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These are the 8 best players at the 2022 World Cup

Let’s rank the best players in the World Cup.

The 2022 World Cup is right around the corner, and as with any global competition, the stars are out in full force. Despite injuries and a few notable nations not qualifying — most notably reigning European champions Italy — the talent pool at this World Cup is exceptional.

Just to give everyone the right frame of mind, the context around this list is I’m thinking of the player’s peak potential while on their national team. So, let’s try narrowing it down to the eight best players at this year’s event, with a few honorable mentions.

8. Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

It would be foolish to say it’s as simple as “so Robert Lewandowski goes, so goes the Polish National Team.” However, as someone who watches Barcelona ebb and flow with every Lewy chance, it’s safe to say their ceiling is heightened by the chances the striker is afforded.

Poland finished bottom of Group H in the 2018 World Cup and Lewandowski didn’t score a goal. This is a different version of Lewy but one that is arguably more effective with the chances he’s given. He helped lead Poland to the top of their qualifying group, scoring nine goals in nine qualifiers. He’s also in stellar club form, having scored 18 goals in his first 18 matches at Barcelona. With another tough World Cup group, Poland will need all the goals they can get to advance.

7. Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)

At his best, Van Dijk can be as good as anyone on this list. However, the defender has had moments of lackluster defending for Liverpool we just aren’t used to seeing so far this season. How much that has to do with his individual play — versus Liverpool’s general ups and downs — is for someone else to judge.

What I do know, is that for the Dutch National Team to get the run they’re expecting this year, Van Dijk will need to be the brick wall we’ve come to know and love. His interchange and communication with the midfield will be key and if he’s on form, the man is brilliant to watch.

6. Neymar (Brazil)

Brazil v Tunisia - International Friendly Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Brazil are my pick to win the World Cup at the moment, and it centers around Neymar’s form. This team has one of the deepest rosters I can recall seeing at a World Cup and Neymar being the Neymar of old could be the creative catalyst could push them over the top.

At the very least, Neymar’s solo efforts this year for PSG have been breathtaking at times — as his 13 goals and 11 assists in 11 club matches illustrate — and will be a show whether Brazil flails out in the group stage or ends up in the final.

5. Pedri (Spain)

If you’re not a big of the European game, there’s a chance you won’t know No. 5. But Pedri made a name for himself by the sheer number of minutes he was playing for Barcelona and Spain around the 2020 Euros at a world-class level.

While the standard box score statistics won’t blow you away — nor will he make Kevin De Bruyne-level passes — the little Spaniard will blow you away with the level of intensity he brings to the pitch. I have trouble comparing Pedri to other midfielders but if you wanted to get a picture in your head, the closest comparison would be Iniesta or David Silva.

A technically gifted midfielder with the ability to pace himself stay strong for the entirety of a tournament. Spain is lucky to have him.

4. Vinicius Jr. (Brazil)

Neymar and Vinny are sort of inseparable in a best-players conversation. The Brazilian attack is my pick for the must-watch team of the tournament and Vinny is the main reason behind that.

In the off-kilter season we’ve had thus far, he’s been excellent for Real Madrid. The best news for any Brazilian supporter is that Vinivious is playing the best football of his life right now and the team around him at the International level only facilitates and enables the free-flowing football he loves to play.

3. Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Jamaica v Argentina Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Much of my decision to put Messi so high on this list and not have a certain Portuguese ab model on the list is all about form. Messi is playing some of the best football he’s played the last two years and it couldn’t have come at a better time. His 11 goals and 14 assists in 17 matches at PSG this year somehow understate just how effective he’s been, as he ranks in the 99th percentile in most advanced offensive analytics.

The Argentine national team should be in a great spot for to do, um, Messi things. That’s why he’s so high on this list, in the traditional Argentine squad Messi sometimes felt wasted. This year should be different and it’ll be a blast to watch.

2. Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)

The best midfielder in the world is a no-brainer at the No. 2 slot. De Bruyne could be feeding the ball to me in the box and it would look great (until it got to me, of course). His interchange with any midfielder looks great and whenever he has a striker worth something he delivers.

This Belgium team is a strange one, though. In particular with the injury concerns of Romelu Lukaku. De Bruyne will likely have to take a more aggressive role in the attack than he’s used to with this team and that's great for the rest of us. The more De Bruyne curlers from outside the box the better.

1. Kylian Mbappe (France)

At the end of the day, anyone in the top five could have been No. 1 on this list. As much as it pains me to put self-centered Mbappe at the top of the list, he’s the best player at this World Cup and coming off leading France to the title in 2018, while winning the Best Young Player award. This is a 23-year-old player with more than 200 goals and more than 90 assists at the club level and another 28 goals and 17 assists at the international level. At the very least his breakaway speed puts him near the top of pure watchability, but add in the shotmaking, and you have the best player in the tournament.

Honorable Mentions

Elche CF v Real Madrid CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Karim Benzema (France)

Putting the Ballon d’Or winner on the honorable mentions is dumb right? It might be true, but at the World Cup, I don’t think Benzema is one of the best eight players. Hope I’m wrong because watching him and Mbappe click would be fun, but for now, have fun down here Benz.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

There’s a somewhat decent chance putting Ronaldo in the honorable mentions portion of this list looks foolish at some point, but for now, can you blame me? I haven’t seen Ronaldo look great in a big match in quite some time. That allows me this chance to throw him outside of the top eight.

Frenkie De Jong (Netherlands)

This could be the Frenkie fan in me, but when he’s in the right system, he’s one of the best midfielders in the game. Whether that system is the Dutch system is beyond me, we’ll have to see come tournament time. He’s certainly a player to watch.

Federico Valverde (Uruguay)

If I was being a real blog boy, ala Kevin Durant, I would have thrown Valverde in the top five. The main question I have about him is how he does outside of the Ancelotti/Real Madrid machine this year. My guess is that he’s going to be excellent for Uruguay and if you don’t have a reason to watch their matches yet, now you do. Federico is a brilliant footballer.

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