In a year’s time, fans will be treated to the much-awaited Qatar World Cup. While the venue is undoubtedly unusual, the participants are not. Some of the most renowned footballing nations will be competing for the biggest title in the sport, come next year. A hoard of legendary players will be seen defending their national colors in Qatar. However, with the emergence of numerous prodigies like Kylian Mbappe, Jude Bellingham and Pedri, the older generation will naturally have to take the backseat in the near future. On that note, let’s take a look at 7 superstars who could be playing their last World Cup in 2022.
Pepe’s career at the top seemed to be over when the Portuguese centre-back departed Real Madrid to join Besiktas in 2017. While he did disappear from the club football scene for a while, Pepe remained a mainstay in the national setup, becoming an integral cog in Fernando Santos’ new-age Portugal side. His resurgence with a transfer to Porto has been well-documented and Pepe is expected to be a starter for his side in the 2022 World Cup.
However, even the everlasting centre-half has to sustain a decline sometime. With an age of 38, this dip could come soon after the 2022 World Cup and Pepe is expected to retire post that.
6. Thiago Silva
Thiago Silva’s free transfer to Chelsea was commonly perceived as a stopgap for the Blues. However, the Brazilian defender has flourished under Thomas Tuchel, playing an important role in their unlikely Champions League win.
Even at 37, Silva enjoys regular game time at Stamford Bridge, a testament to his longevity. However, similar to other players on the list, the consistent centre-half is not getting any younger and will be 41 by the time 2026 arrives. The upcoming World Cup might be the last we see of Silva.
5. Giorgio Chiellini
In the Euros this year, Giorgio Chiellini proved that age is just a number for the Italian stalwart. With compatriot Leonardo Bonucci, Chiellini forged a formidable partnership at the back, only letting in three goals in the five matches that he appeared in. Despite his exceptional performances on the international stage, 37-year-old Chiellini is steadily heading towards retirement. As a result, the 2022 World Cup could be the last time we see him don the Azzurri colors officially.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
In the latter stages of his career, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has aged like a fine wine, continuing his run at the top even at the age of 39. Barring a two-season vacation in the United States with LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has played for a top-tier European club since his transfer to Ajax in 2001. A commanding presence upfront, the prolific striker recently came out of international retirement to play in the 2022 World Cup, which will be his first match for Sweden since 2016. However, considering his mature age, the comeback might not last long.
3. Luka Modric
Luka Modric triumphed at the 2018 Ballon d’Or ceremony at the age of 33, breaking the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly in the process. In the three years since the creative midfielder has gone from strength to strength and will be a key figure for Croatia in the 2022 World Cup. However, even the evergreen Modric will be 40 by 2026, making the upcoming World Cup, his last.
2. Sergio Ramos
Another juggernaut of the modern footballing era, Sergio Ramos recently ended his 16-year association with Real Madrid due to contractual disputes, joining PSG on a free transfer. Despite his elite-level defensive skills, the 35-year-old Spaniard’s age is slowly starting to catch up. Ramos spent the majority of last season dealing with injuries, spending only 1,790 minutes on the pitch. Taking his recent struggles with injuries into consideration, the 2022 international event might as well be the last World Cup that Ramos participates in.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
The 2022 World Cup will be the fifth time that Cristiano Ronaldo will participate in the biggest sporting tournament. His prolonged career has spanned 19 glorious years, with the Portuguese superstar showing no signs of stopping at the ripe old age of 36. However, Ronaldo will be 40 by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2026. Therefore, the next year’s edition might be the last realistic chance that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner gets to wrap his hands around a World Cup trophy.