ESPN FC World Cup Rank: The 50 best footballers of Qatar 2022

Here we are: Preparing for a World Cup in November and December. Who would've ever imagined that soccer's showpiece summer event would become a winter wonderland?

The game of football has changed a lot throughout the years: the way it's played, who plays it, how we watch games being played. Slowly but surely the game evolved, and when there's a jarring transformation -- like a winter World Cup -- it can feel like a revolution has happened overnight.

That change is reflected by the 2022 edition of ESPN FC's World Cup Rank. We asked television analysts, reporters, columnists, producers and editors from all over the world to vote on who they believe to be the best players participating in this year's tournament.

And what better stage to do it on than the biggest sporting event on the planet?

So, with the input of our global network of contributors, these are the 50 best players at Qatar 2022.

Editor's note: This story published before . All ages are as of the start of the tournament on Nov. 20.

The fact Eriksen is on the list is remarkable given what happened in July 2021. Eriksen was playing for Denmark in their Euro 2020 opener against Finland, and in the 42nd minute of the match, he suffered a cardiac arrest. He received CPR on the field and in the ambulance he told his fiancée, "I'm not going to play again, no way." Yet here we are ahead of the next major tournament, and Eriksen is Denmark's key player.

Since that day in Copenhagen, Eriksen needed to have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator fitted, which meant due to Serie A rules, he could no longer play for Inter Milan. So he trained away from the public eye, and in February 2022 he returned to competitive football in the Premier League having signed a short-term deal with Brentford. In the summer he signed for Manchester United and has been key for them this term, but Eriksen featuring in the World Cup completes the full circle of a most remarkable recovery.

Lukaku's return to Inter Milan on loan from Chelsea has been disrupted by hamstring trouble this season, but if he recovers in time from his latest setback, he is in with a shout of the Golden Boot at the World Cup. He is Belgium's talismanic striker and the focal point of their remarkable attack. With an impressive record of 68 goals in 102 matches, Lukaku is "irreplaceable," in the words of manager Roberto Martinez. All of Belgium will be hoping his troublesome hamstring sorts itself out in time. -- Tom Hamilton

Spain go into the World Cup with two of the best defensive midfielders in the game with captain Sergio Busquets and Manchester City's Rodri. Alongside the Barcelona player, Rodri provides a defensive shield to coach Luis Enrique's back four and also gives Spain's attacking midfielders the platform to take the game to the opposition in the final third of the pitch. -- Mark Ogden

Without any hyperbole, this teenager might be the best pocket player in the game today. No one is quite as slick when under immense pressure in tight spaces. In fact, Musiala often moves into double or triple coverage intentionally to create room for his teammates. At 19, he is about to become the offensive centerpiece of the Germany national team. -- Constantin Eckner

Jesus may have been revitalised by his summer move to Arsenal from Manchester City, but his place in Brazil's lineup is in doubt. In fact, he was omitted from the most recent squad in September altogether, although Brazilian head coach Tite confirmed the 25-year-old is very much "in the running" to make the final 26. Jesus' energy and commitment have quickly endeared him to Gunners fans, but his north London rival Richarlison appears to be favoured to lead the Brazil attack at present. -- James Olley

Dembele was part of the France squad that won the World Cup in 2018, but he has made just seven appearances since. However, the finals arrive with him in the best form of his Barcelona career. Xavi Hernandez has bet big on him and France should see the benefits. Dembele struggles with consistency but is electric when games open up and is likely to be a good option off the bench for Didier Deschamps. -- Sam Marsden

Griezmann certainly doesn't have the same status as he did four years ago when he arrived in Russia having just won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid and finished one of the best seasons of his career. He was at his peak then. Now is a very different story.

Sebastian Salazar and Herculez Gomez take a look at which CONCACAF players make ESPN FC's World Cup rank.

This is Hakimi's second World Cup, and the 24-year-old right-back is ambitious. He is playing well this season with PSG, and Morocco are underdogs with a talented squad and nothing to lose. Hakimi is a big part of what could make them successful in Qatar with his runs and activity on the right. -- Julien Laurens

Gundogan didn't have a great World Cup in 2018, but Germany have rediscovered some of their swagger ahead of Qatar, and the Manchester City midfielder's experience and composure on the ball is important to Hansi Flick's team. He's become one of the on-field leaders for Pep Guardiola and for his national team. -- Rob Dawson

The Netherlands have plenty of talent in the squad, but no one is as important as De Jong in terms of how the Dutch will play. He is crucial in the gameplay of Louis van Gaal. The way he is able to speed up with a dribble or key pass is vital and he can't be missed during the tournament as no one in the squad has the qualities De Jong has. -- Max Toemen

Rudiger will almost certainly be one of Germany's first-choice centre-backs at the World Cup. The 29-year-old, who left Chelsea for Real Madrid on a free transfer in the summer, played every minute of Germany's run to the last 16 at Euro 2020, where they were beaten 2-0 by England at Wembley. The lack of a consistent goal-scoring threat will place additional emphasis on Germany's defending, already under scrutiny after a run of just one win in seven games. Rudiger leads by example with his aggressive defensive style, partial to a bursting forward run that helped make him a popular figure at Stamford Bridge, although he has only started roughly half of Madrid's matches this season. Rudiger was one of several players to speak out against FIFA's decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, claiming in September that "it shows money plays a crucial role in the world of football." -- James Olley

Speed kills. And you can't coach it. His accelerations down the left flank, his sudden bursts of creativity, his mazy dribbling ... all of these had scouts mesmerized by his skills from a young age. But it's really only recently that Leao has managed to elbow his way into Portugal's crowded front line. -- Gab Marcotti

Davies is a world-class footballer with the abilities of an Olympic sprinter, an attacking winger playing left-back the majority of the time. He is so out of the ordinary that he naturally creates chaos on the field, particularly within the opposing back line. Some defenders are purposely sitting deep to give Davies as little room as possible to break through towards the byline.

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No one is really able to defy age, not even an all-time great goalkeeper. For the time being, however, Neuer is still the same type of player he was a decade ago, meaning that he shows great reflexes and positional awareness as a shot stopper and is tremendously talented in the role of a sweeper keeper, frequently denying opponents from counterattacks. If there is anything that can stop Neuer, it is his age and mounting injuries. -- Constantin Eckner

England's wunderkind plays with more restraint for England than he does for Borussia Dortmund, which is caused by the role Gareth Southgate usually puts him in. While Bellingham cannot show his box-to-box qualities as much, his runs down the field are crucial for the Three Lions to create chances.

Bellingham is the Swiss pocket knife among midfielders, as he can do almost anything from hard-nosed defending to opening the field with clever passes to making penetrating sprints into the box. England have become dependent on Bellingham. If he plays a strong tournament, the doors to the semifinals or even the final are wide open. -- Constantin Eckner

Alisson was thrown in the deep end in 2015 when, little known and inexperienced, he was surprisingly promoted to become Brazil's first-choice keeper. It proved an inspired hunch. He has developed into one of the world's best in the position, sound and unflashy but capable of the outstanding. He has worked hard at his distribution, and over time has become one of the team's leaders. All of these virtues keep him ahead of the excellent Ederson as Brazil's No. 1. -- Tim Vickery

The Manchester United forward's record-breaking career might finally be on the wane at the age of 37, but he remains a talismanic figure for Portugal ahead of his fifth appearance at a World Cup. Ronaldo goes into Qatar as the all-time leading goal scorer in international football, taking his tally to 117 by scoring twice in the 4-0 UEFA Nations League win against Switzerland in June.

Those are the only goals he has scored for Portugal in 2022, though, and the debate about his importance to his country is beginning to grow in the buildup to Qatar. Yet Ronaldo continues to be the first name on Coach Santos' team sheet and his record of delivering big, important goals for his country cannot be disputed, so he will continue to lead his nation at this World Cup. -- Mark Ogden

The Barcelona midfielder was named the best young player at Euro 2020 and will be central to Spain's hopes in Qatar. He will turn 20 during the tournament and, as is increasingly the case at Barca, everything La Roja do is likely to run through him.

He has a maturity beyond his years, knows when to speed up the game and when to slow it down and, most importantly, rarely makes mistakes with the ball. After an injury-hit campaign last time out, following his exploits at the Euros and the Olympic Games, he is now back in peak physical condition just in time for the biggest competition in the game. -- Sam Marsden

Foden has been in fine form for City so far this season, but Southgate hasn't always picked his team on form and he may have to wait for his chance. The 21-year-old has a habit of influencing big games for City and it's only a matter of time before he does the same for England. -- Rob Dawson

Cancelo has developed a reputation as one of the most devastating attacking full-backs in the world at Juventus and Manchester City, and will be expected to deliver the service for Ronaldo. He's expected to play in his preferred right-back role despite regularly playing on the left at the Etihad Stadium. -- Rob Dawson

There is a feeling in Portugal that if they are to do well in Qatar, it will be because of players like Silva rather than Ronaldo. Portugal have a team of star names but they will need the industry and work rate of the Manchester City man if they are going to make it to the later rounds. -- Rob Dawson

He is the heart and lung of Germany's midfield. Kimmich rarely breaks under pressure, which makes him hard to separate from the ball. The majority of buildup plays go directly through him and Ilkay Gundogan. The two complement each other greatly in the middle of the park, as Kimmich provides intensity and defensive awareness while Gundogan has proven to be a creative mind. -- Constantin Eckner

Few players have improved so much, so fast as Valverde in the past year. Now one of Real Madrid's key attacking players, he is consequently a star-in-waiting for Uruguay at this tournament. One question mark is exactly what position he will adopt: He has tended to operate more centrally for his country than the right-wing role that has already brought him eight goals for Madrid this season. -- Alex Kirkland

South Korea have a deeper talent pool than in recent years, but Son remains the country's superstar, carrying a nation's hopes on his shoulders. So in that context, news that less than three weeks before the tournament began was just about the biggest scare South Korea could endure. They face a tough group with Uruguay, Portugal and Ghana to play, and they will surely need Son back at his best to progress. -- James Olley

Van Dijk has had a mixed club season so far. Great performances against Man City and Napoli were combined with matches where he was rightfully criticised for his performances. Along the way he also lost his amazing unbeaten record at Anfield, but whatever happens, Van Dijk is and will be throughout this tournament the undisputed leader of the Dutch national team. -- Max Toemen

The 2022 African Player of the Year struck the winning spot kick in this year's Africa Cup of Nations final penalty shootout against Salah's Egypt and he became his country's all-time leading goal scorer with 32, eclipsing the previous record of Henri Camara, in June. Having been named as the player of the tournament at the Cup of Nations, Mane then delivered for Senegal again by sending his team to the World Cup, scoring the decisive penalty once again in the playoff against Egypt. -- Mark Ogden

A year ago, Courtois felt underrated and underappreciated, overshadowed by high-profile Premier League counterparts like Alisson and Ederson. Not anymore. An all-time great, man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance in Real Madrid's Champions League final win over Liverpool in May -- making a record nine saves -- was followed by a seventh-place finish on the 2022 Ballon d'Or shortlist.

The young winger has exploded as an international star with Real Madrid, that extraordinary acceleration sowing panic in opposing defences. In contrast with Raphinha on the Selecao's opposite flank, Vinicius has taken time to find his feet with the national team, with one goal from 16 games, and his place in the starting lineup by no means a given.

What else is there to say about Modric? Croatia's record appearance holder -- with 154 caps since he made his debut in 2006 -- and arguably greatest ever player will be turning out for his eighth major international tournament in Qatar. Modric was key to Croatia's surprise run to the 2018 World Cup final and at 37, his level hasn't dropped a bit, starring in last season's LaLiga and Champions League-winning campaign for Real Madrid.

The pressure will be immense on Brazil's No. 10, who may well overtake Pele as Brazil's all-time top scorer during the tournament. He trails well behind Pele in terms of achievement, though, and this will be the World Cup where he is expected to put that right.

Neymar says this will be his last World Cup, and it will certainly be the tournament that defines his legacy as a national team player.

He benefits from the emergence of a highly promising generation of young attackers, which will take some of the load off his slender shoulders. The timing of the tournament also works to his advantage. He has tended to be at his best in the first half of the season, and there would seem to be no problems about his form and fitness as he marches towards his date with destiny. -- Tim Vickery

There will be few nations in Qatar whose hopes are pinned so much on one player. That's not to say Poland do not have other good players, but the reality is none are close to Lewandowski's level.

This is likely his last World Cup and he'll arrive in Doha while playing, at 35, some of the best football of his recent career. Messi is obviously critical to Argentina's success, but, relative to the last World Cup, things are different. Coach Lionel Scaloni has made him the key cog in a well-oiled machine, capable of going 34 games unbeaten. It's a stark contrast to the last World Cup, when he was expected to carry the side amid coach Jorge Sampaoli's chaos.

Messi doesn't run like he did, but the trickery and the ability to find space remains. And his trademark move, when he starts wide right, cuts inside and whips a low, hard finish past the keeper, remains close to unplayable. The Copa America victory in 2021 got the "major international tournament" monkey off his back. Now it's time for the one crown that has always eluded him. -- Gab Marcotti

After Belgium's 2-1 win over Wales in September, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was asked about De Bruyne. Sometimes managers prefer to focus on the collective, rather than the individual, but when it comes to De Bruyne, his ability is so remarkable and abundantly clear, that there's little point in holding back on celebrating his talents.

"It's a message for all our fans, don't take for granted watching Kevin De Bruyne play," Martinez said. "For me he's the most incredible playmaker in world football at this present time."

Benzema, at the age of 34, has had to wait eight and a half years to feature again in the World Cup. He wants to make up for lost time.

After all that time away from the national team, he came back with a bang at the Euros in 2021 with four goals in four appearances, but the last 16 elimination left a sour taste in his mouth. Now, after winning the 2022 Ballon d'Or, he is ready to make this World Cup count. It is likely to be his last one, so this marks his biggest opportunity to write his name in the competition's history books.

Russia 2018 was the World Cup where Mbappe truly announced his arrival. He was 19, up and coming, still not necessarily known worldwide, and he took the competition by storm to become the first teenager since Pele to score in the final and to win it. Qatar 2022 will be the World Cup confirmation for the French prodigy; confirmation of his world-class status, of his superstar image, of his superstar talent.