20 Up-and-Comers Most Likely to Break Out at the World Cup
The World Cup is now just a few months away and, as ever when 32 of the best footballing nations gather, new superstars are set to be born.
There is no stage quite like the World Cup for creating legends and that will be seen once more in Brazil this summer, with over 600 players set to attend with dreams of playing a starring role.
Only a select few will achieve that aim, though, and many will already be household names to football fans the world over.
Which, though, are the emerging stars of the global game who could take Brazil 2014 by storm? Continue reading to find out which young players Bleacher Report are tipping to make a significant impact.
Luis Muriel (Colombia)
The potential absence of striker Radamel Falcao from the competition in Brazil means that Colombia, hotly tipped to go far in the competition this summer, will need an alternative source of goals in attack.
Udinese forward Luis Muriel may not be the first choice to replace Falcao at the spearhead of the forward line, but he should have the opportunity to make his presence felt as part of the squad.
While his progress has been hindered by injury over the past two seasons, when fit he can make a significant impact with his pace and strength making him an ideal player to bring on late in a game.
The 22-year-old has a strong reputation in Italy, but he must now take his talents to the global stage.
Michy Batshuayi (Belgium)
Due to Belgium's incredible depth of striking talent at the present time, 20-year-old forward Michy Batshuayi is yet to receive a call-up to the senior national side.
With 17 goals to his name in 24 Jupiler Pro League appearances this season, though, that may all change by the time Marc Wilmots names his squad for Brazil this summer.
While not weak, Batshuayi lacks the extreme physicality of his two compatriots, but he boasts electric pace and nimble dribbling skills. On present form, he cannot be ignored.
It has been a remarkable season for Atletico Madrid thus far and midfielder Koke has been a major figure in Diego Simeone’s side that currently lie atop of La Liga.
The all-round midfielder has spent a fair amount of the campaign playing on the right of a midfield four, but has been moved central in recent weeks and excelled in the role.
Now 22, Koke has forced his way into Vicente del Bosque's senior Spain squad in recent months and, while he is unlikely to displace one of the country's established stars from the starting lineup, he stands a great chance of making the 23-man squad.
On current form, he should be a shoo-in and will surprise any supporters who struggle to find time to watch La Liga games. For all the attention given to Isco and Thiago Alcantara, Koke is currently outperforming both.
Julian Draxler (Germany)
His name was all over the media in recent weeks regarding a move to Arsenal, per Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph, but Germany attacking midfielder Julian Draxler is more than just another Premier League target.
The 20-year-old is set to be the youngest member of Die Mannschaft's squad for the summer and, bar reading his name in transfer-related tales, will likely be the player most unfamiliar to international audiences.
Draxler's 10 goals and four assists last season are testament to his abilities and, while he has yet to repeat that form this campaign, he is already well established with the national side.
Likely to be used from the bench, Draxler will have to use the playing time he does receive effectively. The expectant eyes of the world will now be on him and expecting justification for his soaring reputation among fans of the Bundesliga.
Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)
With just one goal in 21 international appearances, Vincent Aboubakar's record at international level is hardly sparkling. But, then again, neither had his club record been until this season.
Since moving on a free to Lorient at the start of the season, though, the once highly-rated youngster has re-found his confidence in front of goal and found the back of the net 12 times in Ligue 1 alone.
With power and speed, he is a nightmare for defenders to deal with physically and, when confident with his finishing, has the potential to trouble any side.
Cameroon should trust the 22-year-old to come good this summer, with no other striker in comparable form. If he can play to his destructive best, Cameroon may just have a chance in their group with Mexico, Croatia and hosts Brazil.
Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast)
One of the top-rated young full-backs in European football, the 2013 decision of Serge Aurier to opt to represent the land of his birth rather than France was a major coup for the Ivory Coast side.
Despite his age, Aurier has been on the radar of football fans for some time after making his Lens debut at the age of 17 in January 2009. Now at Toulouse, he is beginning to perform to his undoubted potential.
Aurier is as rounded a full-back as one could imagine for his age, with both technical and physical aspects of his game extremely strong. With two goals and four assists to his name this campaign, he is also a considerable attacking threat.
Ivory Coast have been handed a manageable draw against Colombia, Japan and Greece, but they cannot afford to solely look to Didier Drogba once more. For the likes of Aurier, it is time to prove their worth on a major international stage.
Eduardo Vargas (Chile)
While, at 24, Eduardo Vargas should perhaps not be included as an "up-and-comer", there is a real sense of unfulfilled potential regarding the Chile star.
His sensational season with Universidad de Chile under now national team coach Jorge Sampaoli in 2011 saw him earn a move to Napoli. His career in Italy, though, has failed to burst into life.
Vargas spent 2013 in South America with Gremio and has since moved on loan to Valencia this January. His performances with the national team as one of Sampaoli's attacking trio, though, have remained strong.
The combative and technically-gifted forward is undoubtedly talented, but he has much to prove of his ability to perform outside of a Sampaoli side. At the World Cup, though, he will be with his favoured master and has the chance to show the wider world just what he is capable of.
Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
Chelsea-owned defender Kenneth Omeruo was a key member of the Nigeria defence that saw the side to victory at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
However, while the 20-year-old returned to the Blues in the summer, injury limited his chances of success at Stamford Bridge and he has now been loaned to Middlesbrough for the remainder of the campaign.
Regardless of his inability to break into the competitive Chelsea first-team environment, that does not detract from the fact that the Nigerian is considered a very promising defender for his age.
He will likely take his place at the heart of Stephen Keshi's defence once more this summer and will have the opportunity to show the Blues' hierarchy just what he can do on football's biggest stage.
Christian Atsu (Ghana)
Ghana have been handed a difficult Group Stage draw for the 2014 World Cup and, if they are to progress, will need some of their undeniably talented attacking players to really hit form at the competition.
One such player is Chelsea-owned winger Christian Atsu, 22, who currently features for Eredivisie challengers Vitesse Arnhem in Netherlands.
Atsu, a left winger by trade, has come into the Black Stars squad over the past couple of seasons and shown flashes of brilliance—as he has for his club.
Bar a year on loan with Rio Ave in 2011-12, though, Atsu has not yet consistently delivered at senior level. He must now use the coming World Cup to prove once and for all that he is worthy of all the attention he has received over the past two seasons.
Enner Valencia (Ecuador)
Ecuador will be out to shock a few people in Brazil this summer and will feel that while France, Switzerland and Honduras is not an easy group, they still have a chance of progression.
One area in which the side is particularly strong at present is on the wing, where former Villarreal flyer Jefferson Montero and captain Antonio Valencia will be closely monitored by opponents.
They do, though, have a third potentially potent weapon in the form of Pachuca left winger Enner Valencia, who has scored three times in five Liga MX games since his January arrival from Emelec.
Valencia was long considered one of Ecuador's best domestic-based talents and has been a regular in national team squads over recent months. Able to play as a second forward, also, he could be a real outlet for Reinaldo Rueda's side this summer.
Tom Rogic (Australia)
Australian attacking midfielder Tom Rogic recently returned to the A League on-loan with Melbourne Victory, having briefly delayed his career with SPL side Celtic, in order to guarantee a World Cup berth.
Rogic is highly rated by Australian observers, but he struggled to establish himself in his year at Parkhead. He does, though, feature regularly in Australian squads.
Despite his talent, Rogic has many areas of his game in need of refinement and the hope will be that a return to Australia and regular first-team football can help his game ahead of the summer.
He will not be expected to carry the burden of orchestrating Australia's attack for the time being, but coach Ange Postecoglou will hope that he can show enough of his ability to at least give the Socceroos a chance in a very difficult group.
Yoichiro Kakitani (Japan)
Japan are fortunate to have a number of wonderfully gifted attacking options to pick from but over recent months it would appear that Yoichiro Kakitani may have won the battle to lead the line in Brazil.
Like his main rival for the position, Yuya Osako, Kakitani is not strictly a striker. He is, nominally, a wide forward or attacking midfielder, but Japan are currently lacking in a top class No. 9 to lead the line.
When played in that role, though, Kakitani has performed well in recent months. He was a domestic national side's top scorer at the EAFF East Asian Cup and scored on his last outing in a victory over Belgium.
The Cerezo Osaka forward will likely be Europe-bound after the tournament and has a fine opportunity to boost his chances of securing a big move with a strong showing in Brazil.
Kim Young-Gwon (South Korea)
Korea defender Kim Young-Gwon was the standout player in his position of the Asian Champions League and, per ESPN FC columnist John Duerden, was hailed by coach Marcello Lippi as "good enough for Manchester United".
The elegant defender is not only excellent in preventing opposition teams scoring, but he is also more than adept on the ball. The time spent playing futsal while at university, all the way to national team level, has reaped rewards in the 11-man game.
Kim is another who will be hoping that a strong showing at the competition will cement what is surely an inevitable move to the higher levels of European football in the next 18 months. With all respect to Lippi and his Guangzhou Evergrande side, Kim's future lies at a more elite level.
He has been firmly established as first choice for his country since Hong Myung-Bo took the reigns last summer and Hong, as the greatest centre-back in Korean football history, knows a thing or two about defending.
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
With 30 caps for his country at the age of 21, Arsenal-owned forward Joel Campbell is seen as the big emerging star of Costa Rican football at the present time.
Since his 2011 move to the Premier League giants, initial work permit issues have seen Campbell undertake three loan moves away from the club—firstly with Lorient, then Real Betis and, finally, present side Olympiakos.
Over that two-and-a-half-year period, his performances have been steadily improving. Indeed, his seven goals for the Greek Super League giants this season place him behind only Kostas Mitroglou and Javier Saviola in the club's scoring charts.
Blessed with express pace and no shortage of skill, he has the potential to light up Costa Rica's World Cup campaign. If he does, maybe it will finally bring about a long-awaited first season with Arsenal next year.
Alan Pulido (Mexico)
Just a couple of months ago, Porto defender Diego Reyes would have been the blindingly obvious candidate for a Mexican breakout player at the World Cup.
Reyes, though, has not been featuring for his new side at club level, while recently appointed national team manager Miguel Herrera has thus far reverted to experience in the shape of Rafael Marquez.
So, what are the chances of a real outside bet making a splash at the World Cup in the form of Tigres striker Alan Pulido?
The once very highly-rated 22-year-old enjoyed a fine year in 2013 and was rewarded with an international debut against a second string South Korea side last week. He scored a second-half hat-trick.
Pulido has given Herrera much to think about and has scored for Tigres once more since that fixture. Keep up his current form and he may well sneak a last-minute squad place for Herrera's El Tri side.
Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
Inter Milan midfielder Mateo Kovacic would be attending his first major tournament this summer, if selected, and he will be keenly watched by football fans across the world.
Still a teenager, the Croatian has impressed in his time in Italy thus far but, in this first full campaign, he has not been regarded as a regular starter by coach Walter Mazzarri.
His talent is plainly obvious, though, and while he may not start for Croatia either, Kovacic will have the opportunity to hit back at some of his doubters on the World Cup stage.
Whether as a deep-lying playmaker or an attacking midfielder, he has a role to play for his country and could emerge as a fan favourite at the competition.
Ross Barkley (England)
If he can resolve his recent injury issues over the remainder of the season, Everton midfielder Ross Barkley is a certainty to head to Brazil as part of Roy Hodgson's England squad.
Indeed, if he can recover the form he showed in the first half of the season, Barkley could easily travel as part of England's first choice midfield. On form, his inclusion would be fully merited.
What Barkley can offer is the ability to surge forward from midfield, to beat a man with both technique and power, changing the dynamic of the game in his side's favour.
The young midfielder has proven himself a potential match-winner in the Premier League this campaign and could well unsettle defences at the World Cup also.
Paul Pogba (France)
In truth, Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has very little to prove. However, in international terms, he is very inexperienced and will have his ability truly tested in Brazil this summer.
Pogba is a wonderfully complete midfielder, with nearly every aspect of his game standing up to scrutiny. Despite being just 20 years old, he is already an influential member of a Serie A-winning Juventus midfield.
There is no stage quite like a World Cup and Pogba has yet to play in a major international tournament or, indeed, shine in the UEFA Champions League.
That is no slight on the youngster's incredible ability, more that he is far from possessing the experience of many World Cup opponents. He has the potential, though, to truly mark his arrival on the global scene in Brazil.
Alessandro Florenzi (Italy)
One of the standouts of Italy's Under-21 side from last summer, Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi has been a major player in his team's rise to second in Serie A this campaign.
Playing in Roma's three-man midfield, the local boy has really come of age over the past year and has pushed his way firmly into Cesare Prandelli's plans for the Italy national side.
The Azzurri face a reasonably difficult group in Brazil and will need their top performers to turn in high-level performances if they are to advance. Florenzi, based upon the past season, will be one of those they turn to.
The midfielder is rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after players in his position in Europe and a good showing this summer will cement that status.
William Carvalho (Portugal)
A true midfield star in the making, Sporting midfielder William Carvalho has been enjoying a sensational season in the Liga Sagres this year and has attracted the interest of Manchester United, per the Daily Mail's Adam Crafton.
Included in the Portugal national team for the first time in late 2013, the Angola-born midfielder has played his way into last-minute contention for a World Cup place.
Just 21, he has returned from two spells on loan with Cercle Brugge to take up a regular berth in a Sporting midfield that has helped the side to second in the league thus far.
A powerful presence who has managed to get on the scoresheet on a couple of occasions this campaign, there will be plenty of clubs interested to see how he copes if he makes the field in Brazil this summer.
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