the best team. So does that make him the best? Maybe, but regardless, the accomplishments speak for themselves – the game-winning goal and Man of the Match at the last World Cup Final, UEFA Team of the Year member from 2009-12, Best Player of the Tournament at Euro 2012 (another Spain win). It begs the question, can anyone knock off Spain, and if so, who’s going to do it? We’ll find out soon enough!