World Cup 2014: Predicting the Top 20 Breakout Stars, from Draxler to Lamela
Every World Cup produces a handful of breakout stars, and Brazil 2014 should prove no different.
Here, we select 20 players from different teams who could see their profiles soar during the tournament.
Most are young, and while many are reasonably well known, they are not yet global superstars (sorry Neymar).
All of those listed here have the talent to make a major splash at the World Cup.
Julian Draxler (Germany)
The conveyor belt of brilliant German youngsters shows no signs of slowing down, with Julian Draxler one of the most promising of the next wave.
The baby-faced 20-year-old already looks comfortable in national team colors, proving that he has a strong character to go with his natural gifts.
Tom Rogic (Australia)
Lanky but elegant, Tom Rogic brings a hint of South American-style flair to the Australian team.
A concern for Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou will be how much game time the 20-year-old gets for his club side, Celtic, between now and the World Cup, but if he is match fit, he is sure to make a big impression.
The attacking midfielder has the gifts to unlock even the tightest of defenses and certainly has a bright future ahead of him.
If Brazil go all the way to the latter stages of the 2014 World Cup, Paulinho is surely going to be an essential cog in the machine.
The Tottenham dynamo often provides the link between midfield and attack for the Selecao, utilizing his wide-ranging talents to perform a number of tasks in the center.
He is not the most glamorous name on the teamsheet, but Brazil fans will adore him if he can help drive their team to glory.
Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay)
As legendary Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan fades as a force, there is an opportunity for someone like Nicolas Lodeiro to take over playmaking duties for the Celestes.
Small and well-balanced, with an upright running style, the 24-year-old is extremely difficult to stop when he takes on defenders.
He also has a wide passing range and a dangerous shot on goal. Look for him to combine well with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in Brazil.
Yoichiro Kakitani (Japan)
Prolific goalscorer Yoichiro Kakitani will be hoping to lead the line for Japan at the World Cup.
The 23-year-old Cerezo Osaka star can play as an attacking midfielder, but the ease with which he finds the back of the net makes him an attractive option up front for the coach.
If he manages to bang a few goals in at Brazil 2014, the big European clubs will surely come calling.
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica's wunderkind Joel Campbell is on Arsenal's books, and as his football improves, he is surely working his way closer to a place in the English team's squad.
With 30 caps under his belt already for the Ticos, this 21-year-old is already an important member of the side.
An attacking winger or forward, Campbell can turn a game with a moment of brilliance.
Javier Aquino (Mexico)
Assuming Mexico coach Miguel Herrera decides to integrate some European-based stars back into his squad following his locals-only approach to the final stages of qualifying, Javier Aquino will be one of the first chosen for El Tri.
The Villarreal winger is pacy, elusive and exciting to watch, and he'll be looking to live up to his vast potential on football's biggest stage next year.
Andros Townsend (England)
In just a handful of games, Andros Townsend has emerged as one of England's most exciting young attacking players.
What separates him from the pack of speedy wingers competing for a World Cup berth is that he can not only go past opposition defenders, but he is savvy enough to know what to do with the ball when he does.
The Tottenham flyer looks like he can fulfill a role for England that so many of his promising-but-flawed predecessors have failed to do effectively.
Heung-Min Son (South Korea)
A tall target man who is also fleet of foot, Heung-Min Son could be South Korea's most likely source of goals at the World Cup.
Though he is only 21, he has ample Bundesliga experience under his belt for Hamburger SV and current club Bayer Leverkusen and has already played 22 times for his country.
Not only does Son frequently find the net, he has a propensity for knocking in spectacular goals, so watch out for him in Brazil.
Kevin Strootman (Netherlands)
Carrying on the tradition of styling Dutch attacking midfielders, Kevin Strootman can conjure goals or score them himself, but he is also known for his tough, uncompromising defensive game.
At 23, he could become a stalwart of the Netherlands side for many years to come, and a dominant showing at the World Cup would go a long way to securing him that role long term.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
He may represent a new generation of Colombian players, but James Rodriguez's mesmerizing ball skills and elegant passing game conjure images of the classic South American No. 10.
The 22-year-old Monaco man is certainly not unknown, but the 2014 World Cup offers him the opportunity to become a megastar in his home country.
If Rodriguez can help a Colombia side brimming with talent to go deep into the tournament, a whole new level of fame awaits him.
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy)
Napoli's zippy winger has impressed in the few run-outs he has already had for Italy and will give coach Cesare Prandelli a dynamic attacking option—either from the start of games or coming off the bench.
He may be tiny in stature, but Lorenzo Insigne is the type of player who can have a huge impact.
Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
Not only does he have an awesome name, Granit Xhaka is a pretty impressive footballer as well.
The powerful Borussia Monchengladbach star is effective as both a defensive shield and a creative force in the center of the pitch, fitting well into Switzerland's multifunctional midfield.
His teammates no doubt appreciate his graft, while his gliding running style when in possession of the ball is a joy to watch for fans.
Charles Aranguiz (Chile)
Perhaps the least well-known of Chile's star-studded midfield, Charles Aranguiz is nonetheless capable of matching his high-profile teammates when it comes to spraying accurate passes and dribbling past opponents.
A strong World Cup from him will surely see him earning a move from Universidad de Chile to one of Europe's richest leagues.
Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
The versatility of this gifted playmaker is just one of the reasons he could shine bright in Brazil.
The 19-year-old is adept at dribbling out of tight spaces, and his excellent passing skills mean he can play the role of a deep-lying "quarterback" or a more advanced playmaker just behind the strikers.
His physical attributes mean he can hold his own when it comes to midfield battles as well, making Mateo Kovacic a real asset to his side.
Paul Pogba (France)
When you consider that Paul Pogba is still only 20 years old, his potential is staggering.
He is already a commanding presence in the center of the pitch for both Juventus and France and could be one of his side's key players at the World Cup.
Not only is Pogba an energetic and physical midfielder, he is also a goal threat. He is capable of having a genuine impact on the tournament next year.
Jefferson Montero (Ecuador)
Antonio Valencia might be the most easily recognizable of the Ecuadorian players for most football fans, but left-sided winger/forward Jefferson Montero is also a devastating attacking threat.
The 24-year-old is extremely quick and has good close control, meaning if opponents are concentrating on containing Valencia on the other flank, his partner in crime can do real damage down the left.
Fabrice Olinga (Cameroon)
Tricky Cameroonian forward Fabrice Olinga holds the record for being the youngest-ever scorer in La Liga and for his national side.
Still only 17, any game time at all in Brazil would be an achievement, but such is his talent that he is sure to dazzle on the pitch if given the opportunity.
Axel Witsel (Belgium)
Belgium are many pundit's dark horse for Brazil 2014 due to their stellar lineup of individual talent.
While the likes of Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany have already hit the big time, holding midfielder Axel Witsel is also integral to the side's success.
He combines a strong frame with tremendous ball skills to form a highly effective midfield package.
Erik Lamela (Argentina)
If Lionel Messi's recent injury woes continue, Erik Lamela could become absolutely vital to Argentina's World Cup plans.
Even if the No. 10 is fighting fit, though, the Tottenham youngster will likely still have an important role to play for the Seleccion.
Capable of playing on either flank or through the middle, Lamela's silky skills and athletic physique make him a manager's dream.