5 Countries Teeming with Talent That People Often Forget About
In world football, casual fans tend to concentrate on the countries traditionally associated with great players.
Countries like England, Spain, Germany, Holland, Argentina and Brazil would all be at the top of their list of places that have produced some of the finest players the world has ever seen.
It's easy to forget that other countries across the globe have all produced world-class talents that sometimes go under the radar.
LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan is a prime example of that.
Donovan has plied his trade at home and in Europe, and he is widely regarded as one of the best U.S. players ever.
There are other players across the globe like him, though.
Join me as we take a look at five countries, in no particular order, teeming with footballing talent that people often forget about.
Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments section.
United States of America
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There's no better place to start this list than with America.
Football, or soccer, isn't traditionally a sport that most American sports fans take an overly keen interest in.
With sports like the NBA, NHL and NFL competing for resources and exposure, that's pretty understandable.
Taking all of that into consideration, America have a decent legacy in recent world football history.
The Americans qualified for the 1990 World Cup after an almost 40-year absence from the tournament, and they haven't looked back since.
They've appeared at every World Cup tournament since then, and they look likely to qualify for the 2014 event in Brazil next year.
Notable current American players include the likes of Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra.
These players have starred for some of Europe's biggest clubs and America deserve huge credit for producing players of their quality.
The challenge must be for them to continue to do that for generations to come.
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The Ivory Coast might not have a sensational record of competing on the biggest stages of world football, but their current squad is almost like a who's who of some of the best players in Europe.
In defence, they can call on Kolo Toure, Sol Bamba and Siaka Tiene.
They can boast the likes of Yaya Toure, Cheick Tiote and Didier Zokora in their midfield, who are still competing at the highest level for their clubs.
Up front, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.
Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Arouna Kone, Lacina Traore and, of course, the man mountain known as Didier Drogba.
Drogba has arguably been his country's finest footballing export, playing for some of Europe's biggest clubs like Marseille, Chelsea and now Galatasaray.
Whilst definitely not an obvious choice, the Ivorians deserve their place on the list.
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In the mid-1990s, Croatia was one of the best sides in Europe.
Slaven Bilic, Robert Jarni, Zvonimir Boban, Goran Vlaovic and Davor Suker were all key members of the Croatian squad.
The Croatians reached the quarterfinals of Euro 1996 before reaching the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup.
At the end of that generation of players, their fortunes weren't as good. Their form was indifferent and uninspiring.
Croatia failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2000 and failed to progress past the group stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championships.
Since then, their form has been a lot better, and they've produced some excellent players.
Real Madrid's diminutive midfield maestro Luka Modric is one of them, as are the likes of Stipe Pletikosa, Darijo Srna, Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic.
Most of the current Croatian squad are reaching the peak years of their careers right now.
Whether they end up being remembered as fondly as the team from the mid-1990s remains to be seen, but there's definitely an abundance of Croatian talent sprinkled throughout the top teams in the world.
If you discount their previous footballing incarnations like the Soviet Union and CIS, in terms of their existence and not the age of their players, the Russian national side is a relatively young team.
Despite that, they've played at four of the last five European Championships and are emerging as a fine country full of footballing promise.
In all honesty, the Russians should have progressed to the latter stages of the 2012 European Championships.
They thumped the Czechs 4-1 in their opening game before drawing with the co-hosts, Poland, in their second group match.
Despite being top of their group ahead of the final group fixtures, a shock 1-0 defeat to Greece was enough to eliminate them.
It was unbelievable, at least to me.
The current side is under the guidance of Fabio Capello.
Capello has players like Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Andrei Arshavin to call upon.
Those men are all regulars in the Russian squad.
That's a hell of a lot of talent to call on, with Alan Dzagoev the pick of the bunch.
From what I've seen, the young midfielder has a bright future in the game, and if Russia can nurture more players like him, they'll be in good shape for years to come.
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Taking the Spanish, Dutch and Germans out of the equation, there's no other country in Europe producing talent quite like Belgium.
If you don't believe me, just take a look at their current squad.
Thibaut Courtois, Daniel Van Buyten, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Defour, Kevin De Bruyne, Mousa Dembele, Kevin Mirallas, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard are all members of the Belgian side.
That group of players would be a match for any side in the world right now.
They have strength, power, pace, skill, athleticism and quality in abundance.
Those players are all cutting it at some of the best club sides in Europe, but you'd struggle to pick the best of the bunch.
They all have their qualities, and the best thing is that they're just getting into their stride.
There is no doubt that this Belgian side are dark horses to win next year's World Cup.
After years of their national team being in the international wilderness, this group of players will finally get their chance to shine next year at the World Cup.
In years gone by, you'd have been forgiven for bypassing Belgium as a potential hot spot for footballing talent, but right now, they are emerging as a force to be reckoned with.
That's not only a good thing for the Belgians—it's a good thing for football.