The World Cup offers the planet’s best footballing talent the ultimate stage to showcase their talents. It’s a stage that some of the best of all time – Best, Di Stefano and Weah, for example – never managed to grace, so every player on the plane will want to cherish every last minute of their experience in Russia.
However, there are some players for whom a World Cup is nothing new. There are 11 men heading to the tournament in 2018 for their fourth World Cup in a row, having made the grade in Germany in 2006, South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.
Here’s our guide to the tournament’s four-timers who will be wanting to put their know-how to use once the action kicks off.
The ex Liverpool and Barcelona man equalled Javier Zanetti’s Argentina caps record in March and remains an important part of Jorge Sampaoli’s plans, in either a defensive or midfield role. Mascherano has been playing his club football for Chinese club Hebbei Fortune since January and would dearly love to add a World Cup to his two Olympic gold medals, especially since he’s been a tournament runner up in four Copa Americas as well as the 2014 World Cup during his time with the national side.
Is this the last chance for the now-30-year-old Messi to dominate a World Cup? It’d be churlish to suggest that Messi ‘needs’ the trophy to secure his legacy – five Ballon d’Ors, four Champions Leagues, nine La Liga titles and countless personal records (including the Argentina all time scoring record) – should be more than enough. Despite a brief international retirement, however, Messi has spoken of his desire to avenge the 2014 final defeat and he clearly has an appetite to go one step further in Russia.
The Napoli keeper has largely been an understudy during his international career – although he did play one game in Spain’s ill-fated Brazil campaign. He’s likely to be back up to David De Gea in Russia.
Fresh from an emotional farewell from Barcelona – where he spent a hugely successful 16 years – Iniesta will be keen to lift his second World Cup in Spain colours. One of the most stylish players of the past generation, Iniesta netted the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.
Sergio Ramos’ third consecutive Champions League win with Real Madrid was eventful to say the least – and the Spanish defender came under the spotlight for his perceived role in the injury to Liverpool’s Mo Salah. It’s unlikely that this will do anything to knock the confidence of the 151-cap man as he captains his country this summer though.
Mexico’s first-choice keeper will be aiming to repeat the jaw-dropping acrobatics he managed in 2014, when he pulled off an incredible save to deny Neymar, as El Tri aim to continue a strong World Cup record in which they have reached the last 16 in the past six tournaments.
The left sided midfielder fired Mexico into the last 16 in 2014 with a goal against Croatia. The Betis man will need to call on all of his tournament experience to help Mexico make it out of a tough looking group this time around.
Ronaldo has ‘most Portugal caps’ and ‘most Portugal goals’ among a long list of records and achievements in a glittering career. After inspiring a fairly modest Portugal side to Euro 2016 glory in France could Ronaldo, fresh off the back of a third straight Champions League win with Real Madrid, repeat the trick in Russia? History suggests he’s not a man to bet against and he’ll want to put memories of an injury-hit 2014 campaign behind him.
The Udinese midfielder has enjoyed a varied career that has seen him turn out for Genoa, Verona, Lazio, West Ham, Fiorentina, Napoli and Watford. ‘The Warrior’ will have to be at his best to match Brazil in Switzerland’s first game but, according to williamhill.com, Die Nati are then favourites to overcome Serbia and Costa Rica and make their way to the knockout stages. Behrami was the first Swiss player to see red at the World Cup, getting his marching orders in 2010 in a clash with Chile’s Arturo Vidal.
Much-travelled Milligan is highly valued by the Socceroos for his ability to play pretty much anywhere across the defence and midfield, so it’s no surprise to see Bert Van Marwijk call him up for a fourth World Cup in 2018. His current club is Saudi-based Al-Ahli.
Now 38, Cahill remains an influential figure for the Socceroos. He returned to Millwall to sharpen up for this tournament and has scored in all three of his previous World Cups. If he nets this time around, he’ll join Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose on a exclusive list of players to score in four World Cups.
Think the record of those 11 men is impressive?
Rafael Marquez from Mexico will trump the lot in 2018 when he heads to his fifth successive tournament, having begun his World Cup adventure in Japan and South Korea in 2002. The former Barcelona man is 39 now and retired from club football at the end of the season after returning to Atlas where he began his career.