All five of the players who were nominated for the title of 2009 FIFA World Footballer of the Year – Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Kaka – will most likely be battling it out in South Africa next year. Indeed, unless injuries play a part, most of the 23 names on the original list of candidates will be in action at the FIFA World Cup 2010™. The world's greatest footballing event looks certain to be graced by the world's greatest footballers – as well it should be.
Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Luis Fabiano, Wayne Rooney, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien are just some of the poster boys who will be representing their nations and crossing their fingers that the Cape of Good Hope indeed brings them the luck they need to go all the way at the tournament. Some of football's biggest names from the recent past might not be making the trip to South Africa, however.
Star forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andrei Arshavin will be missing out since Sweden and Russia failed to qualify. For other household names however, the old adage that you are "only as good as your last game" may well see them staying at home if they fail to make the cut when the squads are picked.
Club worries affecting international form
"I'm carrying around a lot of anger and real disappointment. I want to help Bayern [Munich] and stake a claim for the World Cup," said Luca Toni a couple of weeks ago. Three-and-a-half years previously, the striker played six of seven matches in Germany for eventual FIFA World Cup winners Italy, scoring two goals, but the 32-year-old may well be forced to follow next year's tournament in front of the TV. He is no longer first choice at record Bundesliga champions Bayern, having fallen out of favour with coach Louis van Gaal, and the fan favourite will have to hope for a transfer to another club if he is to score the goals that will get him back in Marcello Lippi's reckoning.
The same applies to another storied forward line from the last FIFA World Cup – namely Argentina's Javier Saviola and Hernan Crespo. "If you play well, I'll pick you," Diego Maradona informed the now 34-year-old Crespo, and since his transfer from Inter Milan to Genoa, he has certainly been doing just that, with the goals naturally following. Saviola has also put his struggles at Real Madrid behind him and is enjoying his football more at Benfica. He too has been motivated by some encouraging words from Maradona, who said: "I have always been amazed by Saviola. Benfica is a great club and very much the right one for him".
All three strikers have come to the same realisation, namely that past glories count for nothing if you are not able to take care of business week in, week out at club level. This is the case the world over, as Jung-Hwan Ahn is currently finding out to his cost. The former Korea Republic star has gone through a litany of clubs recently including Metz in France, Duisburg in Germany and Dalian Shide in China PR, and despite all of his experience, the 33-year-old may not get to repeat the feats of 2002 when he was a member of the side which made it through to the semi-finals.
Aging David Beckham and Michael Owen are both hoping they find their way onto the England plane for Johannesburg in June. Owen – who made his FIFA World Cup debut with a bang at France 1998 – has been given a lifeline by Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who took a chance on the injury-prone striker at the start of the current term after a nightmare spell with Newcastle. Owen, for his part, has been repaying the manager’s trust by getting among the goals when given the chance. Ace winger and free-kick specialist Beckham has been dividing time between Major League Soccer in the USA and AC Milan in Serie A, and England manager Fabio Capello has openly praised the veteran’s leadership qualities and consistency. He will, however, need to find a way to convince the Italian boss that he can keep up with the likes of young livewires Shaun Wright Phillips and Aaron Lennon. "Sometimes substitutes have a problem to play normally," Capello said recently. "David (Beckham) always plays well."
Big names back in favour in Brazil
While the sun appears to have set on the FIFA World Cup hopes of former favourites such as Spain's record goalscorer Raul and legendary Argentinian playmaker Juan Riquelme, two Brazilians who carried the Auriverde's hopes on their shoulders throughout the past decade may well find themselves back in favour. Ronaldinho is on fine form for AC Milan at the moment, while a return home to Corinthians has seen Ronaldo serve a few timely reminders of his predatory skills. "Some players have nothing to prove any more as we know exactly what they are capable of," said Brazil coach Dunga a week ago.
Ronaldinho has not played for the five-time FIFA World Cup champions since September 2008, but revealed in a recent interview with the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper that he "would like to play at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups!" At 29 however, age speaks against him, as is even more the case with 33-year-old Ronaldo. El Fenomeno holds the record for the number of goals scored at FIFA World Cup final phases, but Dunga has made it quite clear that this will not give him an advantage over his direct competitors, namely Luis Fabiano, Robinho, Nilmar, Adriano, Hulk, Fred and Alexandre Pato.
Have your say!
Every FIFA World Cup finals has its stars, and every four years the world finds new footballing heroes to fete. And it is often the case that former greats have to sit on the sidelines while the young and hungry steal the headlines.
Do former lynchpins Patrick Vieira and David Trezeguet, who took France all the way to the Final in 2006, still figure in Raymond Domenech's plans, for example? FIFA.com wants you to tell us which stars who are currently only on the fringes of their respective national squads will prove their worth over the coming months and secure their ticket to South Africa by the time the tournament gets under way on 11 June 2010. Write in and let us know by clicking on the 'add comment' button below.