The 2014 World Cup will feature many great players and a large number of unpredictable ones, but it's the ones who are a combination of these things — a mix of talent with a penchant for getting themselves into situations that make sitcom writers rethink their entire lives — who are truly dangerous. They are the ones who can make the deepest impact on a tournament. These are the World Cup's most dangerous players (in every sense of the word).
Luis Suarez, Uruguay
As it turns out, inflicting mental anguish upon Ghana and challenging everyone's concept of "playing within the rules" in the 2010 World Cup by getting sent off for committing an intentional handball on the goal line that led to a missed penalty and Uruguay advancing to the semifinals has been one of the least controversial things Luis Suarez has done in the last four years. Since then, he's been banned for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, and he's bitten an opponent in an eruption of animalistic rage for the second time in his career. This amongst other handballs and dives and assorted acts of violence. The longstanding rumor that he blooded a referee with a headbutt when he was 15 years old even prompted an investigation by ESPN's Wright Thompson.
But since returning from his most recent ban for biting another human being while playing, Suarez has buried that past horribleness in an avalanche of goals, pushing Liverpool from seventh to second in the Premier League by scoring a record-matching 31 goals in just 33 appearances. He recently told Sports Illustrated that he's in the midst of trying to change his "bad boy image," but after weathering the painful emotions of narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last month and then being hobbled by a knee injury, can he remain in control under the intense pressure of the World Cup? Or will he score a hat trick against England and then literally eat someone?
Antonio Cassano, Italy
An off-and-on member of the Italian squad for over 10 years, this will be 31-year-old Cassano's first World Cup after joining Parma and having his best season in some time. That, of course, after recovering from a stroke and subsequent heart surgery in 2012.
This is a man who, in the absence of Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is probably the only player at the 2014 World Cup who has his own word — "Cassanata" — which was coined by former Roma and current Russia manager Fabio Capello as a euphemism for Cassano's easily sparked tantrums and defiance of societal expectations. This is also a man who claimed in his autobiography that he's "often played great matches after having sex." And that while he was playing for Real Madrid, he had a waiter friend who would bring three or four croissants to his hotel room after he finished the deed (he estimates he's been with 600 to 700 women) and then escort his partner away so he could eat his pastries in peace.
Since the stroke, he has calmed down a bit, as tends to happen with those sorts of things, and he lost weight for the World Cup by reducing his focaccia intake. He scored a goal at Euro 2012 and as Italy's oldest (by five years) and most experienced striker, it might need him to do even more in Brazil.
Mario Balotelli, Italy
Still just 23 years old, Balotelli has own history of Cassanatas, but he reached mythical status while playing for Manchester City. During that time, his undershirt messages and a constant stream of fantastical and bizarre tales about him in press that ranged from his friends setting his bathroom ablaze with fireworks (true) to driving around Manchester dressed as Santa Claus (false) coincided with his emergence as one of Europe's best young strikers.
He was a standout performer at Euro 2012, leading Italy to the final as one of the tournament's top scorers. Since then, he's moved to Milan, had a daughter and settled into a quieter personal life while continuing to score goals and combat vile racial abuse. But, aside from Suarez, no other player in the world elicits stronger emotions from all other human beings simply through his natural existence than Balotelli. If he doesn't cause controversy himself, it gets invented around him. He is the package of Mentos in the World Cup's two-liter bottle of Coke (which happens to be a World Cup sponsor!).
Sergio Ramos, Spain
A key member of Spain's 2010 World Cup winners and two European Championship titles, The Ramos is also Real Madrid's all-time leading red card accumulator (at 28 years old). And he dropped a trophy under a moving bus. And he sometimes misses important penalties.
But this season, Sergio Ramos has revealed himself to be an actual wizard. Despite never scoring more than six goals in a season for Real Madrid (he is a defender, after all), he scored that many in the final seven matches, including a late equalizer in the Champions League final that set up his side to win in extra time. As a result of being in the form of his life, he's now being discussed as a candidate for World Player of the Year. A strong showing at the World Cup would go a long way toward cementing his case, but he remains extremely capable of any number of calamities. In other words, Sergio Ramos could very well score the tournament's winning goal, get sent off in the final for using an opponent like a Twister mat and then somehow drop the trophy into an active volcano.
Kolo Toure, Ivory Coast
Oh Kolo. Kolo, Kolo, Kolo. First of all, he recently contracted malaria (for the second time). So there's that. Secondly, he scored one of the worst own goals of any season this year. And thirdly, he sometimes pretends to be a car salesman named Francois. And yet he remains one of the most lovable footballers in the game.
At 33, this will probably be Toure's final World Cup. So malaria or no malaria, he will be looking to make this a memorable one. Thankfully, those types of moments tend to come easy for him.
David Luiz, Brazil
A defender, a midfielder, a roving magnet for chaos — Luiz can do everything and he often tries to do it all at once. Gary Neville famously said, "He plays like he's being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation" and that remains the most accurate description of him. Fueled by the best of intentions and possessing incredible talent, Luiz can score against both teams in a given match, accidentally injure someone and cover every blade of grass on the pitch. He is the closest thing football has to the Tasmanian Devil.
James Milner, England
Milner often gets made fun of for being supremely bland. There's even a very popular "Boring James Milner" parody Twitter account. The real James Milner claims to be on the hunt for the person behind this account, but this obviously is just a cover. He's actually been carefully cultivating this image for years, biding his time until he shows up for a match wearing an anthem jacket made of ears and does things with the ball that make the Brazilians look like baby giraffes trying to stand for the first time. He will make Salvador Dali seem unimaginative and square. You have been warned.
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