After an enthralling 2022 World Cup final between Argentina and France that was settled on a nail biting penalty shootout, Lionel Messi finally claimed the biggest trophy in football to once and for all put him up amongst the all-time greats of Diego Maradona and Pele.
However, many are already looking towards the 2026 World Cup as the next set of stars prepare to take centre stage. Was the Qatar World Cup the final one for legends Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? Or could they make a surprise involvement in North America?
What stars are we yet to see on the global stage of international football and who could leave their mark in four years time?
Could Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah get redemption after missing the winter World Cup in the Middle East?
Below, we take a look at the superstars that could feature at the 2026 World Cup. You can find the latest spread betting odds on European football here.
Could Messi and Ronaldo feature?
The 2026 World Cup is very likely to be a bit too far in the future for legends Messi and Ronaldo. Currently aged 35 and 37 respectively, the two icons will be aged 39 and 41 by the time the 2026 tournament comes around. Ronaldo already seems to be on a downward spiral, despite his own aspirations of making the Portugal squad for the 2024 European Championship in Germany. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he made a miraculous appearance.
Messi has arguably proven that he is not only the best footballer on the planet but potentially the best player ever to grace the game after his first World Cup triumph to ultimately complete his trophy cabinet. He was exceptional for the whole of the tournament too, making an impact across every single knockout stage game, even scoring two goals in the final. However, another four years on his legs could mean he may not make it to North America or at least could see a much smaller role.
Is England’s Star Forward Past His Peak?
After the heartbreak of his penalty miss against France that saw England crash out of this year’s competition at the quarter-final stage, Harry Kane will already be looking to 2026 for potential World Cup glory. The Three Lions were unable to match their 2018 performance and reach the semi-finals this year and it will hurt even more knowing that their star striker was in the peak of his career for this year’s edition.
Kane will be 33-years-old by 2026 and bar from a rapid and unexpected decline or serious injury, he will still be leading England in four years time. Kane only managed two goals at the 2022 World Cup, four goals less than his tally in Russia 2018. 2026 will likely be the final World Cup for Kane to deliver World Cup glory for the Three Lions.
Neymar Still Searching For World Cup Prestige
Neymar is yet another man who suffered World Cup heartbreak after his Brazil side were knocked out by Croatia at the last eight. Despite not being at his best, the Paris Saint-Germain forward thought he had put his team through to the final four after he took the lead in extra time. Nonetheless, a Bruno Petkovic equaliser for the Vatreni sent the game to penalties. Neymar didn’t even get to take one as he watched his team crash out of the tournament.
Already aged 30, Neymar will be 34 by the 2026 World Cup and it could also be his final chance of achieving World Cup glory to put him up with the likes of legends Ronaldo, Romario and Ronaldinho.
Mohamed Salah’s Revenge
Despite being one of the best footballers on the globe, Salah was another name who wasn’t at the last World Cup. Egypt have qualified for the competition just once since 1990 and Salah had to endure a tough exit at the group stage when they qualified for the tournament in Russia four years ago.
He’ll be 34 by the next World Cup and will be itching to leave an impact – that’s if his nation can qualify of course.
The New Breed
Erling Haaland is perhaps the biggest star that is yet to appear at a World Cup. However, he will be doing all he can to push his Norway side into the 2026 tournament. At just 22-years-old, the monstrous striker has already set the world alight, particularly after the impressive start to his maiden Premier League campaign with Manchester City, already yielding 18 goals in just 13 matches.
In four years time, Haaland will have matured his game further, which makes it increasingly exciting and somewhat chilling thinking about what he could be like by then, especially if Norway qualify for what would only be their fourth ever World Cup. Let’s not forget about captain Martin Odegaard who is also yet to play at a World Cup and could be crucial towards Norwegian success as well.
16-year-old Endrick Felipe has been in the headlines of late after Real Madrid signed their next exciting project from Palmeiras and will join the side in July 2024. Los Blancos have taken a huge gamble on the youth prospect, investing upwards of €72 million to bring the teenager to the Santiago Bernabeu. By 2026, Endrick will be aged 20 and could have already started to impact a Real Madrid side that is filled with similar talent in the form of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
Despite the two current Madrid stars being slightly older than what Endrick would be if he was to make the 2026 squad, the potential surrounding the teenager is gigantic and he could very much be the next superstar to come out of Brazil, alongside what would be a matured pair of wingers in Vinicius and Rodrygo.
Founder and editor of Footiecentral. A voracious reader who loves reading anything and everything related to the history of football. He’s an ardent supporter of Manchester United and rarely misses a match.