Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema... Cristiano Ronaldo? Perhaps the Portuguese icon is a bit of a stretch these days, but there’s no doubt football fans will be treated to watching the best footballers on the planet during the 2022 World Cup.

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If the World Cup is considered the pinnacle of international football, then reason dictates that it showcases the very best footballers. And thankfully 2022 in Qatar has just as rich a group of elite-level footballers as every previous World Cup.

Read more - Who will win the World Cup? Every team ranked | World Cup predictions: Winners, dark horses, flops, top scorer

Sadly, the likes of Mohamed Salah and Erling Haaland won’t be gracing the sands of Qatar. The Italians are also staying at home. But that doesn’t mean there's a shortage of talent ready to compete for the World Cup trophy come mid-November.

And so, RadioTimes.com has dipped into the talent pool and come up with the five best players you need to keep an eye out for at the 2022 World Cup this winter!

For more World Cup features check out: World Cup 2022 TV schedule | World Cup 2022 kits ranked | World Cup 2022 stadiums | Best teams at the World Cup

Karim Benzema – France/Real Madrid

Ballon d’Or winner

Recently voted the best footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema is perhaps the player to watch out for at this World Cup. The France striker will lead the line as Les Bleus seek to defend the trophy they won in 2018.

Benzema, 34, didn't play in the previous World Cup and has had a fairly slow start to the season for club side Real Madrid. But his 50 goals in 56 appearances for club and country in 2021/22 indicates his class. Scoring for France doesn’t always come as easily as for Real, but he remains one to watch.

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Kevin De Bruyne – Belgium/Manchester City

Assist king

Arguably the best footballer in the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne is the metronome of both the Manchester City and Belgium squads. The playmaker has the ability to pick out a killer pass with the flick of an ankle.

De Bruyne provided two assists at the last World Cup, eight for Belgium last season, and already has more than eight in the Premier League this term. With Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi up front, there’s plenty of opportunity for De Bruyne to become the Assist King again this winter.

Sadio Mané – Senegal/Bayern Munich

Scoring for fun in Germany

The quality of a player is perhaps best understood when they are absent from a team. The fact Liverpool have endured such a miserable start to the Premier League season may well have something to do with Sadio Mané not being there anymore. Mané is instead ripping it up in the Bundesliga, and the Bayern Munich forward could take this World Cup by storm.

Mané, 30, was thought to have passed his peak but he is the heartbeat of this Senegal attack. Senegal have a very good chance of progressing into the knockout stages after being drawn in Qatar’s group, and Mané will fancy his chances even up against Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk. He could even rival other strikers from so-called better teams for the Golden Boot.

Robert Lewandowski – Poland/Barcelona

Deadliest finisher in Qatar

Poland don’t have an easy group alongside Argentina, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, but with Robert Lewandowski in the team anything can happen. Barcelona’s summer singing has defied his 34 years by scoring for fun at the Nou Camp already.

Remarkably, the striker didn’t score in any of Poland’s three World Cup matches in Russia four years ago. But give him an inch and he’ll likely take a mile. The forward could end up terrorising opposition defences here, and could reasonably claim a hat-trick against Saudi. With 76 international goals to his name already, there’s no denying Lewandowski will be one to watch this winter.

Lionel Messi – Argentina/PSG

Still one of the best players in the world?

Lionel Messi has seven Ballons d’Or to his name, has won the Copa America, four Champions Leagues, 11 club league titles and was Player of the Tournament at the 2014 World Cup. But he doesn’t have a World Cup medal. At 35, this is surely Messi’s last World Cup, and his last chance to lead Argentina to glory.

And you know what? He could well do it. Messi might not be the whizzkid he once was but he is still a world-class talent, has the respect of his international team-mates, and is firing in the goals for PSG. Thousands of Argentines are expected in Qatar this winter and Messi and co are well placed to progress through the knockouts and towards the final. Who says Messi won’t be there, leading the way?

Check out our World Cup hub for all the latest from Qatar 2022, including match previews, predictions and analysis.

If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our Sport hub.

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