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The 50 best players at the 2018 World Cup: 10-1

Lionel Messi in Argentina colours. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Expert
13th June, 2018
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3031 Reads

It all comes down to this. The top ten players in world football – or at least the World Cup – as voted by The Roar’s panel of football experts. And as you’d expect, it’s a pretty formidable list.

Did everyone you expected to see make it into the top 50? I may have thrown out proceedings by forgetting to include French attacker Kylian Mbappe in my original list.

Mbappe is a genuine star, although maybe not quite at the level of the top 20. I was surprised to see I was the only writer to include Aaron Mooy (who finished one place outside the top 50) in my original list as well.

The top ten, however, is the cream of the crop. And the list the panel came up with is almost identical to the one I submitted myself. With one controversial exception.

10. Luis Suarez
I didn’t have Luis Suarez in my Top 10, although he’s a fantastic finisher. But is he still at the top of his game?

The stats would suggest he is. He scored 25 goals in 33 games as Barcelona cruised to another La Liga crown – including a run of goals in eight consecutive games midway through the season. But it’s at the very top of his game where Suarez’s contributions – or lack thereof – were perhaps more telling.

He scored just once in the UEFA Champions League as Barca were bundled out by Roma. And he was overshadowed by Uruguay teammate Edinson Cavani in World Cup qualifying.

Great player, but top ten? You be the judge.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez controls the ball

(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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9. Luka Modric
An absolute Rolls Royce of a footballer, I had Modric at number nine in my list as well, although I can understand how some readers might expect him to have been higher.

There’s virtually nothing this guy can’t do. He’s one of the best creators of space in the game, he boasts superb vision, his passing is out of this world and he’s an unselfish teammate. If there’s one criticism, it’s perhaps that Modric doesn’t score as many goals as he possibly should – although that’s barely a complaint for a player who creates so many.

He’s a talisman for his nation too, and while Modric may never win a World Cup with Croatia, he’s up there in the pantheon of all-time greats produced by the Vatreni.

8. Toni Kroos
Another ridiculously talented footballer, Kroos arguably possesses the best passing game in world football.

It seems insane that Bayern Munich once let him leave on loan for Bayer Leverkusen – perhaps that’s why Kroos was happy to say auf wiedersehen to the Bavarian giants – and the fiercely competitive German collected a third consecutive UEFA Champions League title as the metronomic fulcrum in Real Madrid’s midfield.

He’s a key player for Germany too, with many critics labelling him the most important member of the team. Can he inspire Die Mannschaft to back-to-back world titles? He’s certainly got the talent for it.

7. Mohamed Salah
Talk about your break-out seasons. Mohamed Salah has gone from being a talented but often overlooked squad member to the hottest property in the game.

It’s amazing what a bit of confidence will do, but after impressing for Roma and signing for Liverpool in a big-money move, Salah positively exploded into life at the Reds – almost single-handedly dragging them to a fourth-place Premier League finish with an astonishing 32 goals in 36 league games.

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And had it not been for a brutal foul on Salah by Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, Salah might have inspired Liverpool to a Champions League title too. We’ll never know what may have been in Kiev, and now Egypt fans are desperate for their star man to recover from his shoulder injury in time for the World Cup.

Can Salah do it all over again next season? Time will tell.

Mohamed Salah runs.

(Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images)

6. Harry Kane
I actually had Harry Kane at number ten in my list, but I assume he contacted The Roar and demanded to be moved up a few places.

All jokes aside, there’s no denying the fact that Kane is Tottenham’s main man. Does he benefit from the global exposure playing in the English Premier League affords him? Probably. But he scored 30 goals in 37 league games for Spurs last season, as well as seven in seven Champions League fixtures and another four in four FA Cup matches as well.

He’s England’s main man now too, and as the Three Lions’ latest captain he’ll have the weight of a nation on his shoulders heading into the World Cup.

Does he do more than just score goals? Not really. But that’s never stopped players like Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer from becoming England legends before him.

5. Robert Lewandowski
A genuine world class superstar, Robert Lewandowski could lay decent claim to being the world’s most underrated player.

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He wants out of Bayern Munich – perhaps not surprisingly, since he’s won six Bundesliga titles in a row with the Bavarian giants to go with the two he won with Borussia Dortmund – and there’s a sense the 29-year-old is ready to take the leap to an English Premier League that would suit his physical style.

A classic number nine, Lewandowski is the total package as a finisher, possessing power and poise in equal measure. He’s as strong as an ox and a deadly finisher in the air, and his calmness in front of goal belies a steely focus on propelling his teams to victory.

Any doubts as to his finishing ability are surely dispelled by the fact that he scored 16 goals – no, that’s not a typo – in Poland’s successful 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.

Robert Lewandowski Poland Football 2016

(AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

4. Antoine Griezmann
Taking notes, Socceroos? Antoine Griezmann is the man you’ll need to stop in Kazan.

The archetype of a modern footballer, the Atletico Madrid striker can do it all. And what makes Griezmann such a dangerous player is the fact he causes panic every time he’s in the final third. Not necessarily the most prolific of strikers, Griezmann instead makes his presence felt by creating space, playing in teammates with clever balls, and ruthlessly punishing any defenders foolish enough to back off him.

Quick, powerful and deceptively accurate in the air, the diminutive front man looks like he’d blow over in a stiff breeze. But the French star hasn’t scored 20 international goals for nothing, and he scores them from anywhere on the pitch.

If there’s one criticism of Griezmann – and it’s proved a costly one in recent years – it’s his terrible record from the penalty spot. Over to you, Mat Ryan.

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France's Antoine Griezmann runs.

(Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Controversy corner time: I think Cristiano Ronaldo is a better player than Neymar, but not as good a player as Lionel Messi.

How do you even begin to define Ronaldo? In an era of unprecedented athleticism, the Portuguese powerhouse has blossomed from a willowy winger into one of the most physically imposing strikers of all time. It’s been an astonishing transition.

Pros? He’s freakishly strong, possesses an innate ability to find space in the box, is a deadly accurate finisher and boasts an almost psychotic will to win.

Cons? His teammates, who have laid on a steady stream of tap-ins for years, arguably make him look better than he is.

I met him a couple of times at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan many years back, and after the final he took the time to come over and say hello. He’ll be crushed he didn’t top my list.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores his side's fourth goal during the World Cup Group B qualifying soccer match between Portugal and Faroe Islands at the Bessa Stadium in Porto, Portugal.

(AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

2. Neymar
One of my most disliked footballers and the epitome of everything that’s wrong with the modern game.

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Is he a decent footballer? Who cares. Everything you need to know about Neymar is summed up by the fact he left Barcelona because he couldn’t stand being outshone by Lionel Messi, and he’ll eventually leave Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid because he can’t stand the fact no one rates French football.

A poster boy for the narcissistic me-first generation, he’s a hero to Brazilians and selfie-obsessed, club-swapping faux-fans everywhere. His best work has generally been done in Brazil colours and he’ll invariably go down as one of the finest players to ever grace the Selecao.

He’s won two La Liga titles, Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League. But unless he can steer Brazil to a World Cup title in Russia, the biggest international honour he may lay his hands on is an Olympic gold.

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring his side's second goal against Argentina during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Brazil's national soccer team is the first to qualify for next year's World Cup. Despite the success, the sporting scene at home is littered with bribes and corruption linked to the World Cup and last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Which is fitting. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Neymar will always be second-best to…

1. Lionel Messi
Not just the greatest footballer of the modern era, but in my opinion close to the greatest footballer of all time.

Messi doesn’t just play football – he’s practically reinvented it. You could argue that he benefits from playing in an outrageously gifted Barcelona side, but even then, his career achievements are staggering. He has scored – count them – 383 La Liga goals as well as 100 goals in just 125 UEFA Champions League games. He’s scored more than 550 times for Barcelona in total – and he’s still only 30!

But it’s not just the fact Messi scores so many goals that makes him special. It’s the way he scores them. Not since his countryman Diego Maradona has there been a player so capable of creating something from nothing. There may never be a better dribbler in the game.

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Maradona. Pele. Di Stefano. Puskas. All phenomenal players.

But if Messi can win the World Cup with Argentina, for me there’s no debate. He deserves to be considered the greatest player of all time.

Check out who came in earlier in the countdown
» 50-41
» 40-31
» 30-21
» 20-11