20 Young Players Who Could Become Stars at the 2014 World Cup
A World Cup often sees previously unknown players light up the biggest stage, or young players burst onto the scene to make themselves household names among football fans around the world.
A 21-year-old Alexis Sanchez impressed for Chile at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while the performances of Germany's Mesut Ozil persuaded Real Madrid to snap up the 21-year-old. Similarly, Real also signed a 22-year-old Angel di Maria after his performances with Argentina.
The 2010 World Cup saw then-20-year-old Thomas Muller impress for Germany, while a 23-year-old Luis Suarez made himself a household name for both right and wrong reasons.
So who will be the youngsters who impress at this year's tournament? Perhaps earning themselves a big move, or simply confirming their name as one of the best youngsters around.
Here are 20 young players who could become stars of the 2014 World Cup.
Note: For "young" we've made 23 the maximum age to be included in the list.
Julian Draxler (Germany)
Twenty-year-old German midfielder Julian Draxler heads into the World Cup not in manager Joachim Loew's first XI, but he's a player with huge quality and could impress if he gets a chance to shine.
The Schalke man has Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira to compete with for a slot in Loew's midfield, but injury or suspension to any those could see Draxler get his chance.
Earlier this year, he was rated one of Europe's top 10 youngsters in The Guardian.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Alongside Granit Xhaka—another youngster who could impress—Xherdan Shaqiri provides the talent in Switzerland's attack.
Shaqiri, 22, is a fringe player at Bayern Munich who has been heavily linked with a move away from the German giants this summer; Liverpool are among his main suitors, as reported by Jamie McLaughlin in the Metro. Pacy, tricky and inventive, he can create problems for defenders.
The Swiss could surprise a few in their group, competing against France, Honduras and Ecuador.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Colombia's key man is 22-year-old attacking midfielder James Rodriguez.
Currently at French club AS Monaco, who he joined from Porto for €45 million last summer. He's been linked with a move to Manchester United more recently, according to a report by Ben Jefferson in the Express.
He'll likely play just behind the forward in the classic No. 10 role, and without Radamel Falcao through injury, all eyes will be on Rodriguez.
Paul Pogba (France)
Similar to the aforementioned Julian Draxler for Germany, French midfielder Paul Pogba isn't a guaranteed starter for Didier Deschamps' side, but he is a precocious talent.
Having left Manchester United for Juventus two years ago, the Premier League side now want to re-sign the 21-year-old—which would cost them a mere £60 million, according to The Independent's Marc Williams.
France have a rather favourable group and are a side who look very balanced, meaning opportunities for Pogba will arrive, possibly alongside Blaise Matuidi in the centre of midfield.
At 6'3", he's commanding, powerful and exactly the type of player who could light up the World Cup.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Belgium are many people's choice as the surprise contenders for this year's World Cup, and leading their line will be 21-year-old Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku.
Not that he's played much for Chelsea—he just finished a season-long loan with Everton, where he scored 15 Premier League goals in 2013/14.
Strong, powerful and fast, Lukaku looks set to develop into a top forward. Brazil could be the next step in his career.
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
For a 21-year-old, Joel Campbell has enjoyed quite a career so far! He's an Arsenal player but has been loaned to Lorient, Real Betis and Olympiacos in the last three seasons.
It's with the Greek side that he has impressed in 2013/14, including in the Champions League.
A versatile forward, Campbell has hit nine goals for Costa Rica in his 31 appearances so far.
Ross Barkley (England)
Twenty-year-old attacking midfielder Ross Barkley is a player who could have a huge impact for England should manager Roy Hodgson make the bold decision to drop Wayne Rooney.
That seems unlikely, so Barkley will have to suffice with being an impact substitute for the opening games, but that may change as the tournament progresses.
He's fresh, strong, positive and will run at defenders. That sort of talent late on when defences are tiring could be key for England.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
Twenty-three-year-old French winger Antoine Griezmann is a player who could fill the void left by Franck Ribery's absence at the World Cup.
He'll slot in nicely on the left of France's attack but is also versatile enough to play on the right. The Real Sociedad star scored twice as a sub against Jamaica in Les Blues' final warm-up game.
27 - @AntoGriezmann has scored three goals in his last 27 minutes for France. Royal.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 9, 2014
Mario Goetze (Germany)
A well-known name in Europe, Mario Goetze could really make his mark on the world stage.
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder made the controversial move from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich last summer.
He scored twice in Germany's final warm-up game against Armenia and is pushing for a starting place in Joachim Loew's XI.
Christian Atsu (Ghana)
Tricky left-winger Christian Atsu was signed by Chelsea last summer and spent the 2013/14 season on loan to Vitesse Arnhem.
At 22, he's a player who could be a key factor for Ghana, although his place in the starting XI is not guaranteed.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England)
Injured in England's warm-up match against Ecuador, Arsenal midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain could yet start for Roy Hodgson's side in their opener against Italy.
That appears unlikely, but against Uruguay in their second match, "The Ox" could prove key.
The 20-year-old was impressive against Ecuador with energy and driving runs from midfield, something which England could really use.
Marco Verratti (Italy)
Twenty-one-year-old Italy midfielder Marco Verratti signed for French side Paris St. Germain two years ago and is a technically gifted player who has forced his way into the national side.
Verratti, who has been linked with a move to Real Madrid, is a doubt for their opening fixture against England after missing training this week, according to Matt Barlow's Daily Mail report.
Alongside Andrea Pirlo in Italy's midfield, Verratti is seen as the long-term successor to the experienced playmaker.
Raheem Sterling (England)
Raheem Sterling is a player who has lit up the Premier League in the second half of the 2013/14 season and now looks set to continue that form on a world stage.
Aged just 19, Sterling is capable of playing on either wing or in the No. 10 role behind the forward.
Injury to Danny Welbeck this week could see Sterling start England's opener against Italy in that role, where he will be tasked with closing off the space for Andrea Pirlo. That will be a tough task, but it's one that Sterling will be up to.
Twenty-two-year-old attacking midfielder Oscar is in contention with his fellow Chelsea team-mate to start Brazil's opening match against Croatia in the No. 10 role.
Compared by some as the new Kaka, Oscar is a player with great technical ability. He is capable of beating players and creating and scoring goals.
He played in all of Brazil's games at last year's Confederations Cup and often linked up well with Neymar.
Andre Schurrle (Germany)
Versatile attacker Andre Schurrle could be the man to benefit from Marco Reus' injury for Germany.
The 22-year-old Chelsea player is capable of playing on the left or in a more central role.
Creative, reliable in front of goal and hard working, Schurrle could be shine if given a starting role by Joachim Loew in Brazil.
He signed for Chelsea for £18 million a year ago and looks like having a bright future. He started Germany's final warm-up game against Armenia, scoring their opening goal.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
A well-known name in Europe after his exploits with Atletico Madrid last season, 22-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could increase his stock further in Brazil with Belgium.
Should Belgium perform as many are predicting and progress to the latter stages, Courtois will be a key man in goal.
At 6'6", he's a commanding figure, a quality shot-stopper and mentally strong despite his age.
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy)
Facing a battle with Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile to start up front for Italy, Lorenzo Insigne may have to wait for his opportunity to shine.
The 23-year-old Napoli forward could be an excellent substitute for the Italians.
A quick, technical player who can operate anywhere across the front, he will cause problems for defences as games progress and legs tire.
Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast)
Twenty-one-year-old Ivory Coast right-back Serge Aurier is a player strongly linked with a move to the Premier League, according to the Metro's Jamie McLaughlin.
Currently impressing at French club Toulouse, potential suitors for Aurier may be wishing they'd made a move earlier if he impresses at the World Cup.
He's a versatile player, having also operated as a centre-back and wing-back for Toulouse.
Quick-footed, a good crosser and a keen dribbler, Aurier is very much your modern full-back.
Son Heung-Min (South Korea)
Son Heung-min is the star man in a new generation of South Korean footballers who could cause a surprise at the World Cup.
The 21-year-old forward has impressed with German side Bayer Leverkusen last season, having joined them from Hamburg last summer. He scored 10 goals for his new side in 2013/14.
Son will either start in the No. 10 role, or on the left for the South Koreans.
William Carvalho (Portugal)
Strongly linked with a move to the Premier League, as per a report by Jamie McLaughlin in the Metro, Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho is another who could earn his move if he impresses in Brazil.
The 22-year-old combative holding midfielder's role will depend on how cautious Portugal boss Paulo Bento decides to set up in a tough group that features Germany, USA and Ghana.
Carvalho could be the key player to ensure Portugal remain solid in the middle, especially in their opening game against Germany.