Whether you love it or hate it, there is no doubt that there is an amazing feeling when the World Cup comes around and South Africa 2010 promises to be no exception. Whilst the Messi’s, the Ronaldo’s or the Rooney’s may grab the headlines, here are 32 players (1 from each team) to watch during the tournament as they may soon be grabbing the headlines themselves.
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Whilst the host nations’ main hopes for this World Cup rely on Everton’s Steven Pienaar and West Ham’s Benni McCarthy, it may just be unknown Teko Modise who could prove to be the star.
The 27 year old currently plays in the South African for the Orlando Pirates but a good tournament could see him finally earn himself a move to England or Italy.
The winger burst onto the scene in 2007 for Bafana Bafana and has since become a key component for the side.
Modise has extremely good technique, a bag full of tricks, a great eye for a pass and good shooting ability as well (for a winger) and it is these attributes which has earned him honours such as South African Player Of The Year.
If South Africa are to progress to the 2nd round of the World Cup, Modise will play a key part.
Tipped by many as the next Zinedine Zidane, Yoann Gourcuff’s career promises to be a very bright one.
Brought up through the Stade Renne’s acadamy, Gourcuff then moved to Milan but failing to cement first team football moved back to France with Bordeaux.
It was at Bordeaux where Gourcuff has found his feet, helping Giridons to the Ligue 1 title and earning Player Of The Year as well.
Gourcuff has shown lots of promise for France and is expected to start in South Africa in a ‘playmaker’ role which suits the 23 year old to a tee.
With his pace, clever play and flair for attacking, big things are expected for Gourcuff.
At 37 Cuauhtemoc Blanco will be one of the oldest playest at the World Cup, but don’t be fooled Blanco will use all of his experience for Mexico.
For the wily veteran this will be his 3rd World Cup and with over 100 caps for Mexico Blanco has plenty of experience.
Despite his age, Blanco is still as good as any striker especially in the penalty area with his excellent goal-poaching skills and shooting ability.
Although his role in South Africa may be limited due to the presence of younger strikers Carlos Vela and Giovanni Santos, Blanco’s presence and big tournament experience will be an invaluable asset for Mexico in South Africa.
Suarez, along with Diego Forlan will be one of Uruguay’s most dangerous weapons this summer. And if he can re-create his club form he’ll be in for one magnificent tournament.
Suarez’s club record is mind-boggling. 36 goals in 34 games this season (better than a goal a game), 91 goals in 106 games altogether for his Ajax career and another 10 goals in 29 games for Uruguay.
Suarez possess not only a keen eye for goal but a remarkable touch and skill and at only 23, big things are in store for the Uruguayan.
A future star for both Argentina and Benfica, this World Cup may see Angel Di Maria overtake Lionel Messi as best player... for Argentina.
Due to Argentina’s lack of success even with Messi in their team, many people believe that without his Barcelona teammates, Messi can’t live up to his reputation. Enter Di Maria.
After a remarkable performance at the 2007 U-20 World Cup, Di Maria earned himself a €6 move to Benfica where he has been dazzling the Portuguese capital since.
Di Maria possess more tricks than a magician and often confuses full-backs with his amazing dribbling, stepovers, back-heels and pinpoint crosses.
Touted as one of the best left wingers in the World, Di Maria could have a big impact in South Africa.
Theofanis Gekas may just be the best goal-scorer in the World.
The 30 year old is a true goal-poacher as he makes a nuisance of himself around the penalty area which usually results in him nabbing a goal.
Gekas has won the Golden Boot in both Greece and Germany and finished top scorer in European qualifying with 10 goals in 12 games.
What Gekas lacks in creativity he makes up for in smarts and even if Greece go out after 3 games, Gekas may still nab a goal or two.
Destined to replace Michael Essien both at Chelsea and as part of African football, John Obi Mikel fist the bill perfectly.
Mikel is a tough tackling defensive midfielder with powerful long shots and an eye for goal, just like his Chelsea compatriot.
When playing, Mikel is the heart of his side with most of the play going through him which has seen him earn many plaudits at Chelsea.
However he has had his share of controversies with Nigeria, for apparently missing games for no reason which has led him being dropped from the squad.
However Mikel is expected to start for Nigeria this summer and with his efficiency and solid play he could spark The Super Eagles on through the World Cup.
Despite only 8 goals in total and a disappointing mid-table finish in Ligue 1 with Monaco this season, Park Chu-Young remains a top draw for South Korea.
Renowned for his pace (he can run 100 metres in 11 seconds), playmaking and speciality in set pieces, it’s little wonder he has become so popular with the Monaco fans.
Even though he is only 24, Young is one of South Korea’s key players, already making 39 appearances and scoring 13 goals.
After already competing in the 2006 World Cup, he is expected to lead the line this summer and many of (South) Korea’s hopes rest on him and Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung in South Africa.
t appears however we are still yet to see the best from the Korean and this could be the summer he finally makes a name for himself.
Often photographed in fast cars, Karim Ziani will be hoping to propel Algeria onwards through the World Cup.
The French-born playmaker who sticks by his decision to play for Algeria, gained popularity in France for his scintillating play (and goal scoring) at Marseille.
Now at Wolfsburg (where he is equally popular) Ziani has struggled in Germany but still plays at the high level he is known for at Algeria helping them secure their 3rd World Cup appearance.
Ziani is the main attacking force for Algeria with his excellent ball-at-feet skills and playmaking abilities and will be Algeria’s key man in South Africa.
Being tipped as a future England No 1 is never easy but Joe Hart has taken it in his stride.
Bought by Manchester City from Shrewsbury for £600,000 back in 2006. Hart enjoyed success out on loan before being named City’s No 1 by then-manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Hart shone with his incredible reflexes and saves in the 2008-09 season with England legend Peter Shilton calling him “England’s future No 1” before he lost his place to new signing Shay Given.
Wanting (and deserving) first-team football, Hart was loaned out to Birmingham City this season and produced some memorable performances especially during Birmingham’s 12 match unbeaten run as he helped them secure their best ever finish in the Premier League.
Hart is an excellent shot-stopper and shows remarkable maturity and leadership for a 23-year old keeper and whether or not he starts in South Africa, Hart is definitely a future England No 1.
The ‘surprise’ team at the World Cup after knocking out Russia, Slovenia have been helped a lot by their captain Robert Koren.
Koren recently released by West Brom is the heart of his Slovenia team with his impressive ability at both ends of the pitch and fantastic work ethic.
Slovenia’s chances at the World Cup are pretty slim but anything that good that happens to them will probably go through Koren.
The 29 year old has over 40 caps for his country with 4 goals and his displays have earned plaudits especially after the shock win over Russia.
Slovenia seemed destined to go out after 3 games but with players like Koren in their side, who knows?
A pivotal figure in US ‘soccer’, Landon Donavan will be hoping for success this summer.
USA’s all time leading goal scorer can play as a striker, second striker or a winger and excels in all three.
Known for his shooting, creativity and leadership, Donavan is the heartbeat of the USA side.
Despite playing in the MLS for LA Galaxy, Donavan has experienced loan spells in Europe with Everton and Bayern Munich and will be the USA’s main weapon in South Africa.
The talisman for Australian football, any Australian hopes for World Cup success rest on Cahill’s shoulders.
The star but underrated player of the team, Cahill is best when supporting a lone striker or front two with his clever runs from midfield. However Cahill’s biggest strength is in the air as he regularly nets headers for both Australia and Everton.
Pim Veerbek’s side are tipped to struggle in South Africa against ‘dark horses’ Serbia and Ghana but if Cahill can replicate his form for Everton for Australia The Socceroos may still have a chance.
Although the German National side isn’t what it once was, it does have a number or up-and-coming stars and one of them is Piotr Trochowski.
The attacking midfielder was born in Poland, but with Poland not interested in his services he opted to play for Germany instead.
The 26 year-old could leave Hamburg this summer and a good World Cup could see him earn a move to a big European club.
Trochowski is renowned for his skilled dribbling, his long runs from midfield, his long shots and his speciality at set-pieces and with Michael Ballack injured he should play a big part in Germany's midfield.
The natural successor to Ghana star Michael Essien, Ghana fans have reasons to be cheerful even when Essien retires.
However Muntari will be thrust into the role earlier then expected after Essien suffered a tournament-ending injury back in September 2009.
Yet Ghana have less reason to worry with Munatri as his back-up. Just like Essien, Muntari is an excellent ball-winner in midfield and has a thunderous shot. Muntari also has quality going forward with his excellent passing and positioning whilst also being able to play out on the wing.
It was a big blow to the Black Stars when they lost their most influential player, but with Muntari waiting in the wings, the Ghanian people still have lots of ambition for South Africa 2010.
Neven Subotic is definitely a player on the rise.
After moving to Boruissa Dortmund from Mainz in 2008, he enjoyed a magnificent campaign and the 6ft 4” Serb has shown his defensive expertise along with his attacking flair (especially at set pieces) as why he is regarded as one of the top young defenders in Europe.
With clubs such as Man U and Arsenal reportedly courting the 21 year old, Subotic is likely to partner Nemanja Vidic at the heart of Serbia’s defence this summer as they try to advance from Group D.
After making his international debut at just 17, Carlos Kameni has firmly established himself as a top African keeper.
Kameni is something of a Cameroon veteran – he has been playing for The Indomitable Lions for over 8 years and has over 50 caps, a remarkable feat for someone only 25. But it is not hard to see why Kameni is Cameroon’s first choice.
He has fantastic shot-stopping ability, marvellous reflexes and a good sense of leadership which helps him marshal his defence.
Playing in Spain with Espanyol, Kameni is used to facing World-class strikers which will certainly help him in South Africa. Kameni played every minute of qualifying for Cameroon and with a slightly suspect defence in front of him, Kameni will have to be at his best (which he usually is) as Cameroon hope to progress to the knockout stages.
Denmark’s World Cup hopes will mainly be based on their rock-solid defence starting with Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and Palermo’s lesser know talent Simon Kjaer.
Denmark finished qualifying with only 5 goals conceded mainly due to their two centre backs.
Both Agger and Kjaer lead their the defensive line but its Kjaer with the most to gain.
Linked with moves to Real Madrid, Kjaer instead settled down at Palermo where he helped them to a Europa League spot for next season.
Kjaer is very good in the air and acts like a striker round the penalty area (he is known to snatch a couple of goals here and there).
If Denmark are to progress through the tournament this summer, Kjaer will have to be at his best.
Japan has a reputation for producing technically-gifted midfielders and Keisuke Honda is no exception.
The 23 year old now at CSKA Moscow has risen through the ranks of Japan playing at U-20 and U-23 levels and is expected to become the focal point of Japan’s attack for many years to come.
Honda has impressed many with his creativity, attacking play, surprising goal-scoring ability and is free-kick speciality. He has also impressed in Europe with VVV Venlo and was linked with a number of Premier League clubs before moving to Russia.
With Honda leading the attack and a fantastic strength in depth for the Samurai Blues, Japan may be the surprise package of the tournament.
Moving from the Dutch Eredvise to the Germany Bundesliga is never easy but Eljero Elia has risen to the task admirably.
The young winger has been dazzling The Bundesliga with Hamburger this season with his unbelievable combination of mesmerizing runs, skills, step-overs and crosses with 5 goals and 7 assists to boot.
Elia has also impressed on the international scene as well making contributions in his 5 caps for Holland.
After Bert van Marwijk confirmed Elia will play a part in South Africa, The Netherlands have a bright star to look forward to.
Serie A is a funny league. Antonio Di Natale’s Udinese side finished a poor 15th place and only escaped relegation by 9 points. Yet Di Natale finished the season as the the Golden Boot winner by 7 goals. Mad eh?
Yet what’s not mad is Di Natale. The Italian striker (who can also play out wide) is quick, creative and can score very impressive goals like he showed this season.
His Italy career however has been a little bumpy, with Di Natale often finding himself in-and-out of the sqaud and missing games due to injuries.
Di Natale is now 32 and this may be his last World Cup. He missed out Italy’s victory in Germany back in 2006 and that can only make him more motivated for South Africa 2010.
Rory Fallon is a hero of New Zealand football.
In the Rugby Union dominated country, Fallon who is set to be The All Whites main threat in South Africa scored the winner in New Zealand’s World Cup playoff against Bahrain sending The Kiwis to only their 2nd World Cup.
Another major underdog in South Africa, New Zealand will mainly be focused on achieving their first ever World Cup point and anything else will be a bonus and whilst Fallon isn’t the most prolific striker he certainly knows where the goal is.
Fallon has a nice touch, decent shooting ability, good technique with his head and a impressive work-rate and whilst those things may not be get New Zealand through to the latter stages of South Africa 2010, Fallon will strive to help get New Zealand that elusive World Cup point.
Lucas Barrios is a player every club wants – an out-and-out striker who can not only score goals but create them as well.
Barrios has silenced his critics who branded him a “YouTube” player after his move from Chile to Germany with 18 goals this season for Borussia Dortmund.
It’s this form that saw him earn a call-up to Paraguay’s national squad (even though he was born in Argentina).
Despite being untested at international level, Barrios’ playmaking ability and clinical finishing make him a player to watch for Paraguay this summer.
At only 20, Miroslav Stoch is already a champion.
After being picked up early by Chelsea, Stoch’s big break came this season when he was loaned out to Dutch team FC Twente who later went on to win the Eredivisie .
Playing as part of a 3-man attack out on the wing, Stoch impressed Slovakia coach Vladmir Wiess not only with his incisive runs inside and speed but his finishing as well.
Stoch notched 10 goals this season for Twente which earned him his call-up to the Slovakia squad.
Now at Fenerbahce, Stoch has big things in store for him and the World Cup may prove to be a stepping-stone for the little winger.
Often regarded as the best right back/wing back in the world, Douglas Maicon will hope to use the World Cup to further improve his profile.
With big-money moves to Man City or Real Madrid on the cards, Maicon will hope to cement his place among the World elite (and a move to either club) in South Africa.
Brought to Inter from Monaco back in 2006 by now Man City manager Roberto Mancini, Maicon quickly impressed due to his consistent defensive skills and his ability to cross and score which saw him earn the Brazil right-back position.
Maicon has since beat off competition for his place from Barcelona’s Dani Alves and not since Cafu has Brazil had such a excellent right-back.
With all of Maicon’s skills, he will be a key part in any Brazillian success this summer.
Just like his brother Kolo, Yaya Toure is one of Cote D’Ivorie’s biggest stars.
The holding midfielder now playing his trade in Spain with Barcelona took the now traditional path for Ivorian players of starting his career before moving to Monaco where he eventually moved to Barcelona back in 2007.
It was at Barca where he rose to prominence as a holding midfielder sitting in front of the defence with his tough tackling and clever passing whilst netting a number of goals as well.
Toure now has more than 40 caps for the Ivory Coast where he has formed a formidable partneship with Sevilla’s Didier Zokora.
Being the more attack minded of the two, Toure will be used more going forward than at Barca and his contribution as a star midfielder will influence any success The Elephants have in South Africa.
How many players do you know who have scored 8 goals in 2 games? Not many i’m guessing but that is exactly what Jong Tae-Sae did to start his international career.
Dubbed the ‘Asian Wayne Rooney’, Jong however (who actually models his game off Didier Drogba’s) will have a tough time getting North Korea out of the group stage this summer.
Just like Rooney, the 26 year old has strength, agility and a killer shot and with these attributes, North Korea have a slimmer of hope as they hope to repeat their exploits of 1966.
After Paulo Ferreria, Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe, Bruno Alves is the next big Porto defender.
Known for his impressive defensive positioning and heading, Alves has quietly gone about his game since joining Porto back in 1998 helping them to a number of Liga Sagres titles along the way.
But his contribution hasn’t gone unnoticed. After being handed Porto’s captaincy, Alves has earned a number of Portugese caps where he helped Portugal secure their World Cup status by heading the winner in their playoff win over Bosnia.
If it wasn’t for Alves, Portugal may not be in South Africa.
A still young prospect at only 21, Alexis Sanchez has the potential to become the next South American star.
Picked up by Udinese back in 2007, Sanchez quickly adapted to life in Serie A and earnt himself a starring role at Udinese. And that form has also transferred to his international game as well.
Hailed as the ‘new golden boy’ of Chilean football, Sanchez will be looked at for inspiration in South Africa. The winger turned striker has pace, skill, beautiful technique and lots to look forward to.
There was initial outrage when debutant Maynor Figueroa was tasked with keeping Manchester United’s Christiano Ronaldo under wraps. Even though Wigan lost the game, Figueroa’s performances have continued to improve since his debut.
Brought to Wigan from his native Honduras by then manager Steve Bruce, the 27 year old has become the ‘figure’ of consistency for Wigan.
Whilst keeping opposing wingers in check, Figueroa has pace, skill and like any good full back he can cross the ball as well.
In South Africa Figueroa will marshall the defensive line and scour for chances in attack as he hopes to propel La Bicolor into the next round.
Blaise N’Kufo is something of a late bloomer, at 35 he started to peak only a couple of seasons ago.
But despite his age, N’kufo along with Miroslav Stoch and Byran Ruiz helped FC Twente to their first ever Eredvise title last season.
N’kufo is the ‘Emile Heskey’ of Switzerland, he is strong, tall and often holds the ball up for his strike partner Alexander Frei.
N’kufo is also lethal with his head and shot in and around the penalty area.
Whilst Frei will likely grab most headlines it will be N’kufo making sure he gets them.
David Villa is included on this list mainly due to what he can do to his opponents’ defences.
Villa has the speed and ball-control of a winger and the reactions and natural goal scoring ability of a predatory striker and Villa combines the two perfectly.
The 26 year old is regarded by many experts (and me) as the best striker in the world and will partner Fernando Torres as part of pre-tournament’s favourites – Spain’s attack this summer.
Villa is an unbelievable goal scorer and must already have one eye on the tournament’s golden boot.