They are the livewires of their clubs -- Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. They are the ones with whom their countries -- Portugal, Argentina and Brazil -- dare to dream big. They are the footballers who are capable of winning every trophy on earth. Yet, they -- Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar -- have won all but one.
A World Cup is the one that is missing from their trophy trove. Ronaldo and Messi evenly share 10 Ballons d'Or among them, with Neymar ending up third for some years. So, this time, the terrific trio will leave no stone unturned to win the trophy they don't have.
At 33, this is possibly Ronaldo's last chance to be lucky. No matter how much of a fitness freak he is, Ronaldo would find the bar even higher to cross four years after.
At 31, Messi is in his last prime age to kiss the World Cup he agonisingly came close to winning last time in Brazil. An extra-time strike by Germany's Mario Goetze denied Messi the cup.
At 25, Neymar is of an age when top players become great. He is certainly the most talented footballer on earth after Messi and Ronaldo. His last World Cup at home ended tragically when Colombia's Juan Zuniga's ruthless knee-charge fractured a vertebra on his spine. This time, Neymar is far more seasoned to live up to his billing as the world's most expensive footballer.
With the World Cup in Russia entering an exciting stage, it has only been Ronaldo who could get Telstar, the high-tech official football, singing. None but Ronaldo has kept scoring with consummate ease.
In Portugal's opening match, the high-flying superstar netted a hattrick to enforce a 3-3 draw against Spain. He hit the net from a free-kick, spot-kick and header. And against Morocco Wednesday, the Portuguese transformed himself into a Flying Dutchman to notch a 1-0 win. Four goals in two matches made him the second highest international goal scorer (85) ahead of Hungarian legend Puscas.
Interestingly, Ronaldo could not score four goals in any of his last three World Cups, and that means he might be getting help from luck and team this time.
Ronaldo is smiling and smirking; not the others.
Lionel Messi? Missed a penalty against Iceland.
Neymar? Grimacing after a 1-1 draw against Switzerland.
And what about the superstars of other teams?
Eden Hazard? Failed to slip in a goal against Panama.
Thomas Mueller? Almost anonymous against Mexico.
Mohammed Salah? Bowed out of the World Cup with one goal.
So, is it going to be Ronaldo's World Cup?
Talent alone doesn't win anyone a World Cup, where top countries, not clubs, take part. One needs a good team to back up and a little bit of luck as well in some crucial moments.
The problem is that Portugal are still a one-man army. And Lady Luck loves to swing. On the other hand, Argentina have multi-talents in their possession this time to back up Messi. Never forget, Messi alone took an enviable 11 shots at the Iceland post. It means, Messi is right on target, and needs a little luck.
Neymar, meanwhile, wobbled off training, raising fresh injury scares among his team. If he is fit, Neymar also has a huge possibility to kiss the cup. Brazil is not a Neymar-only team this year. But Lady Luck needs to swing Brazil's way.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star
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