By: Zac Kennedy

The majority of Americans today wouldn’t recognize a world famous soccer player if he Maradona’ed his way down their hall, rainbow kicked over their couch, nutmegged them cold-blooded and planted an absolute zinger in the top corner of their fireplace. Oh, you’re confused already? Well, it’s about time the Red, White, and Blue had a quick lesson on the major players who, along with their countries, will be battling for the World Cup trophy starting June 11th in South Africa. To give perspective, we’ll compare the top World Cup soccer stars to athletes in the U.S. that you’re familiar with. You know, the ones that can use their hands.

Who ya’ know                                        Who ya’ Don’t

Steve Nash         Lionel Messi(ARG)

Lionel Messi– What you see is what you get. What you can’t see, you don’t have a chance of stopping. Like Nash, Messi has the ability to squeeze through spaces smaller than the holes in shower drains. A waterbug of sorts, Messi cuts and bounds from open space to heavy traffic, all with the ball glued to his feet. With 29 goals in 32 games with Spanish Premier League powerhouse, Barcelona, Leo is looking to break out of the shadow of Argentinean icon Maradona, and lead his highly favored, yet inconsistent of late, team deep into Cup contention.

LeBron James         Cristiano Ronaldo(POR)

Cristiano Ronaldo– Like LeBron, fans following Ronaldo’s career can truly call themselves ‘Witnesses’. Both players employ a phenomenal fusion of strength, speed, and grace in motion. Leaving defenders in his wake, Ronaldo is programmed for domination on the wings and he can cause even more damage from the penalty spot. In an estimated deal worth $130 million, Ronaldo transferred from top club, Manchester United, to an even topper club, Real Madrid. Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy athletes such as Ronaldo, who seem to high-five the Hand of God before every match.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Alexzander Ovechkin      Wayne Rooney(ENG)

Wayne Rooney– Ovechkin and Rooney share one common ingredient that distinguishes them from the herd: testosterone; and lots of it. The wooly beards are insignia of the hard-nose, gritty playing styles of these Herculean competitors. Only 24, Rooney has already made himself a legend at Manchester United. Against Australia in 2003, Rooney became the youngest player ever to earn a cap (touch the field in a game) for England at a fresh 17 years old, until fellow Englishman Theo Walcott broke his record in 2006 by only 36 days. Expect fireworks from Rooney this year, as his tremendous form in the club season will surely carry over to the world stage.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Peyton Manning                     Xavi (SPA)

Xavi– When you think Peyton Manning, you think calm, collected, and cool under pressure. Likewise, Xavi is the quarterback of his seemingly flawless Spanish team. He is the midfield maestro who links defense and attack. With his eyes constantly scanning his surroundings, Xavi has a Bagger Vance-like sense of how the field is playing and where the ball needs to go next. Pairing a deft touch and a wicked shot, Xavi has confidence that his team will be the one to hoist the Cup when it’s all said and done. After all, greatness plus greatness, equals greatness.

Troy Polamalu                 Carles Puyol (SPA)

Carles Puyol– Don’t mistake these wavy-locked athletes for anything other than Samson-esque soldiers. Like the feared Steelers’ safety, Puyol is the last line of defense and he is rarely, if ever beaten. Serving as captain of Spain, Puyol has been an anchor for La Furia Roja’s defense since his first international cap in November 2000. Alongside the likes of stars Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, who are standouts in their own rights, Puyol looks to remove any doubt his team is the best by issuing bone-crushing tackles and exhibiting glorious last-ditch defending.

Apollo Anton Ohno        Robinho (BRA)

Robinho– A friendly reminder – Remember not to blink when watching Brazil. Because of you do, you’ll surely miss out on one of the most electrifying players on the planet. Much like Apollo Ohno displayed speed with delicacy on the ice in the Vancouver Olympics, Brazilian winger Robinho will surely “skate” through defenders next month. A disappointing move to England Premier League team Manchester City has left Robinho with a sour taste in his mouth, so look for him to unleash an all-out attack when he re-joins his teammates who value o jogo bonito, meaning “the beautiful game.” Lighting-fast runs and well-placed passes and shots are the Brazilians’ bread and butter. Soccer is an art in Brazil, so sit back and enjoy watching a masterpiece unfold before your eyes. And yes, there will be goals.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr.   Clint Dempsey (USA)

Clint Dempsey– Those who admire the American Dream, listen up. While you’ve said that soccer will never gain respect in America, there’s been an American using soccer to gain respect for you. Like boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Clint Dempsey possesses the swagger that was needed to boost American morale going into the Confederations Cup, where they defeated the giants of Spain, a game in which he was awarded Man of the Match after scoring a trademark goal. Growing up in a trailer park in the small town of Nacogdoches, Texas, Clint Dempsey and his family sacrificed a better part of their lives to provide Clint with the opportunity to follow his dream to become a professional soccer player. Now, Dempsey is an intricate part of EPL team Fulham’s attack. His fearless attitude and sense of urgency has earned him worldwide respect. Dempsey was the only American player to score in the 2006 World Cup. Don’t count on it being his last.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

These players are only a select few of the many who will don their country’s colors and battle for the world’s most sacred trophy.  The participants are ready and the stage is set. The premise is one of joy and exhilaration. It has been four years since a king was crowned and this World Cup looks to be one of the most action-packed competitions in history. Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering, Beckham will be there, too.

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