Sure, we will all tune in for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to see what our favourites will be doing throughout the next month in Qatar, cheering for them and supporting the teams they play for.
Because, as it has been proven time and time again, the World Cup is the perfect place to shine, where legends are born, epic matches are played and iconic moments of the sport are forged, moments which will be forever enshrined into football’s history.
But everything is done by the players themselves, legends of the sport who take up the pitch to help their teams write history. Plenty has already written pages of history at the World Cup, but for some of them – legends in their own merit – this edition of the competition will be their last.
It has happened before and football has still thrived in their absence, with younger generations coming to the fore and filling the void, to create some of the most epic memories in the history of the competition.
Yet the 2022 FIFA World Cup seems a bit different, with two of the stalwarts that made football the greatest sport on Earth getting ready to pass the baton. With 12 Ballon d’Or trophies between them, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two iconic superstars, but Qatar will be the last hurrah at the FIFA World Cup, with both aiming to end their stint in the competition on a high this winter.
While the two legends are surely highly touted and are to be watched under a microscope at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there are other players who gave it all for their national teams but are due to retire, as this will be the last edition of the world football flagship tournament they ever play in.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The World Cup is one of the few trophies evading Messi, whose international career with Argentina has been definitely full of ups and downs. It was always going to be difficult to inherit the iconic number 10 shirt from Diego Maradona and Messi was a polarising figure even in Argentina, despite being named captain of the team in 2011 when he was only 24 years old.
Trophies evaded him before securing the Copa America in 2021, with four lost finals – one at the FIFA World Cup and the other three in the Copa America. Yet Messi, who is now 35 years old, has been relentless in the pursuit of trophies with Argentina, with the final lost against Germany in 2014 being one of the biggest disappointments in his career. He will not tie Maradona’s legacy, but winning the trophy in Qatar would surely cement his status as a bona fide candidate for the “Greatest of all Time” debate.
Messi confirmed himself that this will be the last World Cup edition he ever features in, after having already played in four previous tournaments, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. He has scored six goals in 19 matches, but has never scored in a match after the Round of 16 stage at the World Cup, a drought which he will be aiming to stop.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
A winner at the UEFA EURO 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo brought joy and happiness to Portugal, but at 37 years old, this looks to be his last appearance at the FIFA World Cup. He has scored seven goals in 17 matches in the competition and qualified with Portugal for the semi-finals in 2006, with the next three editions being somewhat disappointing, with two eliminations in the Round of 16 and one in the group phase.
The Portuguese star did not officially announce that this will be his last World Cup, but even a player with his durability, conditioning and strength would find it difficult to feature in the next edition, in 2026, when Ronaldo will be 41 years old. His form has also been floundering over the past two years, since he signed for Manchester United, as his three goals in 14 matches is the worst output in 20 years.
With 109 goals in 179 matches for Portugal, he is also the talisman of the team, can gather all the players round and has specific leadership skills than can galvanise Fernando Santos’ squad to make one last try to secure the trophy.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
Four years ago, in Russia, Croatia secured their best-ever performance at the FIFA World Cup, progressing to the final, where they lost, 2-4, against France. It was an astonishing feature for a country that produced an insane amount of talent over the last two decades, but few players have been more special than Luka Modric.
A diminutive playmaker, at 1.72m, Modric slowly became one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, if not in the sport’s history, with a great brain for football, an excellent understanding of the game, excellent positioning, and huge stamina.
Still a mainstay in Real Madrid’s squad, at 37 years old, Modric has thoroughly been the dynamo of Croatia, featuring as the jack of all trades in the midfield, constantly dominating the opponents and setting the tempo. He has already earned the most caps in the team’s history, 154, and is the team’s fifth best all-time scorer, with 23 goals, but even for a player of his ability, it is difficult to think that he can feature at another edition of the World Cup come 2026, when he will be 41 years old.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Ochoa’s case is definitely a curious one, in spite of excellent performances at the FIFA World Cup, he never made it on the biggest of stages in a European league, returning to his first club, América, in 2019. He is the most capped goalkeeper in Mexico’s history, with 130 matches, leapfrogging Jorge Campos and Osvaldo Sanchez in September 2022, during a friendly match against Colombia.
As Mexico’s keeper, he has managed to reach the round of 16 with the national team in the 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup editions and will be primed to be the starting goalkeeper for his side. He only played in three of those editions, but his fifth appearance in the squad will tie Mexico’s record, held by Rafael Marquez.
While the 2026 World Cup will be co-hosted by Mexico and they have plenty of tradition in deploying experienced goalkeepers on the pitch, the chances are that Qatar 2022 will be Ochoa’s final edition of the World Cup.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Uruguay has delivered some hugely talented players over the years in all areas of the pitch, but few have been so polarising as Luis Suarez. The 35-year-old forward is the all-time top goal scorer for the South American side, with 68 goals, ten more than Edinson Cavani, his partner in Uruguay’s attack, and is also the second-most capped player in the history of the team, with 134 games played, 25 less than center-back Diego Godin.
Sure, Suarez has been the villain even at the World Cup, where he was sent off for a handball against Ghana in 2010, but he has been an integrant for Uruguay’s success over the years.
His talent is undeniable, as well as his passion for playing for Uruguay, with Suarez making the move to playing for Club Nacional, his boyhood club, since this summer, in a dash to be fit for the FIFA World Cup. The move paid dividends, as Nacional won the league and Suarez scored eight goals in 13 league matches, being game-ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.