For one month every four years, the world turns its attention to 736 men from thirty-two nations, brought together by one passionate pursuit: global soccer domination.
FIFA World Cup! The pinnacle of international competition, which captured over nine hundred million unique viewers in Germany in 2006, will take place this year on the soil of South Africa.
A timeless tradition of blood, sweat, and tears, the Cup has come to embody everything perfect about sport—it’s an overwhelming sensory experience. In massive stadiums, riotous bodies impassioned by national pride chant in unison as twenty-two men, charged with adrenaline, stardom, and more national pride, dance beneath them for ninety-plus minutes. And the cameras capture it all: the fans, backstories, rivalries, anxiety, love, fear, drama, joy, and, of course, the men.
For the last fifteen years, David Beckham has reigned supreme as soccer’s ambassador to the American female fantasy. But this year, an ailing Achilles tendon will keep Becks out of the competition spotlight … and make room for his dozens of worthy successors in the heartthrob department. Hold on to your libido, ladies—here are the 2010 World Cup’s five biggest studs:
Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
This preeminent sex symbol is a threat to steal a lot more than possession from his opponents. Fabio was voted Sexiest Player of the 2006 World Cup, the same year he won the FIFA World Player of the Year Award, making him the first, and so far only, defender to receive the honor. Needless to say, it was a good year for a man who has endured 133 international appearances—the most of any Italian. Cannavaro makes this list as arguably the least loathed member of the insufferable Italian squad, which includes some of the world’s dirtiest players. He managed an awe-inspiring performance in Germany four years ago playing every minute (690 in total) of every match (all ten), and his smile alone will be reason enough for many women to follow his next 690 minutes.
Position: Center back
Style of Play: Smart, deliberate, and efficient. Fabio makes opposing forwards earn their possession. He is masterful at anticipating and disrupting promising play.
- When to Watch: Group F (Italy, Slovakia, New Zealand, and Paraguay) is a pretty tame bunch. Italy’s most formidable challenge (if any) will likely be a crafty Paraguayan offense. The two are set to meet on June 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET. Cannavaro should be called on here to make some important plays deep in Italian territory.
Yoann Gourcuff (France)
As the youngest member of a French squad that has been largely dismissed, Yoann should provide a welcome antidote. Since he joined the national team in 2008, Gourcuff has been inserted into the playmaker role by French coach Raymond Domenech, a position that was vacated following the retirement of the legendary Zinedine Zidane in 2006. In 2009, Gourcuff was named French Player of the Year for the exceptional season he had with his club, Bordeaux. But be careful, ladies; during his time at AC Milan, Gourcuff didn’t see much playing time—an issue his coach attributed to “psychological problems.” Ultimately, while Yoann is a potential threat to emerge as the most exciting international newcomer, chances are, France will fail to survive group play, and their boy wonder will be left to age for another four years, like a fine French wine.
- Position: Center midfielder; playmaker
- Number: 8
- Age: 23
- Style of Play: Creative and crafty. Gourcuff is likely to set up the majority of French opportunities with silky juke moves or precision passing.
- When to Watch: Group A (France, Uruguay, Mexico, and South Africa) is tough to call. What we know for sure: South Africa is going to struggle. Tune in on June 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET as a raucous home crowd riles its team against the Frenchies. South Africa’s defense will probably provide Yoann with plenty of point chances.
Francesc “Cesc” Fàbregas (Spain)
Cesc is easily one of the most likable figures in professional soccer. Despite his young age, he is both experienced and proven; in 2008, he claimed some spotlight in soccer’s second-biggest competition, Euro Cup. Raised by a real-estate collector and pastry chef, he presumably possesses a broad domestic skill set to complement his physical abilities. Considered one of the best young players at his position, of his generation, this Vilasar de Mar native has lightning quickness and brilliant play that make him poised to explode this summer as one of the top five players in the world. So what’s the catch? Well, he’s only five-foot-nine. But while his stature might be something to scoff at, his bankroll isn’t.
- Position: Midfielder; playmaker
- Number: 10
- Age: 23
- Style of Play: Cunning and unselfish. Expect a few beautiful assists from this kid. And don’t be surprised if he makes a few defensive midfielders look pretty silly in the process.
- When to Watch: Spain plays Switzerland on June 16 at 10:00 p.m. ET to kick off their Group H (Spain, Honduras, Switzerland, and Chile) play. Tune in to see long Spanish possessions and lots of Cesc-time.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal):
The face of ESPN’s World Cup marketing campaign needs little introduction. In the last four years, much of the global XX-chromosome population has come to appreciate the single most devastating Portuguese homewrecker. Women want him; men want to be him; God often wonders if maybe he has two sons. Ronaldo is perhaps the greatest international player; he’s spectacular on the field—physical and fast, moving defenders aside, drawing fouls and often cards, and generally wreaking havoc. In October 2009, designer Giorgio Armani announced that Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year, would be taking over from David Beckham as the spokesmodel for Emporio Armani’s men’s underwear and jeans: Ronaldo is now appearing in a spring/summer 2010 worldwide advertising campaign for the brand. (Yeah, you can google it right now—I’ll wait.)But while his celebrity is ubiquitous (he’s photographed more times per day than Playboy Playmate Kenda Wilkinson ever was), this playboy isn’t just fun and games—he has quite a cross to bear. If Portugal is to succeed, their captain will need to perform like his life depends on it. Oh, wait, it does.
- Position: Winger
- Number: 7
- Age: 25
- Style of Play: Flashy, arrogant, and whiny. A dribble master, incredibly unpredictable, with a daunting array of skills.
- When to Watch: Portugal vs. Ivory Coast, June 15, 10:00 p.m. ET. Expect confusion, loud noises, and too much hair product.
Fernando “El Niño” Torres
Automatic rifles excluded, Torres is the most prolific offensive weapon in South Africa this summer—perfect touches, precise finishes, speed. Our hero of Euro Cup 2008 is simply the most likely candidate to capture the covers of ESPN The Magazine’s and Sports Illustrated’s August issues with the title “#1.” The Kid is all grown up and everyone wants a piece—especially opposing defenders, who are often slower and bigger and have less attractive wives. As a result, despite his electrifying speed and vision, the Spanish striker’s lean frame is always a target for massive, piercing tackles that leave the crowd gasping for air. But don’t cry for him, Argentina—in 2011, Torres is set to make close to €200,000 a week. Despite that, his humility resonates with the international community. In the summer of 2009, he married his longtime girlfriend, Olalla, in El Escorial, Madrid. At her request, instead of an Oprah-style Santa Barbara celebrity ball, the wedding was a quiet, dignified, family affair, held without fuss or extravagance.
- Position: Striker
- Number: 9
- Age: 26
- Style of Play: Sweet.
- When to Watch: Always.
Credentials : Kass