World Cup 2014: The footballers we'd like to score with, from powerful Pirlo to Italian stallion Claudio Marchisio
The World Cup – don't you just love it? The drama, the excitement, the passion, the pain. Those shock results that no-one could have predicted, the nail-biting penalty shoot-outs, the sublime skills that justify the term 'the beautiful game'.
Oh yes, and the players, of course – those rugged, muscular athletes who can whip the unlikeliest of football fans into a frenzy.
Now we know why they call it World Cup fever.
But before I'm accused of blatant sexism, I've always enjoyed football, and not just for the men. I was brought up in a Liverpool-obsessed household, with a father who decorated my bedroom walls in posters of Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen and sent me out into the street in his beloved team's kit.
I know the difference between a goal kick and corner kick and can discuss formation and technique with the most ardent of fans.
And while I can admire ball control and dribbling skills until the tournament ends, the sight of a topless Claudio Marchisio will always make a game just that little bit more beautiful.
So ladies, sit back, crack open a beer and make the most of the footie. Here are my top five reasons for tuning in!
Gorgeous goalie: Okay, so he didn't have a great opening game, with his side Spain humiliated by the Netherlands, but Iker Casillas normally has very safe hands. He's known as much for his agility and quick reflexes as for his likeable personality. Who could forget that moment when he broke down in tears and kissed his reporter girlfriend when she interviewed him after Spain's 2010 World Cup victory? Cute.
From Russia With Love: Sexy striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov is definitely one to watch. The 31-year-old with the piercing blue eyes poses one of the biggest threats in the Russian front line. Something of a hero at his club Zenit St Petersburg, he was the torch-bearer at the Sochi Olypmics. He's smoking hot.
Dishy defender: There are quite a few hotties in the German team, but Mats Hummels is the cutest. Tall, dark and handsome, he scored against Portugal in his country's opening game earlier this week but limped off with a thigh injury. The Borussia Dortmund centre-back, who is rumoured to be considering a move to Manchester United, may miss out on Germany's next game but he's hoping the injury isn't severe enough to see his tournament end too abruptly.
Italian stallion: Renowned for his stamina and long-range shooting, Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio is one of the driving forces of his national team. A product of the Juventus youth system, he is hugely popular with Italian women, not least for his famous azure-coloured eyes and a very revealing Dolce & Gabbana underwear ad. Football royalty in Italy, he's nicknamed 'Il Principino' (The Little Prince).
Powerful Pirlo: My second Italian entry is the 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo, one of the oldest players in the tournament, but still one of the best. The mature midfield maestro is all man, passionate, strong and a stalwart of the Italian team. Molto bello!
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Then there's the original and Best...
- He was the most beautiful son of the beautiful game.
- George Best has to come tops in any hunky footballer list because he's the original.
- Football never had seen the like of Georgie Boy when he burst onto the football scene as a striker for Manchester United in 1963.
- The working-class lad from Belfast looked better than the movie star heartthrobs such as Warren Beatty, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen.
- He even scored points ahead of the Beatles – Paul, John, George and Ringo – for his dashing good looks.
- With his piercing blue eyes, raven black and rather luscious mane of hair and his fit, muscular body – never mind his Belfast accent – George knew that he was good-looking and was not afraid to use his looks to his full advantage – both on and off the pitch.
- Men and women – including several Miss Worlds – loved him and wanted to get as close as possible to him.
- He was the perfect combination of physical beauty combined with devastating football technique that produced many moments of sheer genius.
- George was the Elvis Presley of football and redefined the commercial career of what a top professional footballer could expect.
Four female fans on why they always tune in
Four female football fans tell us which defenders they drool over and which strikers make them swoon.
Lesley Price (44) is a bookseller from Dromore. She says:
"I've been a Liverpool fan since 1977, when they won the European Cup. I've been to a few matches and am a pretty staunch fan, though my husband is a Manchester United supporter. Match days between those teams are great fun in our house.
I love the World Cup and the European Championship because they bridge that gap between the end of the domestic league and the start of the new season, that way I get my football fix topped up.
For me, it's all about Italy. In the absence of Northern Ireland or the Republic, I'll be backing the Italians to go all the way. I always liked Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini when they were in the squad, and now my favourite is Pirlo. He's just so handsome and talented and comes across as very deep and intelligent. I like the fact he owns a vineyard too, it shows he has other interests away from the football. And I love the drama and passion of the Italian team, their pride when they sing their national anthem.
I'm a big Lionel Messi fan as well and he looks so much better since he cut his hair. Other players I find attractive are Spain's Xabi Alonso – that's the Liverpool connection – Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) and Dejan Lovren, who plays for Croatia.
Aside from all the action and the good-looking players, I love the World Cup because it's like a big shop window and it's interesting to see who all might be heading for the Premiership next season."
Katrina Doran (40) from Newry, is editor of online fashion magazine Sugahfix.com. She says:
"I genuinely enjoy the World Cup as it's the best of the world's teams taking part. Even the dud matches are still hotly contested. It's like watching a series of Premier League derby matches that could win the league. Every goal counts so there's no slacking on the pitch – it's go go goal!
I got Brazil and South Korea in the sweep so I was pretty chuffed with that. I went to see Brazil v Sweden at the Detroit Silverdome in 1994 so I can wear my Brazil top with pride. At the Japan/South Korea World Cup in 2002, South Korean fans were given red T-shirts with 'Be The Reds' emblazoned on the front to wear to South Korea's matches so there was a sea of red sweeping around the stadium. Impressive! I managed to get a hold of one of those T-shirts at the time so I'll be wearing that during the South Korea games.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that some of the footballers themselves are definitely worth watching. Looks-wise, pretty much the whole of the Italian team have a level of hotness that surpasses all others. If I have to single out one player, I'd go for Claudio Marchisio. He is a magnificent specimen of manliness and skill. That jawline, those piecing blue eyes! Forza Azzurri! A few of the Spanish team are good looking too, especially Iker Casillas. He's cute.
Even if you're really not that into football, it's the top players in the world playing at the top of their game, so the entertainment factor will be high. And hey, it's super-fit guys running around in shorts! What's not to like?"
Former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett (32) is a presenter and model and lives in Belfast. She says:
"I've always been into football. My dad was an Arsenal scout and my brother Stephen plays for Cliftonville, so I've been to a few matches. Before Stephen was born, dad thought he was finished with a family, so I was brought up a bit of a tomboy. Football's always been important in my family.
I really enjoyed the Italy/England match at the weekend and though I love England as a country, I actually wanted Italy to win. That was nothing to do with the players, though, more because I don't like the fans. If we're talking good-looking players, then I'd say Raheem Sterling's quite cute and a great footballer too.
I think Steven Gerrard's a great player as well, but he's not my idea of a hottie. There are a lot of good-looking men in the Italian team, in fact, it's a case of stick a pin in and pick any one.
I think Andrea Pirlo's very handsome, but they're all pretty easy on the eye. I also like Portugal's Ronaldo, he's very good-looking too.
The team I'm backing to win though is Argentina. Aguero is pretty hot but I love Lionel Messi. He's my favourite player by far but that's not just for his looks.
He is such an amazing player as well. He's the best."
Denise Watson (42) from Lisburn is a sports reporter on UTV. She says:
"As a football fan I always look forward to the World Cup and the European Championship, because it means we've got some football to watch when the season ends. I think the World Cup is particularly special, given it's the biggest tournament in the world and that this year's is held in Brazil.
I'm a huge Holland fan and have been since 1988 because I was in Amsterdam when they won the European Championship. My favourite player was always Marco Van Basten, who retired at the age of 28, due to injury. But now, my favourite is Cristiano Ronaldo, of Portugal. I don't care what other people say about him, for me he's got the full package. He's a brilliant player and he's very good-looking. I love the way Ronaldo drives the football purists mad.
They all say Messi is the best player and that Ronaldo just loves himself. But he knows he can make a shed load of money, based on his looks. And what's wrong with loving himself anyway? He's a very attractive footballer but I think sometimes the skills are overlooked because of his Spice Boy image, the earrings, the hair.
But I do think he's lovely. In terms of looks, he's head and shoulders above every other player. The only other player I'd say is maybe as good-looking is Shakira's boyfriend, Gerard Pique, who plays for Spain.
I also think Andrea Pirlo is good-looking, he has that effortless chic going on. First and foremost, though, he is an amazing footballer.
But beside Ronaldo, they all pale into significance. He's most definitely my number one!"