Top five players by position in the World Cup (cont.)
1. Xavi Hernandez (Spain)
How many gallons of drool have dribbled down chins while Xavi has been on the ball? The perfect creative midfielder, Xavi sets the tempo according to his own faultless rhythm. Labeled el maestro arquitecto, he knows where the space is, where his teammates are, and when precisely the right moment to release the ball is -- and his passing percentage is rarely lower than 95 percent.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Granted, he can be an irritating showpony, but anyone who can caress the ball with their feet, sprint down the line like Usain Bolt and bang in goals with the regularity he does deserves a look-in. Qualifying unconvincingly, Portugal landed the nightmarish Group G and will need their prima donna to be at his dazzling best on the biggest stage of all.
3. Andres Iniesta (Spain)
In the galaxy of talent that is Spain (the only nation good enough to have Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas on the bench), it's tempting to think of Iniesta as Canopus to Xavi's Sirius. But 300 light years separate the two brightest stars in the night sky, and there's far less to choose between the Barca midfielders. Iniesta's harder to get the ball off than a man of 5-foot-6 is entitled to be, and his movement on or off the ball is mesmerizing as well as effective.
4. Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Jose Mourinho may be the Special One but how different would Internazionale's season look without Sneijder's creative thinking in the middle of the park? He's cucumber cool on the ball, can sight -- and make -- the right pass within milliseconds and has a sharp finish on him too. The Dutch have a fearful forward line and Sneijder is a generous provider.
5. Kaka (Brazil)
Since making the switch to Real Madrid, Kaka's tended to look a bit lost, but when he's on form, he's impossible to stop and even harder to match. He's scored some amazing goals, and his all-round play can be breathtaking -- especially on the international stage. There's a vigor to Dunga's Brazil that could mean Kaka has plenty of opportunities to reassert his stake in lists like this.
1. Wayne Rooney (England)
Having notched up 26 league goals this season in a lone role for Manchester United, Rooney, according to spies at England's training camp, might start as England's sole striker. Muscular, tireless, instinctive and deadly, Rooney is lapping up praise as arguably the world's best footballer heading for South Africa.
2. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Rooney faces nippy competition, mind you -- Messi's being hailed as the best player in soccer's history in some parts. His ball control on the move through packed final thirds is second to none; one flick of his ankle is like a wave of a magic wand. A World Cup winner's medal is the only thing missing from his collection of silverware, and he's still only 22.
3. David Villa (Spain)
Villa has 37 goals in 55 international appearances, but is nothing like the goal-hanger that incredible profile might imply. He's always prepared to do some leg-work, and drops deep to help bring the team forward, but retains a deadly eye for goal once he's in range to shoot. If he can rustle up seven goals in South Africa, he'll match Raul's Spanish record for career international goals.
4. Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
The Chelsea forward is essentially an overgrown and petulant child, but that kid's a damn fine striker. Combining strength, pace and pinpoint finishing, Drogba is a natural predator. He doesn't care so much for link-up play, but he's comfortable with the ball at his feet and can create chances from nothing. Has perfected Ronaldo-esque bullet free kicks, too.
5. Luis Fabiano (Brazil)
The Sevilla man isn't always the most spectacular striker but he's very effective, averaging a goal a game throughout World Cup qualifying and in Brazil's Confederations Cup win, too. Strong and skilful, Fabiano worries defenders and can shoot from almost anywhere -- no wonder he's being tipped for the Golden Boot.
Georgina Turner has worked as a sports journalist since 2003. She covers the English Premier League, but also reports on tennis and women's sports for UK magazines.