Every Qualified Country's World Cup Hero

Joshua Hayward@@JoshuaHayward99Contributor INovember 15, 2013

Every Qualified Country's World Cup Hero

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    With the World Cup a little over six months away, many teams are making their final preparations whilst others are still battling it out for a place in football's biggest event.

    Following the round of play-offs, international friendlies will come and go as national team coaches tinker with their squads, formations and tactics ahead of their first match in Brazil.

    But to whet your appetite as we suffer through the monotony of yet another international break—unless your team is one of the few contesting a play-off—we will go through the list of every qualified country's World Cup hero.

Spain: Xavi

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    The World and European champions have a plethora of talent across their team. The star-studded Spanish outfit boasts world-class players in every position, and they each occupy a spot in some of Europe's biggest and best clubs.

    Vicente Del Bosque's men became the first team to win two consecutive European Championships as well as three straight major tournaments as they won Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 along with the the 2010 World Cup.

    Spain play a free-flowing style of football and often play without a recognised striker on the pitch, which is why midfield maestro Xavi is key.

    The Barcelona man is consistently one of the best passers of any player in Europe and rarely concedes possession.

    Having been used to playing in arguably the greatest club side the world has ever seen, Xavi operates in the same way for his national team—gliding effortlessly around the pitch, exchanging short, sharp passes before threading the ball through the eye of a needle to put a teammate through on goal.

    Expect Xavi to star for Spain, a team that could well go on to claim yet another trophy.

Germany: Manuel Neuer

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    Germany are tipped to be the side that can challenge favourites Spain for the Jules Rimet trophy.

    Joachim Loew's philosophy of bringing young players through the national ranks and handing them opportunities to feature for the senior side at a relatively young age is paying dividends.

    Die Mannschaft reached the final of Euro 2008 and the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Despite progressing through each of the last three tournaments, their inability to succeed when it truly matters will provide inspiration for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.

    Similar to Spain, the German squad is full of talent playing at the very highest level across Europe. The 2012/13 Champions League final was contested by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund—two teams full of German national team players, which pays tribute to the philosophy adopted within German football.

    In goal for winning side Bayern that night was Manuel Neuer. The custodian is one of the finest goalkeepers in world football, if not the finest.

    Neuer can often be the difference in close encounters, and with the Germans always looking likely to score with such an array of attacking talent on display, the Bayern keeper could help Loew finally succeed on the biggest stage.

Argentina: Lionel Messi

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    There's very little new that can be said about Lionel Messi. There are not enough superlatives to describe the pint-sized magician.

    The four-time World Player of the Year has won it all with Barcelona and is regarded by many as the greatest player to ever play the game, though he hasn't been able to emulate the success of Argentina's former greatest striker, Diego Maradona—he's never won the World Cup.

    During Messi's international career with Argentina, the South American nation have struggled on the biggest stage.

    Having failed to reach the semi-finals on each of the last two occasions, Argentina and Messi will be hoping for more success this time around.

    It would be the only glitch in a near-perfect career should Messi never win the World Cup.

Colombia: Radamel Falcao

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    Colombian forward Radamel Falcao is regarded as one of the hottest strikers plying his trade in Europe. The 27-year-old moved to Portuguese side Porto in 2009 after impressing for Argentinian giants River Plate.

    Having scored 41 goals in 51 league appearances in Portugal, Falcao then earned a big-money move to Atletico Madrid where he continued in his fine run of goalscoring form—netting 52 times in 67 league appearances for the Spanish capital's second side.

    The Colombian earned praise from across the globe and was reportedly linked with teams such as Chelsea, Manchester United and even fierce rivals Real Madrid, but Falcao surprised many when he made the move to French side Monaco—though it was pretty obvious why he would want to play for a club based on the French Riviera, and where he doesn't have to pay income tax.

    Falcao currently sits atop the Ligue 1 scorers chart, but his side lie in third place in the league, some five points off leaders PSG.

    It seems that where the Colombian has played, he has scored goals. And with a World Cup just around the corner, don't expect things to change any time soon.

Belgium: Christian Benteke

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    The Belgian national team continue to surprise many. For a country with a population a little over 11 million—that's 18 times smaller than hosts Brazil—they continue to produce some of the most exciting players in world football.

    The Premier League is littered with Belgian stars, such as Chelsea's Eden Hazard and out-on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku as well as defenders Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen.

    But the man who is sure to be Belgium's World Cup hero is Aston Villa striker Christian Beneteke.

    The 22-year-old notched 19 league goals in his debut Premier League season—single-handedly saving the claret and blue outfit from relegation—and has picked up where he left off last season, scoring four goals in his opening four games of this campaign.

    The impressive Belgians could continue to surprise and go far in Brazil—especially with Benteke leading the line.

Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri

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    The FIFA World Rankings, which are as confusing as attempting a Rubik's cube whilst wearing a blindfold, have Switzerland as the seventh-best team.

    Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but they undoubtedly have some talent within their side that qualified top of the group.

    The Swiss boast an impressive squad with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Gokhan Inler all playing for the tiny country, known more for it's cheese and chocolate than their football.

    There is one star man that is well-known across the world, however. One that is expected to feature heavily in Brazil.

    Yugoslavian-born Xherdan Shaqiri currently plies his trade in Germany, playing for European champions Bayern Munich.

    The pint-sized winger gained much admiration throughout Europe for his performances in the Champions League with FC Basel and subsequently earned a high-profile move to the Bavarian club.

    Switzerland may not go as far into the tournament as their ranking may suggest, but they will surely turn a few heads along the way with Shaqiri certain to make waves.

Netherlands: Robin Van Persie

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    The Netherlands came close to claiming their first-ever World Cup trophy in South Africa. Knocking out the likes of Brazil and Uruguay on the way to the final, the Dutch exhibited some of the tournament's best football.

    It seems a shame, then, that their game plan in the final was to try to kick the Spanish players rather than put the ball in the back of the net. Bert van Marwijk's side deservedly lost the final.

    In charge now, however, is Louis van Gaal—a man who guided the Oranje to one of the more stellar qualifying campaigns for next year's tournament.

    The Dutch won nine and drew one of their ten qualifying matches, scoring 34 times in the process whilst conceding just the five.

    And, of course, the man who starred for them during that time: Robin van Persie.

    The Manchester United striker top-scored in the Premier League last season, firing the Red Devils to yet another trophy—the Dutchman's first.

    Van Persie surpassed Patrick Kluivert as The Netherlands' all-time top goalscorer during their penultimate qualifying match—an 8-1 dismantling of Hungary.

    Van Persie had never won the Premier League until last season. And he, along with every other Dutchman to wear the famous orange jersey, has never won the World Cup.

    Could his first English league title spur him on to helping van Gaal's side become the first ever Dutch side to win the Jules Rimet trophy?

Italy: Mario Balotelli

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    Mario Balotelli needs no introduction.

    The controversial, hot-headed, outspoken striker is, without doubt, one of the more talented strikers that will be appearing in Brazil next year.

    Wherever he plays—whether that be Manchester or Milan—he makes headlines, though not always for the greatest of reasons.

    His record in front of goal is not to be sniffed at, though. Balotelli scores goals.

    Since his return to the Italian club, the 23-year-old has netted 15 times in 20 league appearances and also has a stellar scoring record with the national side. Twelve goals in 27 appearances makes “Super Mario” Italy's in-form striker ahead of the World Cup.

England: Wayne Rooney

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    England lie 10th in the wacky FIFA World Rankings, though that's probably a good thing.

    In fact, they could do with dropping down a few more places so that nobody expects anything of them in just over six months time.

    Ahead of each and every tournament, an air of excitement builds around England—bunting streaming up and down streets, cars driven by with flags proudly hanging from windows—but it is quickly replaced by a gut-wrenching feeling of bitter disappointment.

    Next year will be no different, but Roy Hodgson's men will be keener than ever to reverse the trend—none more so than Wayne Rooney.

    The striker made his England debut at the tender age of seventeen and has since gone on to make 86 appearances. His 38 goals makes him England's sixth-highest goalscorer of all time, but he has every chance of surpassing Bobby Charlton's tally of 49.

    Rooney finished England's qualifying campaign as top goalscorer with seven goals and will endeavour to continue in that rich vein of form when England land in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil: Neymar

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    Brazilian ace Neymar has, for some time, been one of the most exciting players in world football. Videos of the 21-year-old scoring outrageous goals and performing mind-blowing tricks were seen across the globe, despite that the forward played in Brazil's Serie A.

    Speculation surrounded the flamboyant youngster, with Europe's best clubs attempting to pry him away from his beloved Santos. Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, amongst others, were all linked with the player before he finally made his mega-money move to Barcelona.

    Neymar now struts his stuff in the most eccentric team across the world, playing alongside some of the greatest players to ever grace the beautiful game.

    The Brazilian already has 44 caps to his name, scoring 27 goals and will now aim to perform in front of his home crowd, on the biggest stage of them all and in the most flamboyant country of them all.

Chile: Alexis Sanchez

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    The world's 12th-best side, Chile, qualified as the third-best South American team, behind Argentina and Colombia.

    Jorge Sampaoli's side leaked goals throughout their qualification, conceding on average 1.56 goals per game which is why forward Alexis Sanchez is so vital in the team.

    With obvious defensive frailties, the Barcelona striker will lead the line for Chile in the hope that his side can progress through the group stages with a superior goal difference.

    The 24-year-old, who was recently critical of England, saying that their "soft" players were not good enough to win the World Cup, will need to do the talking with his feet in six months time, or could end up humiliated by his "soft" counterparts.

USA: Clint Dempsey

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    Clint Dempsey is well-known throughout England following a long career with Fulham before a less-than-successful stint with Tottenham.

    The midfielder made more than 200 Premier League appearances before returning to his beloved United States to play for Seattle Sounders.

    Dempsey's strength, eye for a pass and terrific aerial ability have enabled the 30-year-old to turn out more than 100 times for the United States men's national team.

    His desire to succeed in a sport that ranks way down on the popularity list in his native country will see him strive to progress past the group stages in the 2014 World Cup.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Edin Dzeko

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    Bosnia's stellar qualifying campaign, which saw them score 30 times and concede just six as they finished above Greece to advance to the finals for the first time, was epitomised by the performance of Edin Dzeko.

    The Manchester City striker, who has fallen down the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium following the arrival of Alvaro Negredo, proved just why he is deadly in front of goal.

    Dzeko scored 10 times during qualifying and provided the assist for Vedad Ibisevic's vital goal during their final qualifier with Lithuania.

    Playing on the biggest stage in world football for the first time in their history, the Bosnians will be keen not to fall at the first hurdle, and if Dzeko can continue to find the back of the net then there's no reason why they should.

Russia: Igor Akinfeev

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    Fabio Capello's Russia qualified for the World Cup ahead of Portugal, but made their supporters sweat during their final match as they drew 1-1 with Azerbaijan.

    Besides the worrying final few minutes, Russia's campaign was one of the more impressive. Conceding just five goals in ten matches—a statistic bettered only by Spain—Russia have CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, along with his defence, to thank.

    Very few goalkeepers could be potential world cup heroes, but an outstanding qualifying campaign means that Akinfeev could prove to be just that.

    Capello has Russia structured in such a way that they are very hard to break down and are always resolute—a potential recipe for success ahead of the upcoming tournament.

Ecuador: Antonio Valencia

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    Ecuador qualified for next year's World Cup as the fourth-best team in the South American group—beating two-time world champions Uruguay to an automatic spot.

    With seven wins and five defeats from their 16 fixtures, Ecuador aren't likely to surprise too many in Brazil, though they will have extra motivation to progress.

    Christian Benitez, who finished as Ecuador's second-highest scorer in qualification, died of a cardiac arrest in July at the age of just 27. His number 11 jersey has since been retired.

    Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia will attempt to rally his troops to prove the doubters wrong in Brazil.

Australia: Brett Holman

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    The Socceroos qualified second in the Asian group, finishing four points behind winners Japan.

    Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who played for Australia for over 20 years, was, by far, the most experienced member of the national team but has recently retired. The loss of the Chelsea goalkeeper will be significant. But Australia have a World Cup to look forward to and will want to do it justice.

    Former AZ Alkmaar and Aston Villa winger Brett Holman will be their main man in Brazil.

    Pacy, with an eye for goal and a repertoire of impressive tricks, the 29-year-old will attempt to propel his side past the group stages—the point in which they fell last time out in South Africa.

Japan: Shinji Kagawa

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    Finishing four points ahead of second-placed Australia in qualifying, Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa helped Japan to reach their fifth successive World Cup finals—though, as joint hosts, they weren't required to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

    Kagawa was signed for Manchester United by former boss Sir Alex Ferguson after a hugely successful two-year spell for German outfit Borussia Dortmund in which he became a fan favourite.

    The Japanese midfielder has since fallen out of favour with current United boss David Moyes and been linked with a move back to Germany.

    Regardless of where he is playing—or whether he is playing at all—Kagawa will feature heavily for Japan in the World Cup and is sure to be their star man.

Iran: Javad Nekounam

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    Iran qualified for just the fourth World Cup finals in the country's history, finishing above South Korea.

    Javad Nekounam is Iran's second-most capped player with 139 caps and top-scored for the Asian country with six goals during qualifying.

    Iran have never progressed from the group stages and their chances of doing this time are very slim, though not impossible.

South Korea: Park Chu-Young

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    South Korea would have been disappointed by their second-place finish during their qualifying campaign. Finishing behind minnows Iran is not something that they would have envisioned, though that won't be playing on the player's minds as the World Cup approaches.

    The Red Devils—yes, that is their nickname—have progressed past the group stages on just two occasions in their history, but their proudest moment came whilst co-hosting the event in 2002 as they finished in fourth place.

    Ahn Jung-Hwan was the country's hero on that occasion, and bit-part Arsenal striker Park Chu-Young will hope he can emulate his compatriots success come 2014.

Costa Rica: Alvaro Saborio

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    Alvaro Saborio played all but one of Costa Rica's qualifying matches—missing that solitary game through injury.

    The Real Salt Lake striker, who once spent a season on loan with English side Bristol City, fired his country to second in their qualifying table behind USA with eight goals—a third of Costa Rica's tally.

    The 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be Costa Rica's fourth appearance in the tournament and though the world's 31st best team aren't expected to advance past the group stages, an in-form Saborio could certainly propel the tiny nation onto the world stage.

Honduras: Oscar Garcia

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    Another player plying his trade in the MLS, Oscar Garcia is sure to be Honduras' key figure in the upcoming World Cup.

    The Central American nation have produced a number of players who have gone on to perform in Europe—most notably in the Premier League. Wilson Palacio, Maynor Figueroa, Roger Espinoza have all featured in English football's top flight whilst Emilio Izaguirre currently plays for Scottish champions Celtic.

    However, the man that will be in charge of ensuring the minnows have an impressive World Cup is Houston Dynamo winger Garcia.

    The 29-year-old has turned out for his nation over 90 times and played each and every one of their qualifying games.