The World Cup is almost here. And for some players, it’ll be their last chance of glory…
Imagine, if you can, the excitement of playing in your very first World Cup. The adrenaline must be pumping, the sense of anticipation spiking to ridiculously high levels. On the flip side, the emotion of playing in your last ever tournament would be a real contrast. You’ve been here before, you know what it takes to mentally and physically endure the challenge and yet, at the same time, there’s a poignancy about knowing a significant chapter in your career is about to end.
We can only guess at what’s going through the minds of those players about to play in their last World Cup. But we’ll definitely miss them. In some instances we’re talking about legends of the game who have undoubtedly left their mark on the world of football. They’ll be missed.
Prepare to wave a wistful goodbye to these guys…
Where better to start than Andres Iniesta? Having already made a highly emotional exit from Barcelona (who can forget his tearful press conference?) and that final image of him, sitting on the Nou Camp turf into the early hours after his last appearance? Moving stuff. His international swansong might prove to be a similar experience, especially if Spain can replicate its recent success. Don’t forget, this is a man who has won the World Cup – and we mean winning it by scoring the decisive goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands.
He’ll be a big loss to Spain. Still expected to command a starting place in one of the outside midfield roles, Iniesta remains a joy to watch, a smooth-moving, slick-passing playmaker who seems to coast through matches. His decision to leave Barca might seem a bit premature. He only turned 34 in May so is barely in veteran territory. He has hinted that the World Cup might not be the last time we’ll see him in a Spain shirt, but he won’t be in this tournament again.
A former Barcelona teammate of Iniesta’s is also facing up to the prospect of appearing in his final World Cup. Javier Mascherano, like Iniesta, has just turned 34 and is retiring from international football once the tournament is finished. Again, for the defensive midfielder and central defender, 34 feels a bit early to step away from international football. Nevertheless, the decision has been made. He left Barcelona in January, switching to Chinese Super League club Hebei China Fortune. Unlike Iniesta, though, he hasn’t won the World Cup. Instead, he suffered the heartbreak of losing the 2014 final to Germany. This, then, is his last crack at glory.
Ronaldo’s last roll of the dice
Though he might be in denial, surely Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing in his last World Cup. Despite the recent revelations that medical tests revealed he has the physique of a 23 year old and a remarkable fat content of just 7% the clock is surely ticking on his international career. Ronaldo turned 33 earlier this year, so he’ll be 37 by the time the next tournament rolls around. He may vow to be there but a lot of factors can change in four years. He’ll know this is his final chance to win the trophy that has eluded him so far in his career, and after Portugal won Euro 2016 they can’t be completely ruled out. Ronaldo, of course, will have a key role to play. He’s one of a handful of forwards reckoned to be in contention according to top goalscorer odds from williamhill.com, Bet365, Coral and others. And as we know, he’s a big game player.
Others gracing the World Cup for the last time include Mexico defender Rafael Marquez, the stylish and evergreen central defender who’ll be appearing in his fifth tournament. Plus the Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who’s amazingly still going at 45. If he plays in all three of Egypt’s group matches he’ll reach the landmark of 160 caps. Australia’s Tim Cahill will also be appearing in his final World Cup. At the age of 38, he still retains the knack of scoring vital goals. But if he hits the net this summer he won’t be the oldest scorer in World Cup history. That honour still belongs to Roger Milla, a goalscorer in 1994 at the grand old age of 42.