Golden Ball hopefuls
With the world's best players descending on Brazil, Sky Bet's Pete Hall looks at the candidates for the Golden Ball winner at the upcoming World Cup.
By Pete Hall - @PeteHall86
Last Updated: 29/05/14 12:16pm
After a long season, the world's best players must pick themselves up for one last effort in the Latin American heat, and prove why they deserve their place on football's greatest stage.
With such a plethora of talent from across the globe on show in Brazil, the betting market is finely spread, with so many variables affecting who will excel.
Diego Forlan somewhat surprisingly claimed the FIFA Golden Ball award at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, after Uruguay shocked many to finish third, giving hope to a whole host of stars this summer.
We examine the early betting trends in the Sky Bet Golden Ball Winner market to see who the early contenders are, and why punters have parted with their hard-earned cash.
Neymar - Brazil
With the weight of an expectant home nation on his shoulders, Brazil's star man Neymar will be hoping he can bring the World Cup favourites what they crave - their sixth crown.
Punters have been buoyed by the 22-year-old's spectacular display in Brazil's demolition of World and European champions Spain in last year's Confederations Cup final, with his spectacular second goal a signal of intent ahead of this summer's showpiece.
It hasn't been a fairytale debut season in Spain for the former Santos wonderkid, with nine league goals hardly the return the Catalan giants expected after paying such an astronomical fee for the Selecao star, but on home soil, with the support of a football-mad country, Neymar is rightfully well-fancied, and after last summer's dress rehearsal, he is poised to thrill the watching world.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal
He finally ousted nemesis Lionel Messi to claim this year's Ballon d'Or and scored as his Real Madrid side clinched La Decima - his second Champions League winners' medal - but Cristiano Ronaldo is not finished for the season just yet.
The former Manchester United forward is third favourite in the Sky Bet Golden Ball market after another record-breaking season in which he netted an incredible 17 Champions League goals.
Odds of 14/1 in the Sky Bet Top Goalscorer market has also led to a flurry of early bets being placed.
The major obstacle to Ronaldo's chances of earning individual honours is the draw Portugal have been handed. The Seleccao Das Quintas will face off against well-fancied Germany, USA and the unpredictable Ghana, with a potential meeting with the multi-faceted Belgium in the second round.
However, the 29-year-old only needs a few games to top the scoring charts, and punters could be rewarded with an early victory on this market should Ronaldo continue his fine form.
Mesut Ozil - Germany
A man with everything to prove is dangerous at the World Cup, and Mesut Ozil fits that profile perfectly.
After smashing Arsenal's transfer record on deadline day last summer, big things were expected from the Germany playmaker, but after an impressive start to life at the Emirates, his season petered out as the Gunners' title challenge withered.
However, eight goals in World Cup qualification shows how his inconsistent club form never affected his commitment to his country, and at 33/1, punters can find real value in a player integral to Die Mannschaft's chances in Brazil.
Joachim Low's men are 11/2 to win their first World Cup as a unified country, with Ozil expected to be pivotal to their creativity in midfield - a fact which has encouraged much of the early betting.
Radamel Falcao - Colombia
An odd choice considering the Colombia hitman hasn't kicked a ball since mid-January, but just as Forlan did in 2010, Radamel Falcao can spearhead an unfancied nation in their attempt to turn a few heads in Brazil.
It may be a bit of a risk for punters to part with their cash and splurge on the 28-year-old, but with a favourable draw and a goalscoring pedigree that rivals anyone, the stage could be set for 'El Tigre' to excel on his home continent.
With Colombia odds-on favourites in Group C, Falcao may not have to fire on all cylinders early on against Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece to impress, conserving his fitness for the latter stages, and a potential clash with England. Falcao's return to the fray could be impeccably timed for a profitable bet.
Angel Di Maria
Surrounded by superstars at Real Madrid, not many would have tipped Angel Di Maria to be a key figure in Los Blancos' Champions League success, but the Argentine winger proved all the doubters wrong in playing anything but a peripheral role.
Argentina have one of the most feared strikeforces at this summer's tournament, but all potent forward lines need service, and after providing four goals and four assists in qualifying, Di Maria is primed to give Argentina's inferior group opponents a torrid time.
With the attacking arsenal at his disposal, Alejandro Sabella's men are 9/2 second favourites in the Sky Bet Outright Market, but rather than back key figures such as Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero for Golden Ball glory, punters could be in for a fruitful summer backing Di Maria after the season he has had.
All Sky Bet odds correct at time of publication and subject to change.