Every major football competition brings out new stars. Players many have never heard of take the tournament by storm. Others step up and become the stars, while it is not uncommon for some national heroes to fail to meet expectations.
Consider Wayne Rooney at the Euro 2004 or Andrey Arshavin at the Euro 2008 (taking the tournament by storm), Fabio Cannavaro (stepping up and becoming a star) and Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldinho (failing to meet expectations) at the World Cup 2006.
With Nani out of the running due to injury, click to begin the slideshow for a look at the biggest, positive surprises the World Cup 2010 will hold.
Ever since ‘Zizou’ ungraciously departed from the football scene four years ago, the quest for his replacement has not abated. French football has not been the same without a center midfielder to put his mark on the game.
No doubt, many consider France’s strength to come from the wings.
With Franck Ribery and Thierry Henry (not to mention Florent Malouda who played a fantastic season at Chelsea!), the Equipe Tricolore has much offensive talent, and most pundits expect French success to be dependent on them.
But the Euro 2008 and the qualification for South Africa have revealed that France needs a playmaker…someone like Zidane.
Expect Yoanne Gourcuff to step up this year, take on the daunting task and steal the attention from Ribery and Co. The young midfielder has improved significantly under Laurent Blanc at Bordeaux and has played an impressive Champions League campaign. The creative role Gourcuff will play in center will remove the one-sided, wing-attacking nature of French football and provide greater offensive alternatives.
When thinking of Ivorian football, Didier Drogba immediately comes to mind. Arguably one of the top three strikers in the world, his name has become synonymous with devastating accuracy and danger in front of the goal.
Despite Drogba’s injury, it seems probable that he will play a prominent role in South Africa. Hence, every team the Ivory Coast plays will focus their defensive efforts on containing the Chelsea striker.
And precisely because of this emphasis on Drogba, it will be his Chelsea colleague, Salomon Kalou, who will shine for the African side. The young striker has gained much experience at Chelsea this year, finding favor under Carlo Ancelotti.
His quick feet and constant drive towards the goal will cause much disarray in opponents’ back lines. If the Ivory Coast is to survive the ‘group of death’ (Brazil, Portugal and North Korea), it will be because of Salomon Kalou in lethal form.
With Michael Ballack injured and missing the World Cup, German hopes rest on the shoulders of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern midfielder has played the season of his life, winning the German championship and Cup and advancing to the Champions League final.
While not as noticeable as superstars Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery on the wings for Bayern this past season, Schweinsteiger’s move into defensive midfield has served him well. Here, his superb abilities of reading the game and designing and constructing offensive play from the center have made him one of the smartest players around.
Not to mention the immense personal growth the 25-year old has undergone. Long gone are the days of the youthful “Schweini.” With 74 international caps, he has the experience to lead the German squad and the potential to cement his status as Germany’s next superstar.
Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito, Sergio Kun Aguero. No team rivals Argentina's offense.
While the aforementioned players are all under contract on Europe’s greatest clubs, expect a lesser-known Argentine to explode this summer: Angel di Maria. The 22-year old has only 8 international caps, but tremendous talent and youthful effrontery.
The Benfica midfielder has taken Portugal’s league by storm, his dribblings and pull towards the goal cause for many defensive headaches. Expect di Maria to leave his own mark on the tournament…and many top clubs competing for his services next season.