The first-ever FIFA World Cup in the Middle East is set to get underway on Sunday, 20 November. It is also the first time that the tournament is being played in winter, right in the middle of an active club football season.
The significance of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar does not end there. It is set to mark the end of an era for many top footballers. It is set to be the final FIFA World Cup appearance for some of the biggest legends in the game, with them moving closer and closer to retirement.
Now, without further ado, let’s check out the seven superstars who could be playing their last FIFA World Cup in Qatar:
#7 Manuel Neuer — Germany
Germany and Bayern Munich skipper Manuel Neuer has been an undisputed starter for his club and country since the dawn of time. Neuer, 36, is set to captain Germany in Qatar this year, but he might not return for the next World Cup in 2026.
One of the best keepers in the game’s history, Neuer has been nothing short of a sensation for Germany at the FIFA World Cup. He has played 16 games in the tournament so far, conceding 11 goals and keeping seven clean sheets. Neuer was a rock at the back for Germany in their victorious 2014 campaign, conceding five goals and keeping four clean sheets in seven games.
#6 Thomas Muller — Germany
Germany legend Thomas Muller will be almost 37 (September 13) when the next World Cup comes around in 2026. This means that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar could be his last dance.
An expert goalscorer with a penchant for creating chances, Muller was one of Germany’s best players in their victorious 2014 World Cup campaign. He scored five times and claimed three assists over the course of the tournament, including a hat-trick against Portugal in the tournament opener. Overall, Muller has played in 16 World Cup matches, netting 10 times and claiming six assists.
#5 Luis Suarez — Uruguay
One of the finest centre-forwards of the century, Luis Suarez might not stick around for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The former Barcelona man will be 39 by the next iteration and could make room for younger footballers to take the stage.
Suarez, who was suspended for infamously biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, has an impressive World Cup record. In 13 appearances so far, he has scored seven times and claimed four assists.
#4 Karim Benzema — France
Due to the controversy surrounding Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema remained exiled from France’s squad for six years between 2015 and 2021. Before his suspension, the Real Madrid superstar played five FIFA World Cup games, scoring thrice and providing two assists.
The French superstar will be over 37 years old when the next World Cup comes around. So, it is unlikely that he will get picked or stick around to play ahead of the plethora of young attacking talents France have. The current Ballon d’Or holder is going into the 2022 World Cup in good form and will look to make the most of the opportunity this year itself.
#3 Luka Modric — Croatia
Croatian veteran Luka Modric has been the cornerstone of his national team since his debut in 2006. The 37-year-old is still at the top of his game but even Modric will have to give in to Father Time sooner or later. Considering that he will be over 40 (September 9) in 2026, we are unlikely to see him in the next FIFA World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
The Real Madrid superstar has featured in three World Cups so far, playing 12 matches, scoring twice and giving an assist. He was Croatia’s best performer during their historic run to the 2018 World Cup final against France. The Croatian skipper won the FIFA Golden Ball at the end of the tournament and later bagged the Ballon d’Or that year.
#2 Lionel Messi — Argentina
Argentine maverick Lionel Messi will aim to take his country to FIFA World Cup glory in Qatar this year. A successful run in his fifth World Cup could allow him to leapfrog 1986 World Cup hero Diego Maradona into becoming Argentina’s most decorated footballer. It is also likely to be his final shot at World Cup glory, as he would be 39 (June 24) for the next iteration.
Messi came agonizingly close to lifting the World Cup in 2014, with his Argentina ultimately losing to Germany in the final. He was chosen as the player of the tournament for his excellent performances (four goals and one assist) in Argentina's colors. Overall, Messi has played 19 World Cup games, scoring six times and claiming five assists.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo — Portugal
Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo is set to appear in his fifth and possibly final FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The legendary forward, who is the leading scorer in international men’s football with 117 strikes in 191 games, will be 41 when the next World Cup comes around.
Ronaldo has thus far taken part in 17 World Cup games, but his performances have not been up to the mark in the tournament. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has only seven goals to his name, with all of them coming in the group stage. It will be interesting to see if he can improve upon his tally this year and cap off his World Cup run with a flourish.