Messi vs. Ronaldo and the Most Mouthwatering World Cup Draw Possibilities
Some of the biggest superstars in world football will inevitably find themselves facing one another in Brazil next June and July.
On Friday, the eight groups that will make up the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group Stage will be determined, and no doubt a handful of them will include at least two of the sport's household names.
Over the next few slides, we'll examine several of the potential individual head-to-heads, but just in case you've forgotten, here are the four pots for the draw in Costa do Sauipe on Brazil's Bahia coast:
Pot 1: Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland, Brazil
Pot 2: Japan, Iran, South Korea, Australia, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras
Pot 3: Chile, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, France
Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia
Luis Suarez vs. Robin van Persie
They were the top goalscorers in the Premier League last season, and given the makeup of the draw, they could find themselves going up against one another in Brazil in six months’ time.
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who bagged 23 goals in the English top flight last season and has nine in just eight matches so far this campaign, paced CONMEBOL in World Cup qualifying with 11 goals and will front a potent Uruguay attack in Brazil.
Up against him could be Robin van Persie, who tallied 26 times in 2012-13 and led UEFA qualifying with 11 goals for the Netherlands.
Karim Benzema vs. Sergio Ramos
Karim Benzema scored just once for France during the first round of UEFA qualifying and added a second in the playoff against Ukraine.
That said, the 25-year-old has already tallied 10 times for Real Madrid this season and is back among the best attackers in La Liga. Les Bleus will be relying on him for offense in Brazil.
Potentially up against Benzema will be Sergio Ramos, his Madrid teammate.
Ramos, 27, has won everything there is to win in international football and will be looking to help guide Spain to a second successive World Cup triumph.
Neymar vs. Mario Balotelli
One is a 21-year-old Barcelona forward who will be the most high-profile player at the 2014 World Cup. The other is a 23-year-old bad boy who dismantled Germany in a Euro 2012 semifinal.
The first—Neymar—has already been capped 46 times for the Selecao, scoring 27 times, and is likely the key to Brazil winning the tournament on home soil.
The second—Mario Balotelli—has had an up-and-down start to the season at AC Milan but is capable of producing magic at a moment's notice. He has 12 goals in 29 appearances for Italy.
Both countries will be among the favourites to lift the trophy at the Maracana on July 13, and both will be heavily reliant on their top forwards to take them there.
Alexis Sanchez vs. Ashley Cole/Leighton Baines
Alexis Sanchez scorched England for a brace last month as Chile beat the Three Lions 2-0 at Wembley.
On that occasion, the Barcelona winger was up against Leighton Baines, and at the 2014 World Cup, he could once again find himself opposite the Everton full-back or Chelsea's Ashley Cole.
Cole, who was absent from recent international appointments through injury, is still seen as England's first-choice left-back, although Baines was exceptional in the final qualifier against Poland.
But then he faced Sanchez in the international friendly.
No doubt England would hardly relish a reprise of that meeting.
Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
There could hardly be a more mouthwatering prospect than to see the top two footballers on the planet go head-to-head at the World Cup.
But it's possible.
With Argentina seeded in Pot 1 and Portugal grouped in Pot 4, it's conceivable that Lionel Messi's Argentina could go up against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the Group Stage.
Internationally, Messi has yet to hit the heights he has scaled in the club game and will be intensely scrutinized in Brazil.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, is now his country's highest-ever goalscorer (level with Pauleta) and carried Portugal through a qualification playoff against Sweden in which he scored four times over two legs.
We've seen them battle it out with Barcelona and Real Madrid on numerous occasions, but Messi vs. Ronaldo at the World Cup would be another event altogether.