20 Players Who Have Earned World Cup Spots This Season
As we all know by now, there are less than 100 days until the World Cup in the summer, with squads becoming fine-tuned and managers making plans across the globe already.
Those plans perhaps look a lot different from how they did at the beginning of the season, when there was still so much uncertainty around and huge question marks over several players.
But which players have jumped to the front of the queue for a seat on the plane this season?
Here we take a look at 20 men whose form has made it impossible for their national bosses to ignore them:
Jordan Henderson, England
From being seemingly on his way out of Anfield, Jordan Henderson has become a key component of Liverpool's impressive title-chasing team.
The former Sunderland man has started every single one of his club's Premier League matches this season, with his energy and effort crucial to the way that Brendan Rodgers' side play.
Henderson earned his eighth England cap in the 1-0 win over Denmark last week and seems to have jumped above the likes of Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Gareth Barry in Roy Hodgson's pecking order.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Spain
Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta has become a favourite for Jose Mourinho this season, even ousting Ashley Cole from the Chelsea side, largely thanks to his versatility.
His ability to play on both the left and right of defence makes him a crucial part of coach Vicente del Bosque's squad for the defending champions, and the 24-year-old looks certain to be in Brazil this summer.
Azpilicueta played the full 90 minutes as Spain beat Italy 1-0 in Madrid on Wednesday.
Eliaquim Mangala, France
Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala started France's 2-0 friendly win over the Netherlands in Paris on Wednesday, and he might well be looking to use the World Cup as a springboard toward a summer transfer.
Mangala came close to a move to Manchester City on January's transfer deadline day, per Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail, and the powerful, twice-capped 23-year-old seems set to move on to one of Europe's major leagues sooner rather than later—though not before a successful World Cup, he'll hope.
Clement Grenier, France
Clement Grenier might not be seen starting all of France's matches in the summer, but his impressive form for Lyon this season should ensure that he's at least in the squad.
Grenier, 23, was a regular in all of France's youth teams, and the attacking midfielder has now graduated to Didier Deschamps' senior team with ease.
He looks likely to be a talented understudy for Franck Ribery in the summer.
It isn't easy to force your way into the Spain setup, but Atletico Madrid's Koke has done that, largely thanks to excellent club displays this season.
The 22-year-old scored his fifth goal of the season in the recent 2-2 draw with Real Madrid, and he was in the squad for the win over Italy on Wednesday.
After playing for Spain at the 2012 Olympics in London, Koke made his debut for the senior team last August and has picked up seven caps.
Raheem Sterling, England
Raheem Sterling struggled to get into the Liverpool team at the start of this season, but ever since breaking back in in December he has never looked back.
Part of an exciting attacking trio alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Sterling scored his seventh goal of the season in the recent win over Southampton and was rewarded with a starting spot in England's recent friendly against Denmark.
He responded with a Man of the Match display on just his second senior international appearance, virtually assuring his World Cup place in the process.
Antoine Griezmann, France
Going into this weekend, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez had scored more La Liga goals this season than Antoine Griezmann, who finally won full French honours in the win over the Netherlands.
The winger is quick and direct, and frequently troubles all of Real Sociedad's opponents, including Barcelona in a 3-1 victory recently.
Aged just 22, Griezmann is tipped to have a stellar future in the game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he moved on to a bigger club after the World Cup.
Lorenzo Insigne, Italy
After starring in Italy's Under-21 team on their run to the final of the European Under-21 Championships last summer, Lorenzo Insigne has taken on an important role in Rafael Benitez's Napoli team this season.
Tricky and with an eye for the spectacular, wide man Insigne has scored six goals in his second full campaign with the club, with half of his strikes coming in the Europa League.
He has four caps for Italy and scored in a friendly defeat to Argentina earlier this season.
Fabian Schar, Switzerland
Centre-back Fabian Schar has been on the goal trail ever since making his debut for the Swiss senior team last year.
The 22-year-old featured for Switzerland at the 2012 Olympics, and this season he's managed to make five appearances for the senior team, scoring against Iceland and then twice in a clash against Norway.
The FC Basel man will be a crucial part of the Swiss defence in Brazil, where many are tipping them to impress.
Kevin Grosskreutz, Germany
Borussia Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz made his Germany debut back in 2010, but after a long absence the 25-year-old's versatility and importance to his club side has seen him get back into the squad.
He played in the 1-0 friendly win over Chile on Wednesday, and the two-time Bundesliga champion should find himself in Joachim Low's plans in the summer, too.
Grosskreutz will be a useful player for the Germans to have in their squad, and you can expect him to make an impact in Brazil.
Daniel Sturridge, England
Such has been the stunning form of Daniel Sturridge this season, that he has not just secured his spot in the England squad for the summer, but he has also secured his position as his team's No. 9.
The Liverpool man has tallied 21 goals in all competitions as he has struck up a lethal partnership with Luis Suarez, becoming one of the most in-form and feared forwards on the continent in the process.
Sturridge started England's friendly with Denmark on Wednesday and typically scored the winning goal eight minutes from time.
Izet Hajrovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
At the start of the season, midfielder Izet Hajrovic switched his international allegiances from Switzerland to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was immediately included in the Bosnia squad which were chasing qualification for their first World Cup finals, and the 22-year-old scored a stunning goal in a crucial clash against Slovakia.
Hajrovic's good form earned him a move from Grasshopper Zurich to Galatasaray in January, and he'll be a key member of the Bosnia squad in the summer.
Adam Lallana, England
Adam Lallana has risen through the divisions with Southampton, with the 25-year-old now captaining the impressive Saints in the Premier League.
Lallana's stellar form this season led to an England debut in November, and the midfielder created Daniel Sturridge's winner in Wednesday's victory over Denmark at Wembley.
You'd have got long odds on Lallana being in the England squad when this season started, but it is looking increasingly likely he'll get the nod.
William Carvalho, Portugal
Twenty-one-year-old defensive midfielder William Carvalho was thrown in at the deep end in senior international football, with his debut coming in the World Cup play-off victory over Sweden.
The Angola-born youngster is used to plenty of big games at Sporting Lisbon, though, and he has handled his rise with great ability and confidence.
The powerhouse has been linked with a move to Manchester United in the summer, as reported by Tom Kundert of the Daily Mirror, and will be eager to impress in Brazil.
Diego Costa, Spain
The wait to see Diego Costa in a Spain shirt was finally over on Wednesday, when the Atletico Madrid forward played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win over Italy on his home ground at the Vicente Calderon.
The former Brazil international appears to have shot to the head of the queue to be Spain's No. 9 in the land of his birth, although he will face competition from Alvaro Negredo for that honour.
Costa's combustible nature and the fact that the locals in Brazil are unlikely to take too kindly to him ensure that he is likely to be one of the stories of the summer.
Formerly of Pacos Ferreira, midfielder Josue has emerged as a vital player for Porto this season, with full Portuguese honours coming as a result.
The 23-year-old did actually come through the youth system at his current club only to move away in search of first-team football, but now he maintains a high-profile place in the Porto squad and contributes goals from an attacking midfield position.
After coming through the youth groups, Josue made his senior Portugal debut in October and looks to be a useful player for Paulo Bento's squad.
Aron Johannsson, United States
Born to Icelandic parents in Alabama, Aron Johannsson and his family moved back to Iceland when the midfielder was just three years old.
He played his football there before a move to AGF Aarhus in Denmark, from where he switched to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar last summer. At the same time, he confirmed that he wished to switch his international allegiance from Iceland to the United States.
The forward made his U.S. debut in August and scored a last-minute winner in a match against Panama in October.
Marco Verratti, Italy
Marco Verratti has slowly begun to make his presence felt with both Paris Saint-Germain and the Italian national team after making his debut for both in 2012.
The former Pescara man signed a new contract with the French giants at the start of this season, whilst he's picked up four caps for Italy and scored a goal since breaking into the squad.
Consistently appearing for a team such as PSG is likely to get him the nod for the Italians in the summer, and he certainly won't let anyone down.
Rickie Lambert, England
With competition for places at left-back so fierce, Rickie Lambert's impressive young Southampton teammate Luke Shaw just misses out on this list, with Lambert getting in because he offers England something different.
Having come up through the divisions, Lambert enjoyed a dream England debut when he headed home the winning goal in a friendly against Scotland at Wembley before he followed that up with another header against Moldova in a qualifier.
Now with four caps to his name, it will be tough for Lambert to earn a spot in the squad, but he might just deserve one.
Ciro Immobile, Italy
Co-owned by both Juventus and Torino, Ciro Immobile has scored eight goals in his last 10 Serie A games for the latter.
That is form which saw him called up to the Italy squad for the friendly clash with Spain last Wednesday, with the 24-year-old playing the final 22 minutes as the Italians went down 1-0.
He'll hope for more fortune if he is called up again in the summer, though, and his goals could just make the difference to the Italian side in their tough group.
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