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World Cup dream drives Coutinho
Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho grew up with Brazilian compatriots Ronaldinho and Kaka as his idols and now he wants to follow in their footsteps.
He watched the every move of Ronaldinho, in particular, and marvelled at how he pulled the strings for Barcelona in his pomp.
Coutinho envisaged the day when he too could have a chance to emulate his two heroes.
At Anfield he has been given an ideal platform, and while it may be premature to be thinking about elevating him into a similar category the portents are good. The Brazil-hosted World Cup next summer is in his thoughts, and Coutinho admits it would be a dream to play in the tournament for his country.
In Brendan Rodgers he has a club manager whose 'death by football' mantra means he will enjoy a lot of possession this season.
The crucial factor will be what he does with it but on the evidence of his first four months in England and a handful of pre-season friendlies the omens are good.
Speaking about his heroes, Coutinho told Press Association Sport: "They play more or less my position and they were my inspirations as I was growing up.
"I think both of them were super-excellent players, especially when Ronaldinho played at Barcelona it was like magic.
"Every time I had a chance I would watch him because he was someone who I looked up to."
Coutinho turned 21 in June and he still has a lot to learn about English football, but he is already seen by fans as a crucial part of the the club's future.
It is a weight of expectation which does not bother a player who scored the Reds' final goal of last season at Anfield in May to cap a promising four months following his arrival from Inter Milan.
Many questioned why Rodgers had spent B#8.5million on youngster who had failed to make the grade in Italy, but he quickly showed flashes of a potentially brilliant talent and his progress has continued in pre-season where he has been the club's stand-out player.
The form has singled him out as Liverpool's likely creator-in-chief going into the new Premier League season and it is a role he is more than comfortable with.
"I don't feel any extra pressure," he added ahead of the game against Stoke.
"The supporters are always there and that gives me a lot of strength to do my best for my team-mates and the club and to make the fanshappy."
He knows Liverpool can be the perfect place to showcase his abilities and, with a longer-term view, could gain him enough recognition to represent his country's senior team - with the added incentive of the World Cup on home soil.
"Of course it is a dream of mine. I need to have a good season at Liverpool, take my chances here and hopefully that would give me a chance of being called up for the national team," he said.
"It would be my biggest step in football and I will do my utmost to be there."
Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is rated at about 80 per cent fit but appears to have shown enough to warrant inclusion against the Potters.
Centre-backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel (both knee injuries) are expected to be available, although the latter is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench.
Summer signings Simon Mignolet and Kolo Toure are set for competitive debuts while fellow new arrivals Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto are also in the squad but striker Luis Suarez is suspended for a further six matches.
Meanwhile, Mark Hughes expects Stoke to score more goals this season than last, whether or not he manages to sign more players.
The Potters struggled to find the net last term and consequently needed a late charge to pull away from relegation trouble.
Their final tally of 34 goals in the Barclays Premier League was bettered by every side with the exception of relegated QPR and was 52 fewer than champions Manchester United managed.
New manager Hughes wants to develop Stoke's style and creating more goalscoring opportunities is a priority.
Hughes said: "We will try to play in a different way.
"We have given hints of that in the pre-season games and I think people have been encouraged by that.
"A lack of goals was something that obviously hindered the team last year. It is fair to say we are trying to address that.
"It could be in the transfer market we address it, but we could address it by the manner of the work we have been doing on the training field in terms of allowing them more licence to get into good areas of the football field.
"That is what we are about, creating more chances in the final third."
Midfielder Brek Shea misses the game with the knee injury suffered in a friendly in the United States last month.
Another midfielder, Jamie Ness, is also ruled out after his involvement in pre-season was curtailed by injury.
Summer signings Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa, both defenders, are in contention for debuts while Asmir Begovic looks set to remain first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Thomas Sorensen and Jack Butland.
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