With the cream of world football converging on Qatar for the FIFA World Cup, we look at the five players most likely to turn heads — for differing reasons.

1. Neymar (Brazil)

Where else to start than the most important player at the most fancied team?

The sheer noise and press around Neymar — whether it’s his new NFT collection or his relationship with PSG teammate Kylian Mbappé — sometimes clouds the fact that at his core, he is an outrageously talented footballer. A player that, should he rock up to Qatar ‘in the mood’, can drive Brazil ($4.40 favourites) to FIFA World Cup glory. Brazil have in recent times depended heavily on Neymar. Arguably, that reliance has been too heavy. This time, however, he has incredible talent around him that may just give him breathing space to express himself. There is no Neymar-or-bust for Brazil in Qatar, considering he will be supported in an attacking sense by the likes of Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior, Manchester United’s Antony or Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli. All three are 22 or younger, and may just allow Neymar (now 30) to thrive.

2. Kylian Mbappé

If Kylian Mbappé’s career is still on an upward trajectory, he may just blow the roof off this World Cup. In Russia 2018 the then 19-year-old lit up the tournament, scoring four goals (equal-second behind Golden Boot winner Harry Kane) and causing havoc up front for the victorious French team. Mbappé scored in the final against Croatia and also received the Best Young Player award. He arrives in Qatar in superb touch for PSG, having bagged eight games in his last eight games across both Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League. However things may not be as straightforward as when he was a wide-eyed teen in Russia. Off-field dramas have engulfed Mbappé in recent months, and whether he can put the club issues to one side in Qatar could well define his World Cup.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

One of the world’s greatest ever players, Ronaldo is on this list not purely for footballing reasons. His recent public falling out with Manchester United (via an interview with Piers Morgan) turns the spotlight, yet again, heavily on the Portuguese striker. A frosty moment with United and Portugal teammates Bruno Fernandes was caught on camera this week, and just how the pair might work together in this, his fifth and final (surely?) World Cup, could make for popcorn viewing. How coach Fernando Santos uses the 37-year-old will also be of huge interest. Portugal have a squad bursting with talent, and at $15 with Palmerbet are genuine chances in Qatar. If Ronaldo starts slowly — which could happen given his patchy form and reduced game time for the Red Devils of late — Santos may just start him on the bench, something he has done in recent times anyhow to controversy from the Ronaldo faithful.

4. Harry Kane (England)

Avid EPL watchers might meet this selection with a ‘meh’, but Kane’s record for England is incredible, and arguably if they are to cause any damage at this tournament he absolutely needs to be firing. The Spurs frontman took home the Golden Boot in Russia 2018 (yes, three of his six goals were penalties) and is the $8.00 favourite to double-up in Qatar.

While his side come into the World Cup with strong recent tournament experiences (England made the semi-finals in Russia and last year’s European Championship final against Italy), the fact is that they arrive in Qatar in patchy form. A horror 2022 UEFA Nations League campaign saw fail to win in all six of their games. In fact, the Three Lions haven’t won since March. If England are to do anything of note in Qatar, Kane will almost certainly be front and centre.

5. Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Can the little maestro do the only thing on his CV that remains unfulfilled? Can he replicate the efforts of the late Diego Maradona, who won the World Cup for Argentina in Mexico 1986? Argentina, who arrive in the Gulf after an unbelievable unbeaten streak spanning 35 games, are considered a huge chance in Qatar, and start as $6.00 second-favourites behind South American rivals Brazil.

Like Ronaldo, Messi enters a record-equalling fifth World Cup. But the markets are suggesting the Argentinian’s likely swan song could be a happier one. In fact, Messi starts the tournament in Qatar as $9.50 Golden Ball favourite with Palmerbet. He arrives in Qatar in strong club form and having absolutely filled his boots in recent friendlies for Argentina, bagging nine goals in his last three internationals, including a lazy five against Estonia.