30 Non Europe-Based Players Who Could Break out at the World Cup
Every World Cup sees new stars emerge from all corners of the globe, many of whom are not yet familiar to those who typically only watch European football.
The most watched sporting event on the planet is the perfect place for footballers to make a name for themselves, and possibly make some cash too by earning a contract at a club in one of the major leagues of Europe.
The 30 players mentioned here are some of the most likely to break out at Brazil 2014.
Most are in the early stages of their careers, like Zinedine Ferhat or Isaac Brizuela, while others are just hitting their peaks, such as Teofilo Gutierrez.
A few, like Jo and Nicolas Lodeiro, have even had a crack at Europe before, but didn't make the grade for one reason or another. Those gentlemen in particular will be looking to impress in national team colours in June and July in the hope of some kind of redemption.
Here are 30 non-Europe-based players who could see their reputations enhanced considerably during the World Cup.
Brazil-based Nicolas Lodeiro is a dynamic presence in Uruguay's midfield.
Thought not always guaranteed of a start, when he is on the pitch he provides an element of flair that the rugged Celestes are sometimes lacking in the centre of the pitch.
The compact 25-year-old had a spell at Ajax, but he is now back in South America with Botafogo. Another European stint surely beckons if the exciting attacking talent can put his hand up in the June/July tournament.
He may have one of the most famous first names in football, but Zinedine Ferhat's style on the pitch is more akin to Cristiano Ronaldo's than his great Algerian-French namesake.
The lanky winger has the slick haircut, the electric pace and the dazzling footwork to make the comparisons with the Real Madrid hero justifiable, though he is more accustomed to playing on the right than the left.
He has starred for Algeria at under-20 level and will surely become a mainstay of the senior side in the years to come.
Colombia's new defensive sensation is 21-year-old River Plate player Eder Balanta.
The 21-year-old centre-back combines maturity beyond his years with a muscular presence to make him a formidable force at the heart of defence.
He may not be certain to start for Los Cafeteros, but he will be waiting in the wings should the opportunity arise to make an impression on the biggest stage of all.
Tough South Korean midfielder Ha Dae-Sung might have done enough in the past couple of seasons to earn himself a spot in his country's World Cup squad.
Highly respected in the K-League, the veteran hard man recently made the move to Chinese football, where he signed with Beijing Guoan.
Audiences outside of Asia will get a taste of his uncompromising, but technically proficient style if he makes the grade in Hong Myung-Bo's squad.
A surprise move back to Major League Soccer does not mean Michael Bradley's career is on the wane.
Rather, the 26-year-old is in fine form and has the potential to make a few waves in Brazil.
The United States have been handed a tough assignment in the group stages, where they will come up against Germany, Portugal and Ghana, so they will rely heavily on Bradley's energy and experience in midfield.
On the back of an unusual decision to move to the UAE's Arabian Gulf League after seven years in Europe, Felipe Caicedo will be hoping to prove that he is still a top-class forward in Brazil.
The 25-year-old powerhouse signed with Basel in Switzerland at the tender age of 17, before spending periods with Manchester City, Sporting Lisbon, Malaga, Levante and Lokomotiv Moscow.
Despite interest from Spanish club Valencia (as per The Telegraph), the burly target man took up an offer from Al Jazira.
Ecuador will rely heavily on Caicedo to provide goals in the World Cup, after the tragic death of Christian Benitez in July of last year.
Following a failed move to Celtic, Tom Rogic is back plying his trade in Australian football.
The 21-year-old playmaker may not have been suited to Scottish football, but he still has a bright future ahead of him.
Playing like a South American No. 10, the midfielder has the ability to control the tempo of a game, or unlock a defence with a single pass.
With the Socceroos' best attacking player, Robbie Kruse, missing through injury, much will rest on the shoulders of young Rogic.
Prickly and tempestuous, Teofilo Gutierrez is also a highly effective striker on his day.
With Radamel Falcao in serious doubt for the World Cup, the River Plate man could be key to Colombia's chances of progressing deep into the tournament.
Despite having played briefly in Turkey for Trabzonspor, the 28-year-old will be far less familiar to European audiences than "El Tigre," yet his profile could be set for a major boost in Brazil.
Tigres striker Alan Pulido is gradually beginning to fulfill the potential he showed in the Mexican under-20 setup.
After two seasons of mediocre form in domestic football, the 23-year-old has now established himself as a regular starter up front for his side.
And that club form has earned him opportunities at senior international level, which he has grabbed with both hands.
On debut against South Korea, Pulido smashed a hat-trick to virtually assure himself of a place in Mexico's World Cup squad.
Question marks over the other strikers at Miguel Herrera's disposal means the youngster may well have a large part to play in El Tri's campaign.
There are several forwards competing for a single spot as Brazil's starting No. 9, though as the World Cup unfolds it is likely that more than one of them will get playing time.
Fred is among the favourites to accompany Neymar at the pointy end of Brazil's attack, and the Fluminense front man has shown in the past that he is more than up to the task.
A recent history of injuries has made his place in the team a little less certain, though if he is fully fit when the big show rolls around, he is certain to be included in the squad.
Strong and with an excellent sense for goal, the 30-year-old ex-Lyon man could earn himself hero status in Brazil if he bags a bundle of goals in the tournament.
Dashing left-back Eugenio Mena was one of the standouts of the great Universidad de Chile side which won the domestic championship and 2011 Copa Sudamericana.
Rather than heading to Europe, he moved on loan to Santos, and continues to shine in Brazilian football.
The 25-year-old debuted with the Chilean national team back in 2010 and Jorge Sampaoli has shown that he likes him as an option at full-back.
Mena is flexible enough to be used as a centre-back, but it is when he advances down the left-hand side that he is most valuable to his team.
It is something of a surprise that prolific marksman Yoichiro Kakitani has remained in Japanese football for this long.
He signed his first professional contract with Cerezo Osaka at the age of 16 and has remained at the club for the past eight years, aside from a loan spell with Tokushima Vortis.
There is much interest regarding Kakitani from European teams, and a move after the World Cup is surely imminent.
Here's what Alan Gibson had to say about his situation in The Telegraph:
As I write, there are also moves from Japan to Europe being suggested for a handful of other players hoping for a ticket to Brazil 2014, but Cerezo Osaka fans will be hoping that the biggest rising star in Japan – Yoichiro Kakitani – will be staying with them at least until the World Cup.
It may be hard to convince the player to stay though, with the best of the Bundesliga and the Premier league sniffing around.
The best-known Ecuadorian international at present is probably Manchester United's Antonio Valencia, but the man who plays down the opposite flank for the national team can be just as influential.
Blessed with electric pace and superb dribbling skills, Jefferson Montero has the weapons to cause considerable problems for any defence.
The 24-year-old currently stars in the Liga MX for Monarcas Morelia.
One reason Chile's glorious passing game is so effective is because coach Jorge Sampaoli has the luxury of being able to interchange a number of players in and out of the system.
Charles Aranguiz's peers like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez have become glamour players for big European clubs, while the 24-year-old has only recently left his homeland to join Internacional (on loan from Udinese).
When he is used in the Chilean lineup, however, he does not look out of place at all alongside the more famous names.
Opponents in Brazil will underestimate him at their peril.
AFC Champions League winner and former Asian Player of the Year Lee Keun-Ho probably would have made the jump to European football back in 2012 had his career not been sidetracked by South Korea's compulsory military service.
The 27-year-old is still completing his two-year military duties, during which time he is turning out for second-tier army side Sangju Sangmu.
The nifty, goal-scoring winger may have had his professional career curtailed by his civic responsibilities, but he is still an important part of the South Korean national team, and he will be keen to show his skills to the world in Brazil.
Club Leon hero Carlos Pena is a midfield general who will be looking to command the centre of the pitch every time Mexico play at the World Cup.
A pit bull in defence with the ball skills to provide valuable assistance in attack, the 24-year-old will surely secure a move to a top European club soon after the tournament if he can impress for El Tri.
The type of player who makes those around him look better, he would be a valuable asset to most clubs.
There seems to be a dearth of quality full-backs in world football at present, but the emergence of Ivan Franjic might have given Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou one less problem to worry about by locking down the right-back position for his national team.
The 26-year-old has been one of the key contributors to the Brisbane Roar's romp to the Premier's Plate in the A-League this season.
He is not only technically adept, both in defence and attack, but also tactically disciplined, something that managers place a high value on.
Franjic's flexibility could also prove useful in Brazil, as he is capable of filling several roles across the park.
Though he hails from the same youth club as Antonio, Caribe Junior, Enner Valencia is not actually related to his Ecuador teammate.
La Tri expert Xoel Cardenas had this to say about the 24-year-old Pachuca player in The Telegraph:
With his outstanding season in Mexico thus far, his great season at Emelec last year, and with his recent performances with La Tri, there is no question Ecuador manager Reinaldo Rueda will put Enner Valencia in his final 23-man squad for Brazil.
Every World Cup brings us breakout young stars. For all Ecuadorians, the hope is that Enner Valencia continues the tradition of young La Tri forwards who have breakout performances in football’s biggest stage.
Goal-scoring winger Isaac Brizuela is winning plaudits at Toluca and could soon be doing the same at the World Cup.
The 23-year-old dynamo has been praised by his club and national team coaches in recent months, and he looks a sure bet to feature prominently for El Tri in Brazil.
Goal.com's Tom Marshall relayed comments from both Toluca head coach Jose Cardozo and Mexico gaffer Miguel Herrera speaking highly of the youngster, who can also play in central midfield:
"He is a crack," said Toluca coach after Sunday’s 2-0 win against Chiapas, in which Brizuela scored his team’s opener with a memorable solo goal.
"I don’t know what else he can show, you won’t see in Europe a player like him."
Mexico national team manager Miguel Herrera has joined in, admitting after El Tri's comprehensive victory over Korea Republic – in which Brizuela stood out - that the 23-year-old was turning heads and making a strong case for further involvement.
But for those who have watched Brizuela closely over the last 18 months for first Atlas and then Toluca, his form is no surprise.
His first goal will be to get selected for Brazil's World Cup squad in the face of some stiff competition, but should Dede make the grade, he has every chance of standing tall in the summer tournament.
With the likes of David Luiz, Dante and Thiago Silva ahead of him, the talented 25-year-old has a right to feel a little unlucky that he doesn't get a run more often.
The speedy central defender has numerous strings to his bow, including admirable ball skills and a rugged disposition.
If Brazil are unfortunate enough to lose a couple of their experienced defenders before or during the World Cup, they will not be significantly weakened by the classy Dede's presence.
Those teams facing Nigeria this summer will have to deal with the monstrous presence of Azubuike Egwuekwe.
The 195 cm defender plays club football for Warri Wolves in his homeland and has accumulated 22 caps for the Super Eagles in his international career so far.
The Seasiders will be keen to hang on to their inspirational captain, however a strong World Cup campaign could see foreign clubs come after him.
With over 150 appearances for Ulsan Hyundai under his belt, Kim Shin-Wook is a K-League veteran by the age of 25.
The giant forward was the runaway winner of the best player award in the league in 2013, and he is something of a cult figure among the Ulsan faithful.
The "Wookie" will be looking to carry his goal-scoring form into the World Cup.
The extroverted attacking midfielder Fidel Martinez has only played a handful of games for Ecuador till now, yet he has all the gifts to become a key playmaker in the team at the next World Cup and beyond.
The 24-year-old boasts a feather-light touch, tremendous vision and what can only be described as a skunk-mullet hairstyle.
His talents are greatly appreciated by supporters of his club side, Tijuana, and he may soon be talked about much further afield if he gets a chance to show his talents in Brazil.
It is more a matter of when, rather than if, Leandro Damiao makes the move to European football.
The 24-year-old elected to transfer to Santos from Internacional last December, rather than try his luck in Europe, with a goal to gaining plenty of playing time before the World Cup.
He will be competing with Fred and others for a spot in the team. If he gets minutes during the tournament, the tall, graceful striker will have the opportunity to showcase his skills to the world.
One of the stars of Mexico's Gold Medal-winning campaign at the 2012 London Olympics, Marco Fabian suffered something of a dip in form following that success.
A move to Cruz Azul revitalised the exciting midfielder's career, and now he is well and truly back in the reckoning for a World Cup spot.
The 24-year-old may have timed his return to form very well indeed.
The final Ecuadorian to make our list is stylish defender Frickson Erazo.
The wonderfully named player recently signed for Flamengo in the Brazilian league and will be a key ingredient in La Tri's chances of success in the World Cup.
Quick and powerful, Erazo is also a masterful reader of the game.
Dropped into a group containing Italy, England and Uruguay, Costa Rica are going to need all the defensive cover they can get in Brazil.
One youngster who has shown he can be a rock at the base of midfield is Saprissa player Yeltsin Tejeda.
With a wise head and a steady temperament, Tejeda went from being captain of the under-20 side to a regular in the senior Costa Rican national team in a short amount of time.
One of the most promising young defenders in Asian football at present, Kim Young-Gwon will surely be on his way to European football after the Brazil World Cup.
Currently with Marcelo Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande, the 24-year-old has been performing at a consistently high level for a number of years now.
The South Korean has size, strength, speed and a fine footballing brain, and is also comfortable with the ball at his feet. He seems well-suited to the European game.
First, he has to be on the plane.
But if the stars align and DeAndre Yedlin earns a place in the USMNT at the World Cup, it will be confirmation that he is one of North America's brightest prospects.
Yedlin has all the instincts and physical attributes to become a fine defender, though he still needs to build on his experience over time.
The 20-year-old is working hard to be considered for Brazil, but knows he always has 2018 to aim for if he doesn't make the cut this time around.
He was quoted by Andrew Wiebe of the MLS Soccer website telling reporters the following:
Right now I’m focused on this June.
If I can make a big enough impression to go [to the World Cup], that’d be great.
That would be an amazing opportunity for me. I also have to think about the future because that is ultimately is the more realistic World Cup for me to go to.
Joao Alves De Assis Silva (Jo)
English Premier League fans might not have been left with the best impression of Brazilian forward, Jo, but the 27-year-old is well in the running for a place in his country's squad, and even starting XI at the World Cup.
The determined striker has rebuilt his career after returning to his homeland in 2011. A move to Atletico Mineiro proved especially fruitful, and he is now one of the options being considered by Luis Felipe Scolari to accompany Neymar in attack.
South America guru Tim Vickery explains how far Jo has come since his forgettable stint in England on the BBC Sport website:
But the problem is not primarily one of talent.
Jo, for example, was something of a child star.
His time in England coincided with what youth development specialists in Brazil describe as footballers' late adolescence; he had more money than he knew what to do with, the delights of the adult world were on offer and he wanted to make up for all the youthful escapades he had missed while concentrating on his football.
This process persisted when he went back to Brazil; with Internacional of Porto Alegre he missed a flight to an away game as a consequence of over-vigorously celebrating his birthday.
His career only picked up again when he joined Atletico Mineiro, where he was top scorer last year as the club won the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.