The upcoming FIFA World Cup already promises to be an engaging spectacle for a number of reasons, with new narratives forming around the tournament every day.
As always, one of these narratives centres on Lionel Messi. The Argentina forward recently confirmed that this year’s tournament will be his last. While this is hardly a major shock, given that Messi will be 39 when the 2026 World Cup takes place, the confirmation that this will be our last chance to see the PSG forward on the international stage adds a new layer of intrigue to Argentina’s campaign.
With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some of the other elder statesmen of the game for whom this will be the last World Cup of their careers.
An ever-present figure in the England set-up throughout the Gareth Southgate era, Liverpool captain Henderson is currently doing everything he can to recover from injury in time to be on the plane to Qatar.
It’s likely to be the midfielder’s final tournament for the Three Lions, with age and fitness issues beginning to catch up with Henderson after years spent playing in a high-intensity Liverpool side. Southgate adores him and will continue to include him in his squad to the bitter end, but surely a changing of the guard will have to come soon.
It’s baffling to think that Robert Lewandowski has only played in one World Cup before this one. The Barcelona striker failed to score a single goal in Poland’s disappointing 2018 campaign as they went out at the group stage in Russia.
At the ripe old age of 34, Lewandowski will be hoping he can go out on a high note and deliver the goods in what will likely be his final opportunity to shine at this level.
Despite missing France’s last round of international fixtures with a thigh injury, all signs point to Hugo Lloris leading Les Bleus out in Qatar in November.
The Spurs goalkeeper captained his country to glory in 2018 and will be keen to replicate the feat this time around, as at 35 he is almost certainly running out of time.
Omitted from France’s squads for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, Benzema may look back at his international career as a missed opportunity.
The Real Madrid striker has shone since being reintroduced to the national set-up last year and will look to go out with a bang in Qatar. With the endless conveyor belt of young talent at France’s disposal, you imagine they may move on from Benzema before 2026.
Another World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Neuer will be looking to help Die Mannschaft to a stronger performance in Qatar after a miserable performance in 2018.
Though Neuer was part of the Germany side that won the tournament in 2014, his last action in a World Cup was getting caught 70 yards up the pitch as Germany conceded a late goal to South Korea in 2018. Can they make it past the group stage this year?
The 2010s were supposed to be the decade of Belgium. Years spent cultivating their youth talent led to an emergence of quality that made the Red Devils the hipster’s choice for several tournaments – in particular the 2018 World Cup, in which they came third.
Now though. it’s safe to say the golden era is coming to an end. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard – everywhere you look, Belgium’s stars are beginning to fade. Could Qatar be their last hurrah?
Like his career rival Messi, it is truly difficult to imagine a World Cup without Cristiano Ronaldo. Given that he’ll be 41 by the time the next one rolls around, though, surely Qatar is the last shot at glory for the Portuguese?
Ronaldo is already the all-time top scorer in men’s international football and lifted the European Championship trophy with Portugal in 2016, but you just know he’d love to sign off with a World Cup before hanging up his boots.
Luka Modric might still look and play like a man in his early 20s – but, at 37 years of age, you wonder if he’s got another World Cup in him after Qatar.
Write him off at your peril, mind you – his tireless performances for Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League prove that the diminutive midfielder still has some gas in the tank.
At 38 years old, having won every trophy imaginable and had the honour of a grime anthem being named after you, what better way to sign off than with a World Cup?
Thiago Silva is another player who has rolled back the years with his displays at club level, marshalling Chelsea’s defence through a turbulent couple of years with two managerial changes. The Blues – and his native Brazil – will miss his calming presence at the back when he’s gone.
From his deliberate handball against Ghana in 2010 to biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in 2014, it’s safe to say Suarez has left his mark on the World Cup – though mostly for the wrong reasons.
How will he make an impact in Qatar, in what will likely be his final tournament with Uruguay? All we can do is hope Liverpool have already started printing the T-shirts because Suarez is sure to find a way to make this competition about him.