Brazil will host the World Cup for the first time since 1950 and will be favourites to become world champions for the sixth time. However, the build-up to the finals has been overshadowed by long delays in stadium construction and the violent protests that marred last year's Confederations Cup hang over the tournament.  FIFA and local organisers are optimistic those scenes will not be repeated, but nothing can be ruled out as the tournament approaches.

The holders Spain's desire for glory on the international stage is as strong as ever but the champions will need something special if they are to become the first Europeans to win the World Cup in the Americas.

Here are the top players to watch out for at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil:

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo, who captains the Portugal national team, became the most expensive footballer in history when he moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 in a transfer worth USD 132 million.

Ronaldo became the first player to win all four main PFA and FWA awards in 2007 and also bagged the Ballon d'Or award for the best footballer in the world in 2008 and 2013.

Ronaldo is the first top European league player to reach 40 goals in a single season in two consecutive years and fastest Real Madrid player to reach 100 league goals. Ronaldo scored his 400th career goal in January this year.

So far, Ronaldo has participated in five major tournaments; UEFA Euro 2004, 2006 FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012. He took over captaincy in July 2008 and captained them to the Euro 2012 semi-finals finishing the competition as joint-top scorer. Ronaldo was the second-highest scorer in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification in the European zone with seven goals.

Ronaldo was made full-time captain of Portugal after the UEFA Euro 2008. Ronaldo was named man of the match in all three group matches of Portugal in 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Lionel Messi plays as a forward and also captains the Argentina national football team. He won his first Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2009. Messi also won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010 and then again in 2011 and 2012. He bagged the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award for the 2010–11 season. At the age of 24, Messi became Barcelona's all-time top scorer in all official club competitions. Later he became the youngest player to score 200 goals in La Liga's matches.

Messi set the European record for most goals scored in a season during the 2011–12 season with 73 goals. In the same season, he set the current goalscoring record in a single La Liga season with 50 goals.

READ MORE: Five young fledglings eyeing to make it big

Messi helped Argentina win the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, finishing as both the best player and the top scorer with six goals. In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play and score in the FIFA World Cup.

After a spectacular haul of trophies with Barcelona, Lionel Messi has a chance to lead Argentina to glory on the World Cup stage and build on his reputation as one of the all-time greats.

The four-time World Player of the Year has won a glittering array of club silverware and has established himself as one of the finest footballers to grace the game, but some believe he must win the World Cup before he can be hailed as a true great.

Neymar (Brazil)

Neymar plays as a forward for Barcelona and the Brazilian national team. He received nominations for the FIFA Ballon d'Or and the FIFA Puskas Award for Goal of the Year in 2011. He also received the Bronze Ball in the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup.

Neymar has represented Brazil at Under-17, Under-20 and senior levels. At the age of 18, he made his debut for the Selecao in a friendly match against the United States. Neymar was the top scorer of the 2011 South American Youth Championship with nine goals, including two in the final, in the 6–0 win against Uruguay. In December 2013, Neymar was ranked as the sixth best player in the world by The Guardian.

READ MORE: Injuries to marquee players likely to be ‘party pooper’ at World Cup

Brazilian football players Pele and Romario reportedly urged coach Dunga to take Neymar to the 2010 World Cup after his performance in 2009 U-17 World Cup in which he scored a goal in the opening match against Japan.

In July 2010, Neymar was selected for the first time in the Brazil senior team by new head coach Mano Menezes for a friendly match against the United States. In August, he made his debut with the national team and started wearing the number 11 jersey.

After being selected in the national team, Neymar said: "Being on the Brazilian team is a privilege, There are some marvelous players and I'm very happy to be among them."

David Luiz (Brazil)

David Luiz is the vice-captain of the Brazil national team. He played with Brazil's under-20 at the World Cup in 2007 and was later picked for the senior side for a friendly against the United States in August 2010.

Luiz was included in the squad for the Confederations Cup in 2013, which was hosted in his native of Brazil. Alongside teammate Thiago Silva, Luiz helped Brazil win their fourth Confederations Cup title, especially in the final against Spain, where he made an outstanding goal-line clearance.

Luiz moved to Chelsea for an undisclosed fee on a five-and-a-half-year contract and scored his first goal for the club to come from behind to win 2–1 against Manchester United. Luiz was widely criticized for a controversial incident during Chelsea's 1–0 away win over Manchester United after he elbowed opponent Rafael.

Luiz was sold from Chelsea to Paris St Germain for a estimated fee to be between 40 and 50 million pounds which is a world record for a defender.

Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Alexis Sanchez plays for FC Barcelona in La Liga and the Chilean national team as a forward.  He was made a full time international player for Chile in 2006 and has participated in 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2011 Copa America.

He made his debut for Barcelona in 2011 against arch rivals Real Madrid. Sanchez made his international debut for his national team against New Zealand in 2006. Later, he was invited to participate in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Sanchez scored four times in Chile's qualification campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In November 2013, Sanchez scored two goals as Chile defeated England 2–0, repeating the achievement of national team legend Marcelo Salas in 1998. Alexis is the undisputed leader of the Chile forward line and has 22 goals in 65 appearances for La Roja.


Latest News from Sports News Desk