Every Team's Under-the-Radar Player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us and fans around the globe will be scouring the finalised 23-player rosters, eagerly looking for the star names and the players expected to cause the most impact at the finals.
It's not always the biggest names, though, who make the most telling impact at the World Cup.
In fact, it is often the lesser-known talents who take their chance to shine at these major international tournaments—players who come in with somewhat lower expectations compared to their team-mates but leave with a massively inflated reputation. And transfer fee, in some cases.
Here we look at the under-the-radar talent for each of the 32 competing nations, making it relative in each case: The Brazilian or Spanish squads might all be well-known, but some will have a bigger impact than might be expected when considering their experience and relative worth to the squad.
Feel free to add your own under-the-radar players in the comments section!
Group A: Brazil
There are few squads known as well as the hosts. Most soccer fans can reel off names like Neymar, Hulk, Thiago Silva, Fred and David Luiz with ease.
However, not everyone on the squad is a household name. Attacking midfielder Willian may not start, but he is set to play a big role off the bench.
Composed in possession, with an eye for the through-pass and capable of running at defenders, Willian is a different kind of option for Brazil to the likes of Hulk on the right flank, and he could certainly be aiming to take his place if the Zenit man doesn't perform.
Group A: Croatia
For Croatia, we're opting for young forward, Ante Rebic.
The Fiorentina man did not feature heavily in his maiden Serie A campaign, but he has already shown glimpses of his undoubted talent and scored plenty of goals in his home country with RNK Split before his move to Italy.
Only part of the international setup for the past year, he scored on his debut and featured in their World Cup qualifying playoff win. He may only play the part of super sub, but he's someone who could have a real impact off the bench for Croatia and find a goal when they need one most.
He's strong, fast, extremely direct and has a thunderous shot—he just needs to dial down that anxiousness before his final decision of whether to shoot, all power, or make a pass. He'll probably feature from the left side but looks far better centrally.
Group A: Mexico
Young central defender Diego Reyes will face a battle to win a starting spot for Mexico, but the talented 21-year-old is gradually becoming a recognised face in the senior squad. It wouldn't be a huge shock to see him become involved as the tournament goes on.
Now at Porto, despite not featuring heavily this season, he looks set to have a great future at club and country level, and it would be a big progression for him to face some of the globe's top attackers at the World Cup. That game time could even come in a deep midfield role, late on in matches.
On the other hand, if Mexico go with a back three, Reyes is likely to be in from the very start—and he'll be expected to deliver.
Group A: Cameroon
Cameroon's big hope might be Samuel Eto'o as usual, but he'll be provided service by plenty of others, who will also be expected to chip in with goals if Cameroon are to escape the group stage.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is the fantastically-named support act who should prove their biggest alternative threat, attacking either from the second striker role or from a wide forward starting position.
He's one of the few members of the squad who has managed to reach double figures in goals for the national side and has plenty of pace. He is willing to run at defenders and should prove a real handful for the defences of Mexico, Croatia and Brazil.
Group B: Spain
There isn't really much of a weak spot in Spain's squad as they look to retain their World Cup trophy, but right-back Juanfran is probably the unlikeliest name to catch peoples' attentions, despite his Champions League exploits.
Suddenly winning his place in the squad ahead of Real Madrid duo Alvaro Arbeloa and Dani Carvajal for different reasons, he'll likely start in the XI and will provide a solid, reliable presence down the flank, opposite the more aggressive and explosive Jordi Alba.
Group B: Netherlands
Daley Blind can be a hugely potent weapon for Netherlands at the World Cup, especially given head coach Louis van Gaal's preference of switching tactical systems at will.
Blind doesn't quite yet have the big name of his team-mates in midfield such as Kevin Strootman—missing through injury—Nigel de Jong or even Jordy Clasie, but his composure on the ball and versatility could make him an important player for them.
He's featured on the left side of a diamond midfield in the warm-ups, but Blind can also play at left-back, as a controlling deep midfielder as he does for Ajax or on the flank in the 3-5-2/3-4-3, which Netherlands may use.
Group B: Chile
Chile's settled and exciting team will be led by the more famous among Europe's elite, such as Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, but a number of other components are required to make the team a success.
One of the most important could be Charles Aranguiz, an all-round midfielder with the capacity to operate between both penalty boxes, playing a supporting role to his more adventurous midfielders and allowing the coach to change tactics with his versatility.
He has goals in him, too, if allowed to roam into the final third.
Group B: Australia
Australia have undergone several sea changes of late, changing coach—and with it, tactics and in-game mentality—as well as seeing a number of key veterans come to the end of their playing days.
Maty Ryan looks like he's getting the chance to establish himself as the new No. 1 goalkeeper for his nation and he'll certainly be busy in a challenging group against Chile, Netherlands and Spain.
If Australia are to achieve anything at all, it's almost guaranteed that Ryan will have to impress.
Group C: Colombia
Colombia's talented and versatile squad, coupled with their return to the world stage and their impressive qualifying campaign, have plenty tipping them to go surprisingly far at Brazil 2014.
While many of their big stars are well known—and Radamel Falcao out for the World Cup with a knee injury—they are very much a team collective with some talented younger players coming through, one of whom is Porto attacking midfielder Juan Quintero.
A great dribbler, an even better passer and a midfielder capable of running from deep to add goals, Quintero has the ability to be a game-changer for Colombia and change the tempo of a match. He's likely to come off the bench.
Group C: Greece
Greece might not be the most exciting side to watch in tournament football, but they certainly know their roles and strengths well. First and foremost of those is to be organised and difficult to beat defensively.
In a well-oiled back line, Kostas Manolas has done extremely well to push himself forward as a potential starter at the heart of that defence, with the centre-back mixing aggression and tenacity with good reading of the game and a fierce desire to win.
Manolas is only 22 years old, but is more than capable of being Greece's main man at the World Cup.
Group C: Ivory Coast
If you don't follow Ligue 1 or African international football, you may not know the name Serge Aurier. In that case fear not, by the end of the World Cup you probably won't be able to forget it.
Aurier is already a transfer target for several big teams after impressing with his displays from both the right side and centre of defence for Toulouse, with his excellent athleticism paving the way for his bombarding runs forward as an attacking full-back.
He's not the finished article, especially with his defensive decision-making, but he has shown great productivity in the final third and should be a real asset for Ivory Coast in Group C.
Group C: Japan
Japan's squad is packed with technical, versatile attackers and Yoichiro Kakitani is one of their most impressive performers who can provide the runs behind opposition defences—and the clinical finishing—to win the team matches in a tight group.
Despite only playing 12 times for the senior side to date, he could lead the line at the start of the World Cup, with a good scoring record (five goals already).
Kakitani has competition for his place, but he is cool and composed in front of goal. He'll likely keep his place if he nets a goal early.
Group D: Uruguay
Uruguay's incredibly settled squad shows little change from year to year, but the players they have allow them to play a number of tactical systems. The midfield can change shape at will, with Cristian Rodriguez a big part of that versatility in a diamond or flat four.
The Atletico midfielder can play wide or further infield and is tenacious and hard-working in addition to being tactically disciplined, but he is also a talent on the ball.
Conscientious in possession and with an offensive mentality, he'll continue attacking plays with his good movement and first-time passes.
Group D: Costa Rica
Oscar Duarte is not certain to be a starter in defence for Costa Rica, but the least-fancied side of Group D will likely have a lot of work to do at the back and, if things don't go well in the first game or so, may well make changes.
The Club Brugge defender is comfortable on the ball, and his tall frame makes him difficult to dominate aerially.
Group D: England
Raheem Sterling is going to be England's not-particularly-secret weapon.
The young wide attacker is likely to play the part of super-sub initially, but he has the capacity to change the game in England's favour and push his way into a starting berth before long.
He's become extremely well thought of by Premier League viewers this season, but having not taken part in Champions League or competitive international games at this point, there's a good chance he'll be under the radar for a lot of foreign-based viewers.
Group D: Italy
Italy have once more picked a squad with tactical options aplenty and it remains to be seen who the preferred starting attackers are, but Torino's Alessio Cerci could be one who makes a big impact.
Having enjoyed a fine domestic season, the forward comes into the World Cup in good form, with 13 league goals to his name in 2013-14 and looking to win himself a regular starting place.
Impressive close control aids his regular runs with the ball at his feet, while he can also be a scoring threat in a squad not exactly packed with proven international class in front of goal.
Group E: Switzerland
Switzerland's top talents are coveted around the European game, but they have some players who perhaps aren't yet as well known as they might be.
Wide forward Valentin Stocker is one—a pacy and strong forward who loves to run directly at defenders, cut infield and get shots away. He works primarily from the left side but is more than capable of playing on the opposite flank, too.
He's just completed a move to Hertha Berlin and will feature in the Bundesliga next term. Don't be surprised to see some explosive World Cup displays and plenty of people asking why a bigger club didn't gamble on him as a result.
Group E: Ecuador
Enner Valencia has been moved from his usual wide forward position into a more central attacking berth for his national side, utilising his good movement and link-up play to good effect.
The 25-year-old attacker usually plays just behind the striker for Ecuador, has shown an eye for goal and has good acceleration in moving away from his marker with the ball at his feet.
Ecuador might be outsiders to qualify from the group, but if Valencia hits top form they could spring a surprise.
Group E: France
Again, France are hardly an unknown nation so the entire squad is well known—but on the international stage, Antoine Griezmann is a total novice and would not, in the normal order of things, be expected to form part of the French side's key to victory.
However, his explosive start on the national team and Franck Ribery's absence means there could well be an opening for him.
If there is, don't be surprised to see Griezmann regarded as one of France's biggest stars in a matter of a few games.
Group E: Honduras
Andy Najar could be a real wild-card success story at the World Cup, with the Anderlecht wide attacker possessing good skills on the ball and a direct mentality to attack at pace.
Honduras are, of course, heavy favourites to finish bottom of Group E, but if they can defend well against their opponents and strike on the break, Najar could be the man to create a few big chances for them.
Group F: Argentina
In amongst all the Leo Messis and Sergio Agueros of the squad, one or two Argentina players might be expecting to play a mere support act this summer in Brazil.
Augusto Fernandez is one who could have a real impact off the bench for them, being capable enough of playing across midfield and being adept and positive on the ball.
The Celta Vigo man loves to run at defenders with the ball at his feet, even moving through midfield in that manner to open up the pitch, while he'll look for incisive, fast-paced through balls frequently, too. To alter the team around, lift the tempo and perhaps escape attention from markers focusing on other stars, Fernandez might just sneak his way to stardom with Argentina.
Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sead Kolasinac is one of the few international players to have recently broken into an extremely settled Bosnia and Herzegovina squad, just in time to win his World Cup place. He'll likely start as their left-back once the tournament gets underway, with the 20-year-old being aggressive at both ends of the pitch.
He'll snap into tackles at times—even at the expense of standing his ground and letting the team get back into shape—look to be proactive in his all-round defensive work and then surge forward with great pace.
More than a little rough still, the rookie has made great strides and could have a huge impact with his energetic play in an all-out-attack side.
Group F: Iran
Masoud Shojaei will be a key player for Iran as they attempt to break out of their natural defensive shell and attack teams on the break.
A player with good pace and a tendency to stick to the flanks, Shojaei will be an out-ball for Iran in a tough group that will likely see them defend for long spells.
B/R's tactical expert Sam Tighe gave a further indication of his importance in one-on-one situations on the counter.
Group F: Nigeria
Kenneth Omeruo is only 20 years of age, but the Nigeria centre-back is already a regular at the international level and will be one of the foundations for the team at the World Cup.
Talented in possession of the ball and calm under pressure, he's a quickly improving young defender who combines his technical prowess with a bravery and determination at the back that benefits a side that do not always make best use of the ball against strong opposition.
Nigeria will have to be solid at the back to progress past the groups against two excellent attacking sides in particular. They need Omeruo to be at his best.
Group G: Germany
Erik Durm has come from nowhere this season to be a regular starter for Borussia Dortmund—and Germany's left-back for the World Cup.
Having seen his role altered by Jurgen Klopp from a forward to an offensive full-back, Durm is naturally impressive when going forward as a result, though he still needs to improve defensively.
The 22-year-old only made 19 starts in Bundesliga and Champions League action combined this season, so there's a fair chance not too many will have noticed him much. That should all change after the first couple of weeks at the World Cup.
Group G: Portugal
Cruciate ligament damage wrecked most of Vieirinha's campaign with Wolfsburg, but the wide forward has battled back well and his end-of-season form has been enough to win his place back in the Portugal World Cup squad.
Not known as a scorer by any stretch of the imagination, Vieirinha's talents instead lie in supporting the other forwards with width, good movement, quick interchanging of passes and by attracting defenders to create space for others.
He has quickly become a fixture in the Portuguese squad and could be an important part of their team at the finals.
Group G: Ghana
Majeed Waris enjoyed a productive spell on loan in Ligue 1 with Valenciennes, scoring nine times in just 16 games in the latter half of the season, enough to earn him a World Cup spot.
He is fast, direct and has shown good technique on the ball, but his goalscoring is what his nation will ask him to replicate when he comes off the bench. Depending on the tactics of manager Kwesi Appiah, Waris may be asked to attack from the flanks at times, but he certainly has the ability to make an impact for his side.
Group G: United States
United States have shown the capacity to use several different tactical systems, but the diamond midfield looks like it will be part of their starting formation at the World Cup.
If it is, Graham Zusi will prove a vital component, with his excellent off-the-ball work and impressive technique from the right side of midfield.
Zusi links play well in the central areas, can put over accurate crosses and has terrific stamina, as well as being diligent about his defensive work. He should be an important part of Jurgen Klinsmann's team-first ethic and approach.
Group H: Belgium
For Belgium, a hotly fancied nation to cause an upset, we're looking to forward Divock Origi to make an impact. B/R's Ligue 1 expert Andrew Gibney gave us the lowdown on the Lille man:
Origi could be perfect for the last 20 minutes of any of Belgium's World Cup fixtures. He is tall, fast and powerful—a great out-ball for Wilmots' attack. He runs the channels well and likes to take on his man. Origi has all the raw elements to become a very dangerous player indeed.
For a nation without Christian Benteke in their attack, Origi could prove an excellent alternative late in matches.
Group H: Algeria
Islam Slimani is a powerful focal point of the attack and can do well for Algeria at the World Cup.
A direct and strong forward who is extremely good in the air, he'll be expected to not only attack set pieces and offer a goal threat, but also hold the ball up and distribute it to the runners from the second line, thus relieving the pressure his side could come under against the better sides in the group.
With a one-in-two strike rate at international level, he'll be one of those Algeria rely on to cause an upset.
Group H: Russia
Russia have plenty of technical, fast attackers and a midfield that enjoys dictating possession; this is nothing new and has continued under Fabio Capello.
Where they have fallen down previously in major tournaments is in not being clinical enough—and they can look to Aleksandr Kokorin to remedy that.
The striker didn't have as good a campaign this year as last, and for that reason will probably start as sub, but he'll get his chance and is more than capable of firing his way into the starting XI—and Russia through the groups.
Group H: Korea Republic
Kim Young-Gwon is Korea Republic's undoubted star in the making, a central defender of great composure and reliability in possession who is also strong in the challenge.
Comfortable in using both feet and with good pace, he covers the channels well behind his full-backs and helps to play out from the back.
His nation have a great chance of making the knockout stages, and his defensive acumen will be key to that.