At every World Cup finals, a batch of young players seize their moment. Here I choose a starting XI of emerging stars who could make a major impact in Brazil next year.
Mitchell Langerak (Australia)
For nearly 20 years Mark Schwarzer has been Australia’s first-choice goalkeeper, but on the eve of next year’s World Cup he is facing serious competition from Langerak. The 25-year-old Borussia Dortmund keeper is an agile and commanding presence between the posts who won his first two caps against France and Canada in the last week. If he can get some more playing time at Dortmund, he could dislodge Schwarzer in Brazil next summer.
Daniel Carvajal (Spain)
After coming through the youth ranks at Real Madrid, Carvajal was sold to Bayer Leverkusen last summer, where he immediately impressed. Realising their mistake, Madrid exercised the buy-back clause in his contract, brought him back to Madrid this summer and put him straight in to the first team. A member of Spain’s Under-21 European championship-winning team, he is now on the brink of making his full debut.
Raphael Varane (France)
When you see this graceful young defender in action you can understand why his compatriot Zinedine Zidane implored Real Madrid to sign him, and according to ESPN, anointed him as the new Laurent Blanc. He is an assured and classy presence in the centre of defence who made his full international debut for France against Georgia earlier this year.
Eliaquim Mangala (France)
The 22-year-old central defender broke in to the Porto first team last season and has stayed there with a succession of impressive displays which saw him linked with all the leading clubs in the Premier League in the summer. Mangala made his French debut this summer and has since added two more caps.
Mattia De Sciglio (Italy)
The 20-year-old left-back only made his international debut in March this year, but already has eight caps. Two-footed and as adept in defence as he is at joining the attack, the AC Milan established himself as a regular at the San Siro last season but has been injured for most of the current campaign.
Andros Townsend (England)
The Tottenham winger is living proof that patience is rewarded. While coming through the ranks at Tottenham he was loaned out nine times, including to Yeovil Town and Milton Keynes Dons. Now finally at 22 he is a regular for Spurs and last week made a famous debut for England in which he scored a goal and was named man of the match.
You have to be good to get in to the Spanish midfield with Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Xabi Alonso as competition. Fortunately for Atletico Madrid’s Koke, he is more than just good, he is potentially brilliant. The 21-year-old midfielder has been a revelation in La Liga this season, contributing two goals and six assists to Atletico’s impressive start. After starring in Spain’s Under-21 European Championships triumph this summer, Koke made his full debut in August and now has five caps.
Paul Pogba (France)
Manchester United must collectively wince each time Pogba steps on the pitch. He came through the youth system at Old Trafford, but fled to Juventus to find the playing time he craved. Since arriving in Turin he has excelled in Serie A, and earlier this year made his international debut. He now has three caps and a goal for France, and should they emerge from the play-offs, Pogba is bound to play a major role at the World Cup next year.
Another member of Spain’s exciting new generation, Isco performs most effectively on the left side of midfield. Since leaving Malaga for Real Madrid in the summer, he has already scored four goals in his first eight games. Winner of the Golden Boy award as Europe’s leading young player in 2012, the 21-year-old has two Spanish caps, which he will surely add to before next year’s World Cup.
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy)
The Napoli forward might stand at only 5'3" tall, but he has all the talent to become a major player at the World Cup next year. He is fast, skillful and has been thriving under Rafa Benitez this season, already scoring a wonderful goal against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. So far he has won four full caps for Italy and scored his first international goal in a friendly against Argentina in Rome in August.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
After Lukaku scored four goals in his first three games for Everton this season, the decision of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho to loan him out to Goodison Park appears utterly inexplicable. The Belgian is one of the world’s leading young strikers, who scored 17 goals for an average West Brom side while on loan there last season.