10 Teenagers Who Could Rise to Rule the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
The European Championships are over and fans all around Europe are turning their attentions back to their club sides as the major top flights prepare to kick off all over again.
But, international team managers will now be casting their minds forward two years to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For those managers, the preparation work starts now as they bid to plot their route to the finals.
Two years and as few as eight or as many as 18 games could stand between nations and a place at the finals right now. But, tentative team plans may be being drawn up as bosses phase out the experienced pros and look to a new generation of talented youngsters to lead the team on.
Here are 10 teenagers who, in two years time, could be tearing up the FIFA World Cup in the full national team colours of their countries.
Iker Muniain, Spain, 19
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Barring unfortunate injury or a loss of form at the wrong time, there should be little doubt that Iker Muniain will be in the Spain squad in two years time for the 2014 World Cup.
Already capped once, the athletic Bilbao forward is a fantastic prospect.
Playing either from the left side of a front three or behind a striker, Muniain offers pace, dribbling ability and a willingness to shoot—allied to a prodigious work rate.
A certain top player for the future, he could have a real impact at the next major tournament.
Julian Draxler, Germany, 18
Germany have a fine young crop of players coming through, and several of them were involved in Euro 2012.
One who wasn't—though he made the provisional squad, but will surely form a big part of the national team going forward—is Schalke's Julian Draxler.
Just 18 years of age, he has played once for his nation already and has nine caps at youth level.
Draxler has played most often from a deep central midfield role but can also play further forward, as well as on either flank. His technical ability outstrips even his versatility and his almost 70 appearances at club level, despite his tender years, are testament to this.
Juan Manuel Iturbe, Argentina, 19
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A player already tipped to make the very top of the game, Juan Manuel Iturbe has scored wonder goals for Argentina's youth teams. He has also formed part of their under-20 team for the past two seasons.
Iturbe played in Paraguay when he made his first team debut, but soon moved back to Argentina before FC Porto signed him at 18.
A year without making the breakthrough at the Portuguese side seems to have halted his development a little as he adapts to life outside of South America, but he has the raw talent to make a big impact at the club still.
He may the biggest beneficiary of any pending transfer from Hulk.
Skillful, strong for his size and fleet of foot, Iturbe has won obvious and predictable comparisons with Leo Messi. While he is years behind that particular player in terms of talent, he still has enough about him to make it at the club and international level over the coming two years.
Juan Agudelo, USA, 19
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USA forward Juan Agudelo is making his way into the first team picture of the national team having made 15 appearances already.
He has also already scored two goals against South Africa and Argentina—neither of which are mugs in the international game.
Whilst he has not yet been prolific at club level, scoring only six times for NY Red Bulls in around 40 games, he has signed this season for Chivas USA where he has improved his goal ratio already by scoring two in his first four games.
Agudelo will be a mainstay in the national team by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around. He will likely be the nation's main hope of progressing far in the tournament.
Lucas Moura, Brazil, 19
photo from givemefootball.com
Sao Paolo trickster Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva is one of the next big hopes for a Brazilian national team—who plenty believe to be lacking in individual flair as the teams of old.
Playing mostly from the left side in attack, Lucas has great pace and dribbling ability, as well as possessing a real goal threat.
He currently has a strike rate of around one in four games for his team, having completed already more than a century of games for the first team before even reaching 20 years of age.
Lucas Moura is already in demand from some of the biggest sides in Europe and will probably be playing for one of the likes of AC Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid by the time the World Cup comes to his home country.
But, he will surely be visiting home in the summer of 2014 as part of his national team's squad.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England, 18
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England's best chance for success in the 2014 World Cup might come from Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He has already had a small impact at international level, having been featured in Euro 2012.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a pacey, skillful and fearless attacking midfielder, equally comfortable and effective at this stage of his career either through the centre or out wide.
The next year or so of his development should see him get more game time at his club Arsenal. His place in the full England side should be secured as well as either an impact substitute or an infrequent starter.
By the time World Cup 2014 arrives, he will likely be one of the star names on England's team sheet.
Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy, 19
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The fourth-youngest ever player in Italy's top-flight when he made his debut at barely 16 years of age, AC Milan forward Stephan El Shaarawy is quickly making strides towards being an important component for his club.
Should he maintain his form, improvement and upward career trajectory, national team recognition will surely follow suit.
El Shaarawy has only been featured in a handful of times for Milan having signed a year ago from Genoa—scoring four goals—but his talent on the ball marks him out as a genuinely exciting prospect.
He has also had to play in several different positions for Milan, including behind a forward and from the right side of the attack—and mostly off the bench as substitute.
El Shaarawy has scored at under-16, 17, 18 and 19 level for Italy. He will likely add under-21 to that list soon enough.
In two years time, he can certainly make the breakthrough to an AC Milan starter and, thus, to the full Italian side.
Raphael Varane, France, 19
photo from goal.com
France's Raphael Varane didn't make the Euro 2012 squad after having a season on the fringes of the Real Madrid first team but, already, the talented defender has shown he has more than enough to become a big part of the French squad going forward.
Varane is most comfortable at centre-back but can also play in midfield. He is calm on the ball, capable of picking a pass instead of looking to simply launch the ball. He is also composed and reads the game well, negating the need to constantly tackle.
He will hope to pick up more game time in the coming season as Real look to defend their title. Having already gained experience playing in the Champions League as well as La Liga, he shouldn't have too many concerns about his long-term future at the top of the game.
France hardly impressed at the European Championships. It may be that Varane spearheads a new era of younger, more committed players to the national team shirt.
Jetro Willems, Holland, 18
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Jetro Willems received some criticism for his displays at Euro 2012 for Holland but, in fairness, the young left-back was merely one part of a disappointing and dysfunctional Dutch side.
Going forward, he is a talented player, looking always to link up with his midfielders and be a danger in the final third.
Defensively, as with many young players, he needs further improvement and more first team football to gain the experience needed to play in the back line of a national team.
The chance to impress at the Euros came about because of injuries to other players—but he has a chance to cement that position for his own during the next round of tournament qualifiers and on into the World Cup itself in 2014.
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium, 19
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Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku has endured something of a difficult time since switching Anderlecht for the Blues, but he is already established at the international level. Getting back into the first team picture at Stamford Bridge—or elsewhere—will see him back in the side for Belgium.
The powerful forward already has 14 caps and two goals for the full side and was top scorer in the Jupiler League at just 17 years of age.
Forty-one goals in just shy of 100 games at his first club hint at a monstrous talent straining to be let off the leash, but Lukaku failed to score in his first season at Chelsea.
Two years is a long time in football—plenty of time for the 19-year-old to get himself back on track.
With the likes of Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Thibout Courtois in the Belgian side—which could prove to be one of their finest ever—a goal scoring centre-forward would be a magnificent addition to a very good side.
If Lukaku can be that, Belgium could just have an extremely good World Cup in Brazil in 2014.