Young players to watch at the World Cup

PaulPogbaFrance4 (SoFoot)

By RYAN TOLMICH

The World Cup is all about celebrating the game’s stars. The tournament represents a collection of the sport’s best players showcasing their abilities with the hopes of bringing home the honor of winning the game’s biggest trophy for their home nation.

While global icons like Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo are sure to dominate headlines, many of the game’s young up-and-comers will use the tournament as a springboard to launch themselves into contention to be called a superstar.

Here’s a look at some of the players this tournament who are expected to turn in performances well beyond their years:

PAUL POGBA

The rise of French sensation Paul Pogba has been almost as spectacular as the long-distance volleys he’s become famous for.

Since departing Manchester United due to a lack of playing time, the 21-year-old midfielder has become a fixture in the Juventus starting XI by scoring 14 goals in his 89 appearances, many of the spectacular variety.

Pogba has already netted twice in just 11 games with the French National Team and, if past history is to be believed, Pogba might display his knack for breathtaking goals during his time in Brazil.

ROSS BARKLEY

England midfielder Ross Barkley burst onto the scene this past season for Everton with a campaign that saw him score seven goals, but few were prepared for the magic he created in the Toffee’s May 3 contest against Manchester City.

The goal was Barkley’s magnum opus, as his long distance curler was voted Everton’s goal of the season.

The 20-year-old midfielder’s started the season with a man-of-the-match performance on opening day against Norwich City, and never looked back on his way to a nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year, as well as a spot on the England World Cup roster.

England face a tall task with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in their path and they may just need Barkley to create the same type of magic he conjured that day against Manchester City.

THIBAULT COURTOIS

Atletico Madrid’s 2013-14 campaign was one of the most special in recent memory. With a highly unheralded roster to fend off domestic and European giants, Atletico played the role of underdog all the way to their crowning of champions of La Liga.

Atleti’s backbone was 22-year-old goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, who will join up with Belgium after a season that has many hailing him as one of the world’s top keepers. The young Belgian stood tall throughout the season, earning him the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for best goals allowed-to-games ratio in La Liga for the second straight season.

On the international side, Courtois was in goal for every minute of Belgium’s World Cup qualifying campaign, registering six clean sheets in 10 matches. If Belgium are going to ride their golden generation to a 2014 trophy, it will have to be on the back of their young goalkeeper, Courtois.

KOKE

Despite Courtois’ heroic efforts in goal, it is impossible to win a game of soccer without putting the ball in the back of the net, and few created more opportunities for that to happen for Atletico than Koke.

The 22-year-old Spaniard finished second in La Liga with 14 league assists as the young Atletico midfielder vaulted himself into the company of the league’s best playmakers. On the goalscoring side, Koke also contributed seven in all competitions, including the guillotine in Atletico’s triumph over Barcelona in the quarterfinals.

Koke will now face the task of breaking into an absolutely overloaded Spain midfield as he looks to join such names as Xavi,  Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso.

RAPHAEL VARANE

To be 21-years-old and to go a full 120 minutes in a Champions League final, you have to be doing something right.

That is exactly what French centerback Raphael Varane did last month in Real Madrid’s 4-1 triumph over Atletico Madrid, demonstrating once again why so many around the game have such high hopes for the 21-year-old.

Varane proved all season long that he is reliable beyond his years, as the young defender featured in 23 games for the European Champions. Varane will now be charged with raising his play alongside more experienced centerbacks like Mamadou Sakho and Laurent Koscielny.

LORENZO INSIGNE

Despite being only 23-years-of-age, Italian winger Lorenzo Insigne has already received the highest of praise with Napoli teammate Goran Pandev going so far as to call him ”the Italian Messi”.

Messi or not, the young Italian star has impressed with his creativity and speed, earning a place in Cesare Prandelli’s veteran Italy World Cup squad despite having only five caps and one goal to his name.

The 23-year-old is coming off of a big year at Napoli, having scored eight goals in all competitions. In order for Italy to advance out of their group of death, they may need the speed and grace of Insigne to make a major contribution.

RAHEEM STERLING

Despite being only 19-years-old, England’s Raheem Sterling has already turned into one of the Premier League’s most feared attacking weapons.

The young Liverpool speedster proved to be constant threat for the Reds throughout the season, scoring 10 goals in all competitions. Sterlings combination of pure speed and technical ability is a handful for even the most experienced defender.

Sterling will now join Liverpool teammates Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson on the Three Lions World Cup roster. Look for Sterling to add a new element to an England attack as he brings a level of pace and skill that few in this world can match.

MATTEO KOVACIC

With stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic leading the way, Croatia enters the 2014 World Cup with one of the tournament’s more highly touted midfield combos. However, despite not being as highly regarded as his two compatriots, Internazionale star Matteo Kovacic could prove to be just as important to Croatia’s tournament chances.

The 20-year-old Inter man brings the type of versatility required to be a star at this level, as Kovacic can slot in in the central midfield, as a deep-lying playmaker,  out wide or even in a traditional number 10 role. The young Croatian has even drawn the praise of teammate and club legend Javier Zanetti, who compared his youthful skill with that of the Brazilian Ronaldo.

Kovacic may not be much of a goalscorer, but paired with the midfield duo of Modric and Rakitic, he may just be a part of one of the tournament’s most talented midfield trios.

JOEL CAMPBELL

After spending years bouncing from loan move to loan move, Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell finally had his moment to shine on the big stage.

After spending the past few seasons as Arsenal’s loanee project, the 21-year-old’s breakthrough came in February, when his latest team, Olympiacos, took it to Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 clash. The Costa Rican’s long distance curler was one of the goals of the tournament and, while its impact may have been slightly diminished by the end result, it announced Campbell’s presence as one to watch.

Campbell will now take his talents to a Costa Rican side facing a tall task in facing a group populated by Italy, England and Uruguay. While Los Ticos are in no way favored to make it out of the group, they may be able to provide a few surprised if Campbell has anything to say about it.

XHERDAN SHAQIRI

Despite being only 22-years-of-age, Swiss winger Xerdan Shaqiri has already learned plenty about bringing home trophies.

With three Swiss Super League titles with Basel and two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League trophy with Bayern Munich already on his resume, Shaqiri will look to carry his clubs’ successes with him into his national side, who enter the World Cup as one of the seeded nations.

Shaqiri has already netted eight times for the Swiss and with his combination of pace, flair and a skillful left foot, the Swiss have a real weapon on their hands as they head to Brazil.

MARIO GOTZE

When Mario Gotze made his debut for Germany back in 2010, he became the youngest player to appear for the senior team since 1954. Nine international goals and 28 games later, Gotze enters the upcoming World Cup with the versatility to feature for the Germans in the midfield or in more of a ‘false nine’ role.

The 22-year-old has scored a combined 31 goals in all competitions the past two seasons and head coach Joachim Loew may turn to Gotze to provide that goalscoring spark after naming one true forward, the aging Miroslav Klose, to the final squad.

With an overloaded midfield and a lack of true strikers on the roster, it might just be up to Gotze to find the back of the net on a consistent basis for the heavily favored German side.

JAMES RODRIGUEZ

With hulking forward Radamel Falcao receiving most of the praise for both club and country, Colombia’s James Rodriguez has become one of the sports best sidekicks. However, due to the injury of Falcao, the AS Monaco winger will now be looked upon to lead a Colombia team that has the potential to do damage despite the absence of their superstar target man.

Rodriguez repaid Monaco for his big-money transfer by rewarding the French club with nine goals in his first Ligue 1 campaign. Rodriguez also bolstered his resume by leading the league in assists, leading to his naming in the league’s best XI.

Rodriguez’s plaudits don’t end on the club level as Colombian legend Carlos Valderama has gone so far as to say that Rodriguez “has the potential to be the greatest Colombian player to have ever lived”.

The 22-year-old has a ways to go before achieving that title, but in the short term, he has a chance to cement his nation’s status as one of the world’s top sides.

CHRISTIAN ATSU

With his September 2013 transfer to Chelsea, Ghanian winger Christian Atsu came into the public eye and was recognized as one of the game’s future African talents.

The 22-year-old was immediately loaned to Dutch side Vitesse, where he cemented his status as a big-time up-and-comer by being voted as the club’s player of the year. As for the national side of things, Atsu has impressed throughout his first few years with the Ghanian National Team, having scored five times in 26 games.

Ghana have the talent to provide a few surprises in Group G action, especially due to the pace and technical ability of a young winger named Christian Atsu.

ROMELU LUKAKU

Regardless of how those at Chelsea feel about him, Belgian star Romelu Lukaku has emerged as one the Premier League’s most feared target men over the past few seasons.

The 21-year-old forward has been loaned out to West Brom and Everton the past two campaigns, which have seen him score 32 goals in all competitions. The 6-foot-3 forward brings a level of physicality and speed matched by few in this summer’s tournament and the injury to compatriot Christian Benteke means Lukaku will be charged with shouldering the Belgians’ goalscoring load.

However, those are big shoulders for a big player and all signs point to Lukaku spearheading a Belgian attack in both the present and the future.

ADNAN JANUZAJ

Until the start of the 2013 season, even the game’s most dedicated fans would most likely struggle with pronouncing the name of Adnan Januzaj, let alone describing his playing abilities. However, after a breakthrough season with Manchester United, the 19-year-old Belgian is ready to make his mark on the world’s stage.

The young midfielder picked up his first international cap just last month after a lengthy process of deciding his national team allegiance, but an already stacked Belgium side is sure to be pleased with his choice.

Belgian is overloaded with young talent, but Januzaj’s big-game experience and national skill give the young Belgian the potential to impress at this summer’s tournament.

What do you think of the players mentioned above? What other young players do you expect to make in impact? Who do you see as the game’s best young star?

Share your thoughts below.

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55 Responses to Young players to watch at the World Cup

  1. BrianK says:

    What,…no Deandre Yedlin or Julian Green?

  2. Matt says:

    I find it humerus how Green doesn’t make the list. Not that I think he should be. It just goes to show that when other teams bring young players, they have very, VERY good reasons for it, we dont

    • James says:

      Give me a break, almost everyone on this list is 3 years older than Green.

      • Matt says:

        Maybe you should pay attention? Sterling is 19, same as as Green. Difference is he has actually seen starts for Liverpool wheres Green has not.

        Barkley is 1 year older and starting for Everton.
        Kovacic, 1 year older than green starting for Inter.

        See a pattern here?

        • James says:

          First of all, I said MOST players listed are 3-4 years older (what was that about paying attention?). Second, Julian Green is 19 by 5 days, so both those guys you listed are closer to two years older. Barkley is not going to be a break out star at this World Cup, as he’s unlikely to get substantial minutes, much less starting for England.

          So, comparing apples to apples, is it reasonable Green could be starting for a team like Everton in 2 years? Absolutely. For a team like Inter? Less likely, but not impossible.

          • Matt says:

            in 2 years maybe. But this isnt two years from now. this is NOW and Green has accomplished absolutely NOTHING to warrant his inclusion. He doesnt even meet our coaches own criteria in playing league games. It is absolutely bogus, and no matter how hard anyone tries NO ONE can truly justify it.

            • James says:

              This isn’t my point. I’m simply saying your statement of “other teams bring young players, they have very, VERY good reasons” is simply not true, and Barkley (and to some degree, R. Sterling) are perfect examples. Neither are unlikely to get significant minutes, and both could be replaced by more established players with better stats.

              I’m not overjoyed by Green’s inclusion, but I don’t see the heresy in it either. And as pointed out many times, LD’s (assuming this is your allusion) exclusion wasn’t at the hands of Green. Barring LD, who else really is going to replace him? Johnson? Shea? Corona?

              • TomG says:

                “Neither are unlikely?” You can misspell and throw grammar out the window for all I care, but when you make it impossible to tell what you mean without searching for context, you need to put in more effort. Also I think you’re dead wrong. Sterling and Barkley will play significant roles.

          • Big Larry says:

            Maybe a small point but……………
            Julian Green was to be loaned to Hamburg for the season where he would have been a starter and if his shoulder wasn’t hurt he would have started some games for Bayern after the Mexico friendly.

      • BFBS says:

        Klinsmann is desperate to have just one world class player suit up for USMNT; otherwise, forget 2014, we won’t have a chance to win the Cup in 2018 or even 2022 (I am not saying that overall we are on course to be good enough; what I am saying is that one top 25 player could elevate our stature to where we could hope). Green is his only hope out there, so he’s doing everything possible to maximize the young guy’s potential. He still has a few years to develop but time is ticking. When even England, who has been mediocre for a while, is suiting up the likes of Sterling and Barkley (and Ox and Welbeck, etc.), you know we are still substantially behind the so-called powers.

        • slowleftarm says:

          Ok well even assuming that Green can become as good as you say and that this will somehow result in us winning the world cup, why is he on the roster now, this year, instead of better players (like Donovan)? How is going to Brazil and never playing (if that’s what happens) going to make any difference to Green in 2018 or 2022?

          If he’s playing for Bayern between now and 2022, he’s going to play in a ton of huge games. Being on the bench at this world cup won’t make any difference to him. But not having our best 23 in Brazil could make a difference to the USMNT.

          • Remy says:

            Donovan was never going to even dress up if he was included in the roster. He is simply not fast enough to play on the wing and not good enough to be a forward. Deal with it.

            • slowleftarm says:

              Let’s just I (and most other USMNT obsevers) don’t agree. You still haven’t addressed my point. Why take Green over someone (anyone) who can help in 2014?

            • Jack says:

              You do know all 23 dress during the World Cup?

          • BFBS says:

            He’s training in Klinsmann’s system and with many of the players with whom he will have to form a connection going forward. Sitting on the bench in the World Cup atmosphere is only getting him hungrier. Klinsmann can monitor his progress and identify areas that need improvement. Finally, let’s face it, although he isn’t as good as Zusi, Bedoya and Davis at this point in time (he doesn’t see the game as well, he lacks strength, his crossing is probably subpar), his touch and ability to operate in tight spaces might already be better than theirs. And so he remains an x factor off the bench.

            • slowleftarm says:

              So based on the handful of minutes you’ve seen him play so far, where he’s looked generally lost, you’ve decided he’s better than Zusi, Davis and Bedoya? Wow. Even JK doesn’t go that far!

              Sorry, I’d rather take someone who can help now instead of someone who can’t in the hopes that sitting on the bench will make him hungrier. If it’s so helpful to be around the team, just buy him a ticket and let him tag along, but don’t waste a roster spot.

          • Brad says:

            He’s probably on the roster because someone who makes those decisions told him that if he chose the US, he would be included.

            But we won’t be told that. And it’s ok. Hopefully when you’re watching the WC, you won’t only be thinking about LD’s omission and can actually enjoy this thing that only happens once every four years.

            I think that LD will actually be good in the studio. And I think he’ll carry himself well and not be a whiner. Love the guy, but I love the USA more.

            • Jo says:

              LD is getting ready for his TV appearances by commenting on SBI under the pseudonym “slowleftarm”

              • slowleftarm says:

                Well people have been impersonating me recently but if it’s actually LD doing it, then it’s ok with me.

            • slowleftarm says:

              Yes, Brad’s right. And don’t worry, I’m as excited as ever for this WC and, even though I’m not a big believer in our coach, I’m surprisingly confident about our chances of escaping the group.

      • Nate Dollars says:

        well, that’s just not true.

      • Jamie Z. says:

        Ha. “Break.” “Humerus.”

    • William the Terror says:

      Humerus? What does the bone between your shoulder and elbow have to do with Julian Green?

    • JakeTheSnake says:

      We all know Green was included as a promise for his commitment…let’s move on. Nothing to see here. He’s super young and plays for Bayern. If he played for Everton, Newcastle, or anyone else like that he would see more time by now.

  3. Matt C says:

    Nice stuff. Great idea.

    Way too many of these guys in group G and H.

    That aside, can’t wait to see some of these guys play. If things don’t go so well in this WC, the 2018 looks promising for Belgium and England.

  4. specialone says:

    What about Marco Verratti?

  5. Jaquamini says:

    Griezmann gonna tear it up.

  6. Ga1atic0 says:

    No Mix? No Altidore? No Lando :(

  7. Matt in Bk says:

    here

  8. cformusic says:

    I can see Bernard pop in for an ineffective Hulk

  9. Reboot says:

    Maybe you’re missing just a few, William Carvalho of Portugal comes to mind as well as Memphis Depay of Netherlands..

    That said, a very nice list. I think that looks about like my FIFA career mode team right now and they’re unbeatable. LOL

    Its hard to remember James Rodriguez is only 21! It may be a while before the USA develops such an entertaining prospect at such a young age, but the possibilities are exciting.

  10. Peter says:

    A lot of young players with a lot of future. Good luck to all. Go USA!!! link to teespring.com

  11. I would add Josip Drmic as well.

  12. Carlo Herrchen says:

    Andy Najar!

    • Conare says:

      right? Honduras has to be the Cinderella pick to make it out of their group, given how weak their group is.

  13. Nate Dollars says:

    ryan,

    the link under lukaku’s blurb directs to the christian atsu article.

  14. Tom says:

    Most of these guys are the same age as Neymar.

  15. Zack says:

    If the U.S. has a chance to advance from Group G, then Julian Green also has a chance to be: a young player to watch at the world cup.

    • Matt says:

      Lets be honest, no he doesnt. He is not going to play, he is absolutely nothing but a wasted roster spot. Even if he comes into the game he offers absolutely nothing to this team besides inexperience

      • Zack says:

        Not only does he have a chance to play, he has a chance to start a game or two. To say he doesn’t have a chance to play, he is absolutely nothing but a wasted roster spot is carrying it too far, don’t you think.

      • James says:

        Did Green kick your dog or something? Why this vitriol? It’s not like the US is stockpiled with talent who would be stars if not for Green making the roster.

        • beto says:

          Ah… Take a moment to think about that

          • Jo says:

            Took 2 moments, thought about it, and still agree with James.

            • frank from santiago says:

              green = wasted roster spot, for this WC. it’s just a fact. he didn’t even play against nigeria and looked lost in the few minutes he did play in the other games. yet he’s going to play, let alone play significant minutes in this WC?!? you guys are delusional. put down the kool-aid.

  16. John says:

    Juan Fernando Quintero from Colombia might steal James Rodriguez’s thunder.

  17. Raymon says:

    Joel Campbell is most definitely a player to watch for his diving skillz link to youtube.com
    Somewhere in Brazil Arjen Robben is quaking at the thought of being dethroned as the king of the dive

  18. John says:

    My idea is Klinnsman said pledge your allegiance to USA and you will go to the world cup. Germany didnt do that. He a player with a lot of potential. Might as well invest in him

    • beto says:

      I guess the idea was to cap tie him before Germany starts Euro qualifying, which is before the Gold Cup – our next time to cap tie.

      With out the WC we would be gambling that he would go back on his decision.

    • slowleftarm says:

      Putting an awful lot of thought into recruiting a fourth division player. A lot of guys on this list aren’t much older than Green and they’re already good enough to make a difference at the international level.

  19. beto says:

    Great list.

    Is Lakaku healthy.. I thought i heard he was injured. If healthy he is going to rip up Korea and Algeria

    Pogba is also going to big vs Honduras, Switzerland and Ecuador

  20. KingGoogleyEye says:

    Great article, Ryan. Interesting list. At any point did you think to just list Belgium’s roster?