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World Cup 2014: Who Are the Most Expensive Footballers Playing in Brazil?

Daniel TilukFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

World Cup 2014: Who Are the Most Expensive Footballers Playing in Brazil?

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    The World Cup—which gets underway on Thursday—is a breeding ground for an underground, nefarious realm known simply as "the transfer market."

    Each club around the planet will be scouting, taking notes and appraising international stars they hope to acquire once the tournament reaches its conclusion. Previously unknown names, or known underachieving ones will be given the globe's largest talent showcase to display their abilities as they become a commodity.

    If you are an established name, your stock can only be hurt. Dressing-room secrets will not be kept, play on the pitch will be scrutinised to untold levels and conduct off the pitch likewise.

    As every man is now a reporter of sorts—nothing will remain hidden. All of the best players know this, and they are in Brazil with the express purpose of achieving glory for their nation, representing their families and making sure no stone in their quest for greatness is left unturned.

    The summer transfer window has a way of making clubs spend irrationally, after a World Cup—the values of players tend to rise. Each player has value, whether their price tag goes up or down depends on many factors but the most important is effort.

    With all that said: Who are each nation's most valuable players? Who has the most to lose and who will go about giving themselves, and their nation, a positive account come the end of July?

    Glad you asked...

Methodology

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    The literal interpretation of the headline would get rather boring, as the Brazilian, Argentine, Italian, German, Spanish, French and English squads would carry the weight.

    Let us, however, not be too languorous.

    The methodology of the ranking system is as follows:

    • There are 32 slots
    • Each nation is represented once
    • All current market values come from Transfermarkt

    Each nation's most expensive footballer is entered into the pool, comprising our 32-player ranking.

32. Mile Jedinak (Australia)

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Value: £2.2 million

    Club: Crystal Palace (England)

    Age: 29

    World Cup: Group B (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)

    Australia are the lowest-ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings to have made the trip to Brazil, which is why Mile Jedinak kicking off this list comes as no real surprise.

    The Socceroos' captain had a distinguished season with Crystal Palace, and Jedinak may hope his unexpected success on club level will translate to the international scene.

    Matched with Chile, Spain and the Netherlands, Australia's chances of advancing to the round of 16 are extremely slim. With odds as high as 250/1 to win their group, could the Aussies be worth that quid you were planning to spend elsewhere?

31. Ashkan Dejagah (Iran)

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    Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images

    Value: £2.6 million

    Club: Fulham (England)

    Age: 27

    World Cup: Group F (Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

    Although relegated from the Premier League in 2013-14, one of Fulham's few bright spots was the play of Iranian international Ashkan Dejagah.

    The west London side received four goals and one assist from him in the last 11 games he played, with every strike being crucial in their relegation scrap.

    Dejagah will look to copy the form he briefly displayed at Fulham against the likes of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Argentina and Nigeria. When a goal is often good enough for three points, any offensive productivity Iran receive from their former Premier League player will be absolute gold dust.

30. Emilio Izaguirre (Honduras)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Value: £3.7 million

    Club: Celtic (Scotland)

    Age: 28

    World Cup: Group E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)

    If there are plenty of great "anythings" at the World Cup, wingers are normally the choice. Therefore, what every side needs are pacey, physical full-backs who are able to stymie their opposition's wide men.

    Honduras' most valuable player is a left-back. It may not read as big news—but it is. Honduras will face three havoc-inducing right wingers—Antonio Valencia (Ecuador), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) and Mathieu Valbuena (France)—in Group E.

    Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre is exactly the kind of player a smaller nation needs to combat wing play.

    Whether the Honduran midfield and central defence will be invaded, however, is another issue altogether.

29. Clint Dempsey (United States)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Value: £6.2 million

    Club: Seattle Sounders (United States)

    Age: 31

    World Cup: Group G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States)

    Jurgen Klinsmann's omission of the United States' all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan, precipitated an inquest in America.

    The man tasked with replacing Donovan as the face of U.S. soccer is the tempestuous Seattle Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey.

    The United States' 2010 World Cup group was tame in comparison to the 2014 ensemble. With international foe Ghana up first, Dempsey and company must hit the ground running. Should they fail to get points from the Black Stars, Germany and Portugal will be there to pick up the shattered pieces.

    No pressure then.

28. Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Value: £7 million

    Club: Fulham (England)

    Age: 28

    World Cup: Group D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)

    The statisticians at FiveThirtyEight Sports wager Costa Rica have a 26.1 percent chance of advancing past Group D. When your optimal chance for points—per the stats—is Italy (a three-time World Cup winner, ranked ninth overall by FIFA) it would be fair to say you have problems.

    If Costa Rica are to mount any type of respectable challenge to these seemingly insurmountable odds, Fulham attacking option Bryan Ruiz must show up and show out.

    Ruiz will have 21-year-old Olympiacos winger Joel Campbell as a sidekick, but the Costa Rican cupboard is rather bare beyond the attacking duo.

27. Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)

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    Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

    Value: £10.6 million

    Club: Valencia (Spain)

    Age: 24

    World Cup: Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Korea Republic, Russia)

    Matched with England, Slovenia and the United States in 2010, Algeria was done no favours—and it looks like history does, in fact, repeat itself.

    Unfancied to advance from Group H, the African side will be looking to upset and shock the globe.

    At the forefront of their improbable mission we find Sofiane Feghouli. The Valencia attacker will be charged with being an outlet for counter-attacks and linking play with his other team-mates.

    The 24-year-old winger must lift his nation beyond their limitations, for whom it all starts 17 June against an ominous Belgian contingent.

26. Son Heung-Min (Korea Republic)

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Value: £12.3 million

    Club: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)

    Age: 21

    World Cup: Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Korea Republic, Russia)

    Question: Describe Son Heung-Min in one word?

    Answer: Blistering.

    The former Hamburg and current Bayer Leverkusen winger is one of the quickest players set to feature in Brazil. To match his pace, Son has brilliant control and impeccable vision.

    Korea Republic, buoyed by Son—along with Bolton's Lee Chung-Yong and Swansea City's Ki Sung-Yueng—look to have decent talent. Group H's favourites are Belgium and Russia, but the two sides are not infallible.

    Should the Koreans take points from Russia in their first match, they will have it all to play for in their second fixture vs. Algeria.

25. Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece)

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    Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

    Value: £13.2 million

    Club: Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

    Age: 26

    World Cup: Group C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)

    Is there any surprise Greece's most valuable player is a centre-back?

    This may be a hint towards the Greek's tournament strategy: soak pressure, defend and counter attack. It worked in Euro 2004, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan are not world beaters; they have talent, but Greece have solidarity.

    Sokratis played in 42 matches for Borussia Dortmund last season but many would suggest Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are the better centre-back pairing for Jurgen Klopp. This World Cup seems like a mammoth opportunity for the Greek to cement his spot in Klopp's defence.

T23. Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)

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    Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

    Value: £14.1 million

    Club: Manchester United (England)

    Age: 28

    World CupGroup E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)

    Ecuador find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

    A first-match win against Switzerland would set their tournament up wonderfully. Losing to the Swiss, however, would terminate most hope of advancement with the normally stringent French lurking as their last fixture.

    Manchester United's Antonio Valencia helped his national side finish level with Uruguay in CONMEBOL's 2014 World Cup qualifying. Ecuador have the talent to compete, the question now centres around whether Valencia and his compatriots can find the right balance of aggression and caution.

    If they can't, they will be out sooner rather than later.

T23. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez (Mexico)

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Value: £14.1 million

    Club: Manchester United (England)

    Age: 26

    World Cup: Group A (Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico)

    With the exception of Brazil, Group A is a toss-up. Mexico, who are used to playing in the smog and extreme heat of the Estadio Azteca should find the Brazilian climate rather endearing.

    Javier Hernandez found himself on the outside looking in with Manchester United last year. The appointment of David Moyes saw Chicharito pushed even further into a substitute's role. Playing to impress new manager Louis van Gaal—or possibly force a transfer—El Tri will need their nation's best footballer to find himself.

    Should Mexico lose to Cameroon, their second match against A Selecao might spell doom for Miguel Herrera's side.

22. Keisuke Honda & Shinji Kagawa (Japan)

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    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Value: £15 million

    Club(s): Keisuke Honda, AC Milan (Italy) | Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United (England)

    Age(s): Honda, 27 | Kagawa, 25

    World CupGroup C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)

    While not expected to advance in most circles, Japan should not be taken lightly. In a group with no "dominant" nation, Samurai Blue will feel they have a great chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.

    Progressing to the round of 16 in 2010, Japan will rely on past experience in Brazil. At the helm are midfield maestros Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda. Unlike Honda, Kagawa was not part of the team eliminated on penalties four years back.

    The man from Milan, eager to erase South Africa's stumbling block, will need all the help he can get—Manchester United's Kagawa being the perfect running mate.

21. Alex Song (Cameroon)

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Value: £15.8 million

    Club: Barcelona (Spain)

    Age: 26

    World CupGroup A (Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico)

    Valued at £37 million in 2008, Samuel Eto'o remains the endearing face of Cameroonian football. Today, however, Les Lions Indomptables' most expensive player is not the legendary Eto'o, but Barcelona midfielder Alex Song.

    Cameroon's ability to traverse Group A will be determined by defence. Keeping Mexico and Croatia off the scoresheet and maintaining a serviceable goal difference vs. Brazil will be paramount.

    Song's ability to corral creative midfielders is of the utmost importance if Cameroon are to make their way past the World Cup's group stage—a feat which they have not repeated since 1990.

T18. John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Value: £17.6 million

    Club: Chelsea (England)

    Age: 27

    World CupGroup F (Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

    We have no idea what to expect from Nigeria.

    The Super Eagles could fly or they could crash and burn. One thing we know for sure: John Obi Mikel will be at the heart of whichever scenario.

    The Chelsea midfielder is used primarily as an anchor for his club—holding play and never foraying into attacking areas. Yet for Stephen Keshi's Nigeria, Mikel will be the dictator. He is not wearing No. 10 by accident.

    With club team-mate Victor Moses running at Group F's defences, Mikel's notepad should be full of Frank Lampard pointers on how to find the correct pass.

T18. Xherdan Shaqiri & Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland)

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Value: £17.6 million

    Club(s): Xherdan Shaqiri, Bayern Munich (Germany) | Ricardo Rodriguez, VfL Wolfsburg (Germany)

    Age(s): Shaqiri, 22 | Rodriguez, 21

    World CupGroup E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)

    Switzerland are ranked sixth in FIFA's rankings. You would not normally associate the Swiss with great football, but it seems they are in terrific form and great spirits coming into this World Cup.

    Two key players for them are Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez, who are both stationed in Germany's Bundesliga. If the duo performs well—as their price tags suggest they should—their nations' only competition in Group E would appear to be the French.

    Should France repeat their South Africa 2010 debacle, expect Switzerland to take advantage. When your two best players play for Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, you should be looking to advance beyond the group stage.

T18. Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana)

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    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Value: £17.6 million

    Club: Juventus (Italy)

    Age: 25

    World CupGroup G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States)

    No African nation has appeared in a World Cup semi-final. Were it not for a Luis Suarez handball and a better Asamoah Gyan penalty in 2010, Ghana would have beaten Uruguay and become the African continent's first representative in the final four of the tournament.

    In 2009, Ghana won the U-20 World Cup. With those players now of age, the main event has arrived.

    Paired with Germany, Portugal and the United States, the Black Stars need all hands on deck. The most expensive pair belonging to Juventus' Kwadwo Asamoah. The left-sided midfielder must prove hard to handle when facing Group G's favoured sides.

17. Alan Dzagoev (Russia)

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    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    Value: £20.2 million

    Club: CSKA Moscow (Russia)

    Age: 23

    World CupGroup H (Algeria, Belgium, Korea RepublicRussia)

    Alan Dzagoev might well be the shock of this ranking.

    Making his name in Euro 2012, scoring three goals—good enough for joint-top scorer alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres—Dzagoev will be licking his lips looking at Group H's collective defences. If he gets a game, that is.

    His country's past World Cup campaigns have come up short: Russia missed the last two competitions and have never progressed from the group stage. Should they have any hope of maintaining their suspected dominance over Korea Republic and Algeria, Dzagoev, needs to replicate the form he showed in 2012.

16. Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Value: £21.1 million

    Club: Manchester City (England)

    Age: 28

    World CupGroup F (Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

    Bosnia and Herzegovina are making their World Cup debut. While most debutants have little ambition, Zmajevi would look at Group F—complete with Iran and Nigeria—with measured hope.

    Argentina seems to be a lock to pass the group stage, but the three other teams will each fancy their chances of progression. Per the rankings, the "best" player in the three contending teams is Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko.

    Roma's Miralem Pjanic and Stoke City's Asmir Begovic provide competent assistance to the 2013-14 Premier League champion. If Dzeko's domestic form holds, expect his nation to shock more than a few.

T14. Mario Balotelli (Italy)

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    Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

    Value: £26.4 million

    Club: AC Milan (Italy)

    Age: 23

    World CupGroup D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)

    To borrow from the great statesman Winston Churchill: "[Mario Balotelli] is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

    Super Mario has bags of talent, yet he frequently transforms into his own worst enemy. At 23 years old, time may seem on his side—but is time ever on one's side? Balotelli needs to figure his "enigma" out; if he fails to do so, the aforementioned talent may never reach its full potential.

    The Azzurri desperately need the AC Milan striker to be something of a beast. Group D is no cakewalk—any goal against England, Uruguay or Costa Rica would be welcome.

T14. Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)

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    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Value: £26.4 million

    Club: Manchester City (England)

    Age: 31

    World CupGroup C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory CoastJapan)

    Were Ivory Coast's all-time expensive footballer the selection, team captain Didier Drogba would be the man, as his value peaked at £35.2 million in 2008.

    It is 2014, however, and Manchester City's Yaya Toure is arguably the best all-round footballer on the planet. Ergo, his £26.4 million tag—even at 31 years old—seems warranted.

    Les Elephants are nearing their greatest generation's end but have yet to win silverware. Drawing the "group of death" in 2006 and 2010, it seems 2014 is their last chance to progress.

    They have the talent, but do they have the fortitude?

13. James Rodriguez (Colombia)

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Value: £30.8 million

    Club: Monaco (France)

    Age: 22

    World CupGroup C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)

    With striker Radamel Falcao still recovering from surgery, his club team-mate and countryman James Rodriguez takes Colombia's place in the ranking.

    Falcao is worth an estimated £52.8 million with decreasing stock, conversely Rodriguez's stock is at £30.8 million and rising.

    The attacker has a penchant for the spectacular, which contributed to Monaco buying him from Porto last summer for £38.5 million, per BBC Sport.

    Declared in some quarters as "South America's Cristiano Ronaldo," Rodriguez will have the parity of World Cup Group C to display his talents. Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece will have no eye averted to the mercurial Colombian.

T11. Robin Van Persie (Netherlands)

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Value: £35.2 million

    Club: Manchester United (England)

    Age: 30

    World CupGroup B (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)

    Published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde must still be a hit in Netherlands?

    Runners-up in South Africa, the Dutch followed their terrific World Cup campaign two years later by crashing out of Euro 2012 with zero points from three games.

    If Robin van Persie finds the form he displayed in Manchester United's 2012-13 campaign, Netherlands will have a strong chance at progression. If he cannot, however, expect Dutch drama to spill over into the Premier League with newly installed Old Trafford boss—and current Netherlands manager—Louis van Gaal.

T11. Luka Modric (Croatia)

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Value: £35.2 million

    Club: Real Madrid (Spain)

    Age: 28

    World CupGroup A (Brazil, Cameroon, CroatiaMexico)

    Should the notion that Brazil are virtual locks to advance be accepted, Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico will battle for Group A's second spot. This may be oversimplification, but if Luka Modric has a poor tournament, Croatia cannot advance.

    The Real Madrid star is not valued over £35 million by fault. His slick decision making will be at a premium against traditionally frenetic countries.

    Being the only European side in Group A may prove disadvantageous for the Croats. Mexico and Cameroon will be used to taxing climates because of their geographic locales—meaning the Brazilian weather could play a part in deciding who progresses from the group.

10. Arturo Vidal (Chile)

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    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Value: £38.7 million

    Club: Juventus (Italy)

    Age: 27

    World CupGroup B (AustraliaChile, Netherlands, Spain)

    Chile are in a precarious situation. Losing—or even drawing—their first game against Australia would spell disaster.

    La Roja's saving grace comes from the fact that Australia are the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup (as compiled by FIFA) and Juventus' Arturo Vidal and Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez are staples in their starting XI.

    Vidal has appeared in 58 matches for his nation, scoring eight times. With Fiorentina live wire Matias Fernandez out with injury, Juventus' midfield engine will now have more attacking responsibilities. Stuck in a group with Spain and Netherlands, there is no room for error.

T7. Wayne Rooney (England)

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Value: £39.6 million

    Club: Manchester United (England)

    Age: 28

    World CupGroup D (Costa RicaEngland, Italy, Uruguay)

    Emile Heskey has scored more World Cup goals (one) than Wayne Rooney (zero). The Manchester United forward would love his name documented on a World Cup scoresheet en route to securing advancement past Group D.

    Heading into Brazil, the Three Lions are flying under the radar with an unspoken, quiet confidence. Roy Hodgson's squad is teeming with youthful talent that will hopefully get the nod over the older, more experienced heads.

    Voiced by John of Gaunt, through the pen of William Shakespeare in Richard II: "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

    Do "this England" have the bottle? We shall see.

T7. Paul Pogba (France)

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Value: £39.6 million

    Club: Juventus (Italy)

    Age: 21

    World CupGroup E (EcuadorFrance, Honduras, Switzerland)

    After two seasons with Juventus, Paul Pogba's value has skyrocketed.

    Appraised at £5.3 million in November 2012, the midfielder is now the most valuable French footballer. This exponential growth can be explained by his power, awareness, skill and the opportunity he has had to play with a cultivated Juventus outfit.

    To say "the French need a performance" is an understatement. France's 2010 World Cup was nothing short of monstrous. With a favourable group four years later, Les Bleus may finally remove South Africa's lingering sour taste.

    Should France pass the round of 16, Pogba will—without doubt—be the fulcrum.

T7. Eden Hazard (Belgium)

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Value: £39.6 million

    Club: Chelsea (England)

    Age: 23

    World Cup: Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Korea Republic, Russia)

    If most expect you to advance past the round of 16, how exactly are you "dark horses?"

    Belgium have entered what looks to be a seismic generational windfall, boasting Eden HazardRomelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne among others. Each are world class individually and excelled at club level.

    The World Cup, however, is a different beast altogether.

    The measuring stick for the Red Devils is Chelsea's Hazard.

    Blessed with pace, balance and extreme technical ability, the No. 10 must be at the peak of his powers for Belgium to match the lofty expectations now present.

T5. Mario Goetze (Germany)

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    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    Value: £48.4 million

    Club: Bayern Munich (Germany)

    Age: 22

    World Cup: Group G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States)

    In a German national side with Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller among others, it is Mario Goetze who takes the honours as "most expensive footballer." One would imagine due to his upside.

    Bayern Munich's attacking midfielder has yet to reach his full potential, but what we have seen from him at Borussia Dortmund and Munich last season bodes well.

    Pardon the stereotype, but Die Mannschaft actually are machine-like. Yet, when outmatched sides decided to "park their buses," Germany will need magic. Look for Goetze to sharply link play with Ozil and Andre Schurrle to create peril for Portugal, Ghana and the United States in Group G.

T5. Andres Iniesta (Spain)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Value: £48.4 million

    Club: Barcelona (Spain)

    Age: 30

    World CupGroup B (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)

    You may be wondering: "How, at 30 years old, is Andres Iniesta worth almost £50 million?"

    His stock has declined of late, but it peaked at nearly £62 million. Having turned 30 last month, the Barcelona midfielder—whose game was never based on superior athleticism—is becoming like wine: better with age.

    2010 World Cup winners in South Africa, Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Xavi and the rest of La Roja's golden generation are looking to join Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962) as the only nations to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

    Any takers for seven straight 1-0 Spain victories?

T3. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)

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    Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

    Value: £52.8 million

    Club: Paris Saint-Germain (France)

    Age: 27

    World CupGroup D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)

    Admit it, you were expecting Luis Suarez. Transfermarkt values the Liverpool striker at £45.8 million—£7 million short of teammate Edinson Cavani.

    Uruguay are tasked with navigating arguably the World Cup's hardest group. England and Italy posing the largest threat to the South American's progression.

    Cavani is a work horse. The Paris Saint-Germain forward has no issue tracking back to help his defence. With the quality of wide play Uruguay will face in Group D, Cavani's defensive qualities will certainly be necessary.

    Also required in attacking areas, Cavani's innate goalscoring ability means he should not struggle greatly with that task

T3. Neymar (Brazil)

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    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    Value: £52.8 million

    Club: Barcelona (Spain)

    Age: 22

    World CupGroup A (Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico)

    Neymar will be playing with the weight of nearly 200 million people on his shoulders.

    The last time a host nation won the World Cup was France in 1998. The side, complete with Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Laurent Blanc, took their country's expectations and performed to their championship potential.

    Germany in 2006, however, failed to meet their nation's aspirations and finished third overall. A menial South African side played with no such pressure in 2010.

    To replicate France's feat, Barcelona's 22-year-old wunderkind must spearhead Brazil's attack, be clinical in front of goal and assist others in kind.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Value: £88 million

    Club: Real Madrid (Spain)

    Age: 29

    World Cup: Group G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States)

    For Cristiano Ronaldo, there are two questions leading into this World Cup.

    The first being: "Ronaldo, are you healthy?"

    After playing 65 minutes against Ireland in New York on Tuesday, the answer looks to be: "I'm healthy enough."

    The next question would quickly transform into: "Cristiano, will your team-mates help you this summer?"

    Portugal seem second favourites to Germany in Group G, but Ghana and the United State are no pushovers. If Ronaldo is not fully fit, A Seleccao's success will not be determined by their talisman, but by his supporting cast.

    Answer for No. 2: "To be determined."

1. Lionel Messi (Argentina)

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Value: £105.6 million

    Club: Barcelona (Spain)

    Age: 26

    World CupGroup F (Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

    Explaining his gargantuan value is simple: Lionel Messi is without question the world's greatest club player. That said, after two previous appearances, the Argentine forward has yet to replicate his prolific Barcelona form at the World Cup.

    Hailing from a nation where Diego Maradona's 1986 slalom run against England must be played on an endless loop, Messi will know if he is to usurp or—at the bare minimum—equal the legendary Maradona, the World Cup is where it must happen.

    In the prime of his career, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria should be on stern notice: "No. 10 is motivated."

Comments Section: What Have We Learned?

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    We learned firstly: Should you have kids or be of age—if a coach puts you or yours in between the posts, let a few goals in and be saved from a cheap tag.

    The lack of goalkeepers is amazing. As without their existence football would be rather stupid.

    Next, while strikers take the lion's share of blame and/or credit, one's best bet is to be an attacking midfielder or winger with a proclivity for goalscoring.

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard and Luka Modric as evidence. Even Juventus duo Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal chip in with the odd—often spectacular—goal.

    Lastly, Manchester United and Barcelona feature heavily in this list: Lionel Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia all appear—so what happened last season?

    Barca won the 2013 Supercopa de Espana and Manchester United won the English equivalent—the 2013 Community Shield—other than those "trophies," the two giants were blanked.

    This summer, both sides have new managers and their players hope to be returning with some semblance of confidence. Watching them struggle for a season was interesting, but football is much better when the traditionally great sides are, well, great.

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