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The $64m question: who will step into Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoes after the Qatar World Cup?

The $64m question: who will step into Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's shoes after the Qatar World Cup?

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Cape Town – Paris Saint-Germain attacker Lionel Messi and now former Manchester United striker Cristiano Ronaldo are in the twilight of their glittering careers. By this time, the debate about who is the best football player of all time has reached boiling point.

Experts say that the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate can be settled at the World Cup in Qatar. The 35-year-old Argentina captain Messi will wear the iconic No 10 shirt as Argentina go in search of a third World Cup crown.

The 37-year-old Ronaldo, having already established himself as one of football's greats will captain Portugal. Like Messi, this will be his last chance to add “World Cup winner” to his incredible CV.

It is likely that whoever produces the better World Cup performance in Qatar, should be enough to settle the GOAT debate.

The other debate raging is who are the superstars destined to take over from Messi and Ronaldo in the post-2022 World Cup era on the world stage. This debate will not be settled in Qatar, but rather over the next 12 months various players will stake their claims as the best player on the planet.

For starters, Kylian Mbappe (France), Vinicius Jr (Brazil), Dusan Vlahovic (Serbia) and Erling Haaland (Norway) are the pretenders to the throne. For now, you won't hear much about Haaland because Norway failed to qualify for the World Cup. Mbappe, Vlahovic and Vinicius Jr, however, are braced to set the world stage alight over the next few days.

The 23-year-old Mbappe has already achieved what Messi and Ronaldo are dreaming of. He was a member of the French team (as a 19-year-old) that won the 2018 World Cup. In the final, he scored a goal in France's 4-2 win over Croatia and became only the second teenager, after the great Pele, to score in a World Cup final.

Presently, he is one of the most expensive players of all time and on the wish list of the world’s biggest clubs. In Qatar, he will rank alongside Ronaldo and Messi as one of the most famous footballers in the world.

The Frenchman has unmatched raw pace, potent finishing and intelligence beyond his years. Experts say it’s frightening to think how good the Frenchman can still become.

The 22-year-old Vinicius Jr, who plies his trade at Real Madrid, already ranks among the world's top five players. Last season, in his breakthrough season for the famous club, Uefa named him inaugural Champions League Young Player of the Season.

He is showing constant improvement and this season he has set La Liga alight with his scintillating dribbles. As an industrious winger, he is a prolific scorer, supplies numerous assists and does not shirk duties when it’s time to help out on defence.

Over the last while, his decision-making and efficiency have come on in leaps and bounds. His all-round ability has become a nightmare for opponents. He remains unfazed by tight marking and his nifty footwork will see many a defender floundering in his slipstream.

The 22-year-old Vlahovic, the Juventus hitman, is destined to be the next big thing on the world stage. Last season he alerted the world to his talents when he was named Serie A’s Best Young Player.

He offers superb link play and brings his teammates into the frame when setting off on attacking sorties. He runs the channels well, and that helps his teammates to read his moves. In a flash, he will take up positions where he is unmarked and able to receive or distribute passes. He has a knack for getting behind opposition defences after losing his markers.

The 22-year-old Haaland will not grace the world stage in Qatar but he will, without fail, be mentioned when the debate about the world's best players rages on.

Arguably, the Manchester City striker is one of the most admired players in world football because of his glorious feats in the Premier League. He is blessed with a host of exceptional abilities like pace, a venomous left foot, sublime finishing and extreme physicality that makes him hard to mark or stop without fouling.

He is a nightmare to mark because he uses his penetrative running to prise open space behind the defensive line and then unleashes scoring strikes, despite defenders hanging on.

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