The FIFA World Cup has often made stars out of up-and-coming, young and relatively unknown players. From Giuseppe Bergomi in ’82 to Lucas Podolski in ’06, there were several players who became house-hold names after a magical tournament. Lets take a look at some of the unpolished gems for this year’s World Cup.
South American teams have a rich history of providing young prodigies. This year should be no exception. Dunga may be taking a pretty experienced team to South Africa, but one of his mainstays is Ramires (23). Playing on the right wing of a 4-2-3-1 for both Brazil & Benfica, he is coming off a wonderful season. Once a wonder-kid himself, Maradona has seen fit to include a few in his team. Another Benfica player, the highly rated winger Angel di Maria (22) should be a starter. Nicolas Otamendi (22) is a versatile defender able to play both centre-back & full-back. Javier Pastore (20) was one of the best young players in Serie A last season, helping Palermo finish 5th.
Uruguay, South America’s 3rd most successful team, serves up three players. Edinson Cavani (23) was another standout player for Palermo; he has wonderful close control & powerful long ranger. Barcelona’s Martin Caceres (23) became a fan favourite in his loan spell in Juventus. He is still raw as a defender but is good going up. Lazio’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera (23) played a vital part in keeping the Roman club afloat. Chilean Alexis Sanchez (21) was a bright spot in a terrible season for Udinese, running rings around defenders like Cannavaro. He will thrive in Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 system.
Alexis Sanchez will be crucial in Chile’s campaign
European teams will not stay far behind in race to throw up new stars. Leading the way is one of the footballing elites – Germany. German youth teams are current champions in most European level youth tournament, be it U-19 or U-21. Die Mannschaft boasts of a clutch of wonderful players. Centre-backs Serdar Tasci (23), Jerome Boateng (21) are both highly rated. Boateng might end up in England next season. Bayern pair of left-back Holger Badstuber (21) & striker Thomas Muller (20) played vital parts in their club’s double winning season. Mesut Ozil (21) & Marco Marin (21) covered up Diego’s absence in Werder Bremen’s Diamond system with ease, leading them to UCL spot & to final of German Cup. Sami Khedira (23) will have to take up Ballack’s role in the midfield. Lastly, watch out for another Bayern youth product on loan to Bayer, Toni Kroos, who has been one of Bundesliga’s best players this season, assisting as well as scoring goals.
Ozil will add creativity to German midfield
Domenech left out Benzema, but France still has Youan Gourcuff (23), the ex-Milan player who turned talisman for Bordeaux in the last 2 seasons. Goal-keeper Hugo Lloris (23) is one of the best young ‘keepers in the world. A common accusation aimed at the defending world champions, Italy, is their lack of faith in young players. But two players would look to dispel that myth. Bari’s Leonardo Bonucci (23) was one of the main reasons behind the newly promoted club’s surprising performance this season. Genoa’s wing-back Domenico Criscito (23) has been gathering rave reviews from season 08-09. England’s Aaron Lennon (23) impressed in his brief cameo in the last World Cup. Coming off a wonderful season in White Hart Lane. He will be the man to watch out on right wing.
Countries beyond the Iron Curtain have a stellar record in producing technically adept youngsters. Carrying on that tradition is Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik (22), the Napoli midfielder has been much sought after in recent seasons. His form this season made the Azzuris one of the most exciting teams to watch in Serie A. Chelsea player Miroslav Stoch (20) ended his brilliant loan season in FC Twente, playing a crucial role the club’s historic league title. Serbia is being touted as a team to watch out for. Neven Subotic (21) often called the “next Vidic” forms a solid centre-back partnership with the original Vidic. He can score an odd goal at times. Gojko Kacar (23), left midfielder, was a major driving force behind Hertha Berlin’s shock entry in Europa League in 08-09. Highly rated Man United winger Zoran Tosic (23) also enjoyed a successful loan spell in Koln last season.
Gojko Kacar, Serbian midfield general
Dutch players usually break into their national team very early. Ajax’s slippery full-back Gregory van der Wiel (22) leads the pack. Elijero Elia (23) has been called as “Bundeliga’s Ronaldo” for his skills. Danish Simon Kjaer (21) has been linked with many big clubs for his stellar performances at Palermo. His teammate, centre-forward, Arsenals Nicklas Bendtnar (22) has scored crucial goals this season for both club & country.
Backed up by the wonderful academies of Spanish clubs, the European champions boast of Pique (23), Busquets (21), Javi Martinez (21) & Juan Mata (22). Pedro (22) replaced Henry in Barcelona, with great aplomb, scoring goals in every tournament he played. Switzerland’s Eren Derdiyok (21) has scored 12 goals in 20 games for Bayer this season. The Greeks are led by battle hardened veterans, but Panathanaikos starlet, attacking midfielder Sotiris Ninis (20) will add youthful exuberence.
Pique already has two Champion’s League medals
African teams have often done well in youth level football. Marseille youth product, Ghana midfielder Andre Ayew (21) is being linked with a few top clubs after his impressive loan spells. Kwadwo Asamoah (21) was a strong midfield general at Udinese last season. Another Black Satellites star Dominic Adiyiah (20), was the top scorer in U-20 world cup last year. Nigerian Jon Obi Mikel (23) played a vital role in Chelsea’s double winning season, striker Victor Obinna (23) would savour the chances he would get deputizing veteran strikers.
Cameroon’s Alexandre Song (22) established himself as a top defensive midfielder in Arsenal last season, while defender Sebastien Bassong (23) enjoyed a good spell at rivals Spurs. Ivory Coast, will be hoping that Gervinho (23) carries on his impressive scoring form, the Lille striker temporarily led Ligue-1 scoring charts last season. Seydou Doumbia (22) has been unstoppable in Swiss league, topping scoring charts in last 2 seasons. In season 2009-10 he scored 30 goals, most goals in Europe by an African player. Itumeleng Khune (22) has been the first choice ‘keeper for hosts South Africa.
Time for Song to deliver for his country
Mexico will count on Giovani dos Santos (21) to deliver. Carlos Vela (21) is rated highly in Arsenal and can be expected to wear his national colors with pride. New Man Utd player Javi Hernandez (22) has enjoyed a run of good form recently, and anyone who catches the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson must be worth watching . Andres Guardado (23) was an important piece of the puzzle for Deportivo la Coruna. USA’s Jozy Altidore (20) was their top scorer in qualifiers, earning a move to the EPL. New Zealand striker Chris Wood (18) has gained invaluable experience in West Brom Academy in last few seasons & will be one of the youngest players travelling to this World Cup.
Can Giovani dos Santos propel Mexico to second round ?
Japan’s Takayuki Morimoto (22) has been an enigmatic player at Catania, talented but inconsistent. Keishuke Honda (23) played a crucial role in CSKA Moscow’s run in the UEFA Champions League. Ri Jun Il (22) was a key defender for North Korea’s world cup qualification, goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk (23) was nominated for Asian footballer of the year award in 2009 for his performance in the qualifiers. Their bitter neighbours in the South would be looking at the Bolton Wanderer’s player of the season, winger Lee Chung-Yong (21) to shine.
Honda wheels away after scoring a goal
Note: Age wise this list should include Messi, Luis Suarez and Higuain, but since they are already well known, they have been intentionally left out.