Three former winners of the FIFA World Cup have now announced their squads for this summer’s tournament, as Brazil, Germany and England have all declared their intentions. Although most were predictable long before an announcement was made, there were a few talented youngsters that snuck their way into the thinking of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Joachim Low and Roy Hodgson.
Whilst most of these bright young stars may still have limited opportunity to impress in Brazil, some will be able to strut their stuff with the world watching. Below we assess the potential impact of the surprise call-ups for the big nations who have shown their hands early.
The selection, and resultant dropping, that had most tongues wagging was Luke Shaw making the final 23 ahead of Ashley Cole. The 18-year-old has earned rave reviews since breaking into the Southampton team at left-back last season, but with just 45 minutes of international football to his name, many expected him to miss out.
Cole may not have been performing regularly for Chelsea this campaign, but he has notched up 28 first-team appearances, so he has still been active. In practice, this debate is likely to be null and void as it is Leighton Baines who is ahead of both in Hodgson’s pecking order.
Barring injury or suspension, it is the Everton man who will start all of England’s games in Brazil. This leaves Shaw left warming the bench and with little chance to make an impression, despite his high-profile inclusion.
Much more likely to impress is Ross Barkley, the 20-year-old Evertonian who has produced a number of eye-catching displays this year. Seven goals this season is not mesmerising in itself, but the quality of them is what has impressed. Barkley appears to have the ability to make something happen out of nothing, be it through his long-range shooting or his ability to run at defenders.
He is unlikely to earn a starting berth in Brazil, but he looks to be a great option from the bench. If Hodgson needs a spark then Barkley is the man he may well turn to, and his potential to make an impact is huge.
Low’s squad is still a provisional one, comprising of 30 names, some of the lesser-known ones may just be able to crack the final 23, though. Arguably with the strongest chance of doing just that is Schalke’s Max Meyer.
At just 18 years old, Meyer has shone for his club side this year, both domestically and in Europe. What he lacks in stature he certainly makes up for in pace and trickery. He looks to be another superb option to bring off the bench if his side need a late goal.
Going against him is that Germany clearly have a number of very good players in that mould. Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle are all certainties to make the final 23. Low would love to fit Meyer into the squad, though, and if he manages it then he will cause defences serious problems in Brazil.
Low said himself of the talented winger, per Sky Sports: "I've liked Max Meyer for many weeks now. He's technically very strong, has no hang-ups and he's going to go a long way.
"I'm keeping an eye on several Schalke players."
Hoffenheim striker Kevin Volland has also been called up to the provisional squad, and he may just sneak into the final 23 as well. Conversely to the Meyer situation, Volland can profit from there being a lack of out and out strikers in the German ranks of late. The 21-year-old does not always play there himself, but he is certainly more than capable of doing it.
Of the whole German squad, only Miroslav Klose can be described as a genuine striker, which leaves the role as understudy potentially up for grabs. Volland has played regularly for Hoffenheim this season and has 12 goals to his name. Klose is 35 years old and will not play all the games at the World Cup; Volland could well be a useful option to have in reserve.
Scolari has not been so set on blooding youngsters on the world stage as his rivals. It is largely an experienced squad that he leads to the World Cup, but there is one youngster that will spring to the public’s attention, if they were not already aware: 21-year-old Bernard of Shakhtar Donetsk.
With 10 caps to his name already, the winger was not a surprise inclusion, but he has kept out the much more established names of Kaka, Robinho, Alexandre Pato, Lucas Moura and Philippe Coutinho. That is some list to get ahead of, especially without having played in a major European league.
Bernard is a typical Brazilian winger with pace and tricks aplenty and is clearly well-liked by Scolari, who has picked him regularly over the last year. Big Phil said of the youngster last year, after victory over Australia, per sport.ndtv: "He was great. He can play on either the right or left-hand side with excellent tactical awareness. He is gaining points and cementing his place in the team."
Neymar fills Bernard’s preferred slot on the left wing, but Brazil play a reasonably flexible system, and the Shakhtar man will get his chance to shine. Do not be surprised if he takes it with both hands.
Other Young Stars Heading for Brazil
There are a handful of other nations who have announced their squads at this early stage, one of which being USA. Jurgen Klinsmann will be hoping for young striker Terrence Boyd to make an impact for his side. The 23-year-old has 13 caps for America and is yet to score. However, he has been finding the net regularly for Rapid Wien over the last two years and could be ready to make the step up.
Mexico are about to unleash their 23-year-old forward on the world as well. Alan Pulido has scored four times in three appearances for his country and is set to pose a threat in the famous green this summer.