Opinion: 7 players who still have something to prove at the World Cup in Brazil

by Chinedu George Nnawetanma

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To prove that he truly deserves a place among the best of the best in world football, he must do the impossible by single-handedly spearheading his country’s quest for World Cup glory, just like Diego Maradona did with Argentina in 1986.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is in its second week. The second round of matches is being played and we’ve already had some big casualties. We’ve witnessed what may have been the end of tiki taka, a brand of football domesticated and used to a devastating effect by Barcelona and Spain, when Chile knocked out la Furia Roja who went on to become the first defending champions to lose their first two World Cup games.

It has been a tournament of missed opportunities for Spain and its promising big stars the likes of Diego Costa, Koke and Cesar Azpilicueta bowed out of the competition, leaving us likely to wonder what might have been. However, there are still many stars left in the tournament and some of them have something to prove to the global audience.

Thibaut Courtois: The young Belgian, heralded as the next big thing when it comes to goalkeeping is yet to be tested on the international stage. Having returned from a highly successful season-long loan spell at Atletico Madrid (he also spent the two previous seasons at the club) where his goalkeeping heroics helped los Rojiblancos clinch their first La Liga title since 1996 and make only their second appearance in the UEFA Champions League final, he is set to usurp veteran Petr Cech as Chelsea’s first choice goalkeeper.

To whom much is given, much is expected. To justify the faith thrust in him and cement his place as one of the world’s finest goalkeepers, Courtois must reproduce his best form for a star-studded Belgian side that boasts of Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany, among others.

Edison Cavani: He has come under intense criticisms and pressure to deliver in recent times. The Uruguayan hitman’s form nosedived in the tail-end of the past season as he went missing in several top games, including the two-legged UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie with Chelsea.

Bought for a princely sum of $84 million, he was largely outshone by his menacing partner, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in the PSG frontline, usually complaining of being played out of his favourite position by manager Laurent Blanc. Now he has a golden chance to prove himself as one of the world’s hottest strikers and remind everyone of his qualities in the biggest stage, especially with Luis Suarez struggling with fitness issues.

Cristiano Ronaldo: The Ballon d’Or winner has often failed to deliver for his country in the big games, save the “Miracle of Solna” where his hat-trick helped eliminate Sweden and qualify Portugal for the World Cup.

As far as the tournament is concerned, however, he is yet to register his name on the scorer’s chart, instead skippering his side to a 4-0 whitewash by an unsparing German side. Coming into the World Cup with a nagging fitness problem, carried over from the past European club football season where he won the UEFA Champions League, he was never really going to be the player which all wish he was. His woes may have been compounded by a mediocre squad selected by coach Paulo Bento.

To prove that he truly deserves a place among the best of the best in world football, he must do the impossible by single-handedly spearheading his country’s quest for World Cup glory, just like Diego Maradona did with Argentina in 1986.

Lionel Messi: Often spoken in the same breadth as the great Pele and the mesmerizing Maradona, and undoubtedly the best player of his generation, Messi is yet to fill the biggest void in his career by winning the World Cup.

Pele did it thrice, Maradona won it once and even the likes of Zidane and Ronaldinho had a taste of success in the fiesta. Time is fast running out on the magician to finally get his hands on the one trophy that has eluded him in his illustrious career or, at least, get close to it, bearing in mind that he will not be the same player he is now come the next World Cup in Russia.

Wayne Rooney: The Englishman, like most people on this list, has had a torrid time on national duty of late. The Manchester United front man is, undoubtedly, still star attraction in the Three Lions, but with fierce competition from bright, exciting, young faces in the national setup thanks to Roy Hodgson’s English Football Revolution, there is now more competition than ever for places in the squad.

Neymar: He was once described as a better player than Lionel Messi by Pele, though the football legend has since taken back his words, but the comment had stuck in the hearts and minds of soccer lovers ever since, drawing constant comparisons between him and his Barcelona teammate.

Whilst his club form has suffered since his switch from Santos to Barcelona last summer, he has remained ever so phenomenal in the Brazilian jersey. His greatest achievement with the national team so far came this time last year, helping them to win the FIFA Confederations Cup on home soil. He can go one better than his Argentine counterpart if he manages to win this tournament in his football-crazy hometown.

Eden Hazard: Strong, confident and skilful, the lad described by Jose Mourinho as the “best young player in the world,” is yet to be tested on the international stage, along with compatriot, Thibaut Courtois. His potentials, though not yet fully exploited, are there for all to see.

If coach Marc Wilmots and his teammates can bring the best out of him, we might just be getting ready to usher in a potential successor to the age-long duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Talent is good, but garbage without a substantial end product.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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