Four years ago the worlds eyes were on South Africa, we were waiting to see Ozil, Di Maria and Kwadwo Asamoah, or others to become “Poster boy” for the tournament , and to announcement themselves to the world of football and the name to be on everyone’s lips for years to come.
Back to the present, in Rio 2014 players come and go, the hype or development of players isn’t as steady as it could be, as we will see with a couple of my picks for this tournament. World cups are unpredictable; factors such as heat have such a big impact that can lead to uncharacteristic mistakes or under performance. On the other hand it can allow certain quality players to take advantage and to really shine.
In the England squad there are several players that could spark an interest for the opposition to keep an eye on or be an unknown and catch people by surprise. In the qualifiers it was Andros Townsend. In recent club performances others have come into foreground, Everton’s Ross Barkley, Liverpool duo Henderson and Sterling played significant roles in their rise up the table this season. Henderson is a midfielder that what Cleverly has been this season, the scapegoat for many to criticise after the team, whether it’s for England or club level. Henderson after a tough season has come out and had to step up, due to Lucas’ injuries and has done. The player that arrived from Sunderland with such high praise is starting to return with an eye for a pass as well as knowing how to finish. Sterling has also stepped up and shown that with his pace and attacking ability, he can worry defenders and can make the right decisions needed in a game to take advantage of certain positions.
Ross Barkley, the player that has exploded onto the scene with not only good performances but possesses a clear mentality in the willingness to attack, to want to have the ball and turn as soon as possible to test the oppositions defence.
This has been emphasized by the huge praise from Everton manager Roberto Martinez, “Technically he is really gifted and you would probably see that technical ability in any player brought up in Brazil or Holland – he is that exquisite technically.”
In defensive positions we've witnessed two attacking wing backs, Shamus Coleman, is one who has improved each and every game he plays for Everton, another is Southampton’s Luke Shaw whose ability is at his best when supporting wingers and his crossing.
In the French team there is one player that has been making news all season, Paul Pogba, the midfielder has been on the radar for many years after leaving Manchester United for Juventus last year in a way that angered Sir Alex Ferguson at the time because he knew the talent the Frenchman possesses. His French compatriot, Raphael Varane of Real Madrid has shown already his composure and technical ability with superb performances against Barcelona last year. Two others to scribble a highlighter on are Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala, and Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad.
Draxler, who plays for FC Schalke, at the age of 20 he has already been linked several times to top European clubs e.g. Arsenal and Bayern Munich, because he has an eye for goal and is a creator. In the Champions League last season, he played 10 games, scored 4 and assisted 2.
Belgium is a team that can boast as much as they want with the amount of top quality youngsters in their side. Firstly, let’s start with the goalkeeper. Thibaut Courtois, winner of La Liga with Atletico Madrid last year and having proved himself worthy in seasons previous, it has only been the form superb form of Cech. In defence they have Toby Alderweireld, also an Atletico Madrid player who moved from Ajax for around 6 million last year is another player still learning but clearly has the quality to have an impact in the World Cup.
A player that had been rejected by Jose Mourinho early on in the season was Kevin De Bruyne, who returned to Wolfsburg this year and will feel he has something to prove and being in team full of potential and positivity can only be good for him. One who has come through at Chelsea has been Eden Hazard who is starting to make his way up the table and a good World Cup wouldn’t only rise his price if PSG really want the players signature but also continue the arch of improvement. Another three are Axel Witsel of Russian side Zenit Saint Petersburg, Adnan Januzaj who became a small spark and man that came out of the Manchester United cave this season. Finally Everton Forward Romelu Lukaku who has been a proven Premier League goal scorer over the past two years and at the age of 21 has plenty of time to make a name for himself but with a team full of young devils, they are a wildcard for many to get to the final.
Brazil is a team that also have many youngsters who are just waiting to turn this World Cup on their turf into something special. Three players that have shown themselves in Europe is Oscar, Willian and even Neymar is one to watch as even though he’s been around for so long he’s only 22. Oscar came off the boil slightly at the end of the season for Chelsea, still has such great skill and technique will certainly be a player to watch. Team-mate Willian, is another typical Brazilian who can produce something out of nothing and has such superb technique that not many players hold. Neymar, similar to Oscar came off the boil for Barcelona, but for his country he owns a record next to none and always finds a way to perform for his national team, even though his under such pressure to be the star player with fans always waiting to see the next outrageous goals or piece of skill to come from the youngster.
My final player is Europa League winner, Ivan Rakitic of Sevilla and Croatia. Rakitic has been a target for many of the top clubs in Europe and most recently Barcelona. He is the type of player that keeps a team ticking over, and has good vision which gives him the potential to be the next Xavi. This year in 34 games he scored 12 times and assisted 11. A player that when he has a good game the team usually wins.
Just to note, I'm going to add Alan Dzagoev to this list. He is one of the older players at 23 but he has been a prospect in Russia for some time, playing for CSKA Moscow. His biggest hurdle has been his mentality. He does have a record of getting red cards and so far in this qualifying campaign has played four but not scored or assisted one. But I have a soft spot for Dzagoev as he was in my dream team for the European Championships, in 3 games he had three goals, and possibly if Russia can have a good tournament then he could be one of their players that will shine.