Portugal's forward Ronaldo Cristiano (C)

World Cup Superstars When They Were Young

These baby-faced phenoms were destined for soccer greatness.

Many of the biggest stars taking the field at the 2018 World Cup in Russia have not only been pillars of their national teams for years, but have been representing their countries at FIFA tournaments since they were teenagers. Back then they were aspiring talents hoping to one day appear on the sport’s biggest stage, and they had yet to become seasoned professionals making millions playing at the top clubs in the world. Here, some of our favorite early pictures of the top players at this year's World Cup before they were global superstars (and when they still looked a bit young and awkward).

LIONEL MESSI, ARGENTINA KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images LIONEL MESSI, ARGENTINA Like a fine Argentinian wine, Messi just gets better with age. The 30-year-old has less hair and more tattoos than he did at 17, when he led Argentina to a FIFA World Youth Championship title in 2005. NEYMAR, BRAZIL Jamie McDonald - FIFA via Getty Images NEYMAR, BRAZIL Still only 26 years old, Neymar started playing for Brazil's national team at the age of 17, including this FIFA U-17 World Cup match against Japan in 2009. CRISTIANO RONALDO, PORTUGAL GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images CRISTIANO RONALDO, PORTUGAL The frame was scrawnier and the tips were frostier, but the star power was undeniable for a then 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, seen here celebrating with Portugal teammates after winning the UEFA European U-21 Championship in 2003. SERGIO RAMOS, SPAIN NACHO CUBERO/AFP/Getty Images SERGIO RAMOS, SPAIN The look was noticeably different for a 19-year-old, shaggy-haired Sergio Ramos, as he speaks with reporters before an international friendly with Canada in September 2005. EDEN HAZARD, BELGIUM Photonews via Getty Images EDEN HAZARD, BELGIUM A mini-mullet was the look of choice for then 16-year-old Eden Hazard at the UEFA U-17 European Championships in 2007. MARCELO, BRAZIL Ian Walton/Getty Images MARCELO, BRAZIL Without the trademark hair, it's tough to recognize an 18-year-old Marcelo during this 2006 international friendly between Brazil and Wales. ANDRES INIESTA, SPAIN Mike Egerton - EMPICS ANDRES INIESTA, SPAIN The most decorated Spanish footballer of all time bore only slight resemblance at age 19 (all that hair!), except of course for the gifted midfield skills. PAUL POGBA, FRANCE Bongarts/Getty Images for DFB PAUL POGBA, FRANCE The hair at age 16 was relatively basic for the now creatively-coiffed French midfielder. TONI KROOS, GERMANY Bongarts/Getty Images TONI KROOS, GERMANY Just 15 when he appeared for Germany in the 2007 UEFA European U-17 Championship, Kroos, now 28, is set to make his third World Cup appearance for the defending champions. LUIS SUAREZ, URUGUAY GERARDO GOMEZ/AFP/Getty Images LUIS SUAREZ, URUGUAY The Barcelona star looked very serious as a 21-year-old forward on Uruguay's 2007 Copa America squad. MANUEL NEUER, GERMANY Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images MANUEL NEUER, GERMANY The now 32-year-old goalkeeping legend looked pretty similar at age 19 — except, of course, for the bleached blonde hair. ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, FRANCE Icon Sport via Getty Images ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, FRANCE The uniform was a bit baggier on an 18-year-old Griezmann, appearing for the French national team at the 2010 UEFA U-19 European Championship. MESUT ÖZIL, GERMANY Thomas Langer/Bongarts/Getty Images MESUT ÖZIL, GERMANY The steady midfielder looks to have started out a bit streaky as a member of German's U-19 national team. LUKA MODRIĆ, CROATIA Adam Davy - EMPICS LUKA MODRIĆ, CROATIA The years have been kind to the Croatian midfielder, who looks the same at 32 as he did at 20 while appearing in this international friendly against Argentina in 2006.



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