Lionel Messi, other stars likely playing in last FIFA World Cup


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 almost complete, the quadrennial tournament has provided 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 at 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 posted a cryptic message on social media about his international future following Portugal’s quarterfinals exit against Morocco, and he will be 41 when 2026 rolls around.

If this is Ronaldo’s last World Cup, it will certainly go down as a memorable one. He became the first player to score in five different World Cups, but his time in Qatar was filled with controversy surrounding his club career and his standing with the Portuguese national team.

Luis Suárez, Uruguay

Controversial moments in World Cups but always a threat in front of goal, Suárez may also have competed in his last tournament in Qatar. He’ll turn 36 in January and 39 by 2026, so Uruguay might have had 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 and got his first ever World Cup goal in this year’s group stage against Saudi Arabia. He is currently 34 years old and will be turning 38 in August of 2026, which will be around the time of that World Cup if Poland qualifies.

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 played in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and he earned a title with Germany in 2014. Qatar marked the second straight edition in which Germany failed to make it out of the group stage.

Neuer turns 37 in March next year and would be 40 in 2026. 

Gareth Bale, Wales

This was Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958, so naturally 2022 marked 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 the summer of 2026. The Croatian maestro has appeared in four World Cups: 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022. The latter two are the ones he’s most known for, as Croatia made an improbable run to the final before falling to France in 2018 and has made it to the semifinals in 2022. Modrić was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2018, as well, 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, 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Olivier Giroud, France

After Karim Benzema’s late withdrawal from Qatar with an injury, the spotlight reverted to the striker who started for France in its 2018 title run: Olivier Giroud. Giroud failed to write his name on the scoresheet in seven games in Russia, but his chemistry with Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and others played a significant role beyond just goals. Now 36, Giroud surpassed Thierry Henry as Les Bleus’ all-time leading scorer against Poland in Qatar in what might be his last World Cup. He’ll be 39 when the 2026 tournament begins. 

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