Superstars set to exit after final World Cup

Frank Lampard, Miroslav Klose, and Julio Cesar all could be playing in their last World Cup....

Frank Lampard, Miroslav Klose, and Julio Cesar all could be playing in their last World Cup. (REUTERS)

Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:36 PM ET

Every World Cup provides an international stage on which the sport’s best performers are given an opportunity to shine.

It is the Greatest Show on Earth, after all.

So it is fitting that Brazil 2014, thought by most to be the world’s cathedral of soccer, will be the international stage on which so many superstars may well be making their final appearance at a World Cup. Some have decided already to leave international play. Others will make the announcement after the tournament.

No matter, they will be leaving the World Cup stage to the beat of the samba. These players are wonderful proponents of O Jogo Bonito — the Beautiful Game — the title given to soccer by Pele, the most legendary player of all.

Some of those players have been the heart and soul of their national teams for many years. When they do go, it will be a loss for the game, but it will change the very core of their national team.

As fate would have it, four of those players will play in one of the most anticipated group games of the tournament

With Italy, England, Uruguay and Costa Rica all in Group D, it is one of the toughest groups in the tournament.

On June 14 — in the middle of the Amazon basin in the city of Manaus — Italy and England will play their first game of the World Cup.

Italy will be led by 34-year-old magical midfielder Andrea Pirlo. The Italian league is so inundated with foreign midfielders that an Italian that excels at the position stands out to an even greater degree. Pirlo has been the national team’s saving grace. He controls pace, is a master at distributing the ball and is a maestro of the free kicks.

Defending the Italian goal is Gianluigi Buffon, for years considered the world’s best goalkeeper. At 36, he is on the downside of his career. This is his fifth World Cup and the Italians will have great trouble replacing him. Buffon’s magnificence over the years has allowed Italy to win a World Cup and remain a force in world football.

He has had to overcome depression in his career and, just before this World Cup, he faced personal issues again, having recently split with his wife, model Alena Seredova.

By the time England’s World Cup is done, it, too, will be looking to find replacements for two men who have been integral to English football.

Frank Lampard turns 36 during the tourney. Midfield partner Steven Gerrard is 34. They have been a fixture on the Three Lions and, while the national team’s success has been limited, it isn’t because of their lack of effort or talent.

Those players will have to deal with the pressure of the World Cup and the questions about their international retirement.

But they are by no means the only players the world has enjoyed watching play who will appear for the final time in this event.

Didier Drogba, a striker who has put Ivory Coast soccer on the world map, will attain the 100-cap mark with his national side before calling it a career on the international stage.

It was likely this was to have been French winger Franck Ribery’s last World Cup. But the 31-year-old won’t get that chance — he’s out with a lower-back injury. Ribery played for Les Bleus in the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. He says he intends to play in Euro 2016 in France.

Germany’s Miroslav Klose has been a scoring machine in World Cup play. At 35, this will be his last chance to reach his goal of becoming the most prolific scorer in the tournament’s history. Klose has 14 World Cup goals and is chasing Brazil’s Ronaldo, who has 15. Klose has already hinted he might not play internationally beyond this tournament.

With so many magnificent Spanish midfielders to watch, Xavi is often lost in the mix, but there is no doubting how important he’s been to the Spanish machine.

At 34, will Xavi’s international career comes to an end after this World Cup? He was key in getting Spain its first major win at 2008 Euro and it was his partnership with Andres Iniesta that helped make their country so dominant after so many failures.

And what of goaltender Julio Cesar? At 34, he has been a stalwart for Brazil and now plays with Toronto FC. There are rumours he won’t return to Toronto after the World Cup. While he’ll play club football, his World Cup future is limited.

By no means are these the only players who will announce that Brazil will be their last appearance on a World Cup stage.

Should all of these players do the expected and step away from international football, the Beautiful Game will be a lot less beautiful.

They have provided a plethora of thrills for fans and have helped put their nations at the soccer forefront.

If it is to be their swansong on this grand stage, then it’s fortunate they’ll perform it in a country where they will be appreciated like no other.

 


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