Lionel Messi, notable stars likely playing in their last FIFA World Cup

Lionel Messi, other stars likely playing in last FIFA World Cup originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

All good things come to an end.

As painfully true as it sounds, it’s one of the unfortunate realities of life – and it also applies to soccer.

With the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar approaching, the quadrennial tournament provides a platform for some of the globe’s biggest stars to compete for a chance to represent their country in a tournament like no other.

However, some stars could be playing in their final tournament due to how old they’ll be for the next World Cup in 2026. 

This year, though, will hit harder than previous ones, as some of the biggest names in the history of the sport are likely writing their final chapters in the World Cup. Let’s take a look at which players could be playing in the tournament for the last time in Qatar:

Lionel Messi, Argentina

It’s already been confirmed by the man himself – Qatar will be his last. Messi will go down as not just one of the best soccer players to ever take the field but one of the best athletes of all time. Messi is currently 35 years old and will be 39 in four years, so now is the moment for Argentina to make a run so “La Pulga” can hoist the World Cup trophy for the first time. He has appeared in four World Cups prior to this: 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

As if it couldn’t get any worse for soccer fans, Ronaldo is also a possible name on the list. He has yet to confirm if Qatar will be his last World Cup, but he turns 38 and will be 42 when 2026 rolls around. The World Cup is also empty on his stacked resume, so let’s see if Portugal, who should also have a strong squad, can make history. Ronaldo has also appeared in the four World Cups prior to 2022.

Luis Suárez, Uruguay

Controversial moments in World Cups but always a threat in front of goal, Suárez may also be competing in his last tournament in Qatar. He’ll turn 36 in January and 40 by 2026, so Uruguay might have him available one last time. He played in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions.

Robert Lewandowski, Poland

One of the best strikers of this generation, Lewandowski is another one to watch. He made his first appearance in the World Cup in 2018, but is currently 34 years old and will be turning 38 in August of 2026, which will be around the time of that tournament if Poland qualifies.

Karim Benzema, France

A possible winner of the 2022 Ballon d’Or, Benzema is turning 35 this December. He’ll be 38 in 2026, but France has a bevy of young up-and-coming strikers who likely will replace his spot in the squad. Benzema has only played in one World Cup, which came in Brazil in 2014.

Manuel Neuer, Germany

Germany is known for producing quality goalkeeper after quality goalkeeper, and Neuer will go down as one of the best shot-stoppers to ever do it. He has played in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups, which Germany won in Brazil. Neuer turns 37 in March next year and would be 41 in 2026. 

Gareth Bale, Wales

This is Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958, so naturally 2022 will mark Bales’ first appearance. However, it might also be his last. He will turn 37 by the time the 2026 World Cup starts, if Wales is to qualify for a second straight time. 

Luka Modrić, Croatia

Modrić just turned 37 in September, so he’d be 40 in 2026. The Croatian maestro has appeared in three World Cups: 2006, 2014 and 2018. The latter is the one he’s most known for, as Croatia made an improbable run to the final before falling to France. That year, Modrić was awarded the Ballon d’Or for his performances internationally and with Real Madrid in Spain.

Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico

If there’s one goalkeeper who has delivered some marvelous World Cup performances in recent tournaments, Ochoa is the one. He’s 37 right now and will be 41 by 2026, which will be the year his nation is a co-host. The Mexican star played in the 2014 and 2018 tournaments.