World Football: Ranking the Top 25 Surprise Stars of 2010

Blake ThomasCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2010

World Football: Ranking the Top 25 Surprise Stars of 2010

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    2010 has been a year of surprises if anything.

    Barcelona were eliminated in the Champion's League by Inter, heavy favorites Brazil were knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands, Uruguay made an impressive run to the semifinals, and more recently Barcelona thrashed a new look Real Madrid 5-0 in El Classico. The list could go on and on.

    With these surprising events and feats came surprising players, players who broke into the spotlight with their great performances and started to earn themselves a name in world football.

    With that said, I think it's time to look back on some of the players who did so in 2010 and will hopefully go far in 2011, players who have impressed for club or country or both.

25. Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

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    Roberto Soldado arrived at Valencia as a replacement for David Villa after an impressive 16 goals in 26 games wtih Getafe last season.

    He has gone on to a key role in a resilient Valencia squad that is thriving domestically and across Europe.

    The former Real Madrid man currently has five goals in 14 La Liga matches, as well as a surprising five goals in the Champion's League group stage.

24. Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

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    Clint Dempsey has quickly overtaken Landon Donovan as the best American footballer in the world.

    He finished last season with seven goals and three assists in 29 Premier League games for Fulham and helped his team reach the final of the Europa League, scoring a wonder goal against Juventus along the way.

    Operating in the midfield or as a forward, Dempsey continued his fine run of performances by scoring in the 2010 World Cup against England, sparking rumors of a transfer to Italian giants AC Milan.

    He has picked up right where he left off this season, already scoring five goals and assisting 2-in-17 Premier League games.

23. Nene (Paris St. Germain)

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    He is already 29, but the 2010-11 season has definetely been a breakthrough for the Paris St. Germain winger.

    Nene finished last season with 14 goals and four assists in 34 Ligue 1 appearances, earning himself a transfer to the Parisian club.

    Now, he is a joint top scorer in the league with 13 goals in 17 domestic games as well as three goals in five Europa appearances.

    The winger has never recieved a national call up, and at this point, he could play for either Brazil or Spain.

22. Theofanis Gekas (Frankfurt)

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    Theofanis Gekas is already 30 and can boast a career with an illustrious goal-scoring record, but it isn't until now that he has hit his top form.

    The Eintracht Frankfurt striker currently leads the Bundesliga scoring charts with 14 goals in 17 matches.

    Gekas went into the 2010 world cup as top scorer in UEFA qualification, with 10 goals, but failed to make much of an impact as Greece were eliminated in the group stages.

21. Mounir El Hamdaoui (Ajax)

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    Luis Suarez is the goal machine, Ajax's top scorer, right? WRONG!

    While Luis Suarez is an impressive player, the one player who has been having a marvelous season for Ajax this year is Mounir El Hamdaoui.

    The Moroccan striker finished last season with 20 goals in 27 matches at AZ Alkmaar and earned himself a transfer to Dutch giants Ajax.

    This season, the former Tottenham striker has already scored 11 goals in 17 Eredivisie appearances, as well as a spectacular goal against Milan in the group stages of the Champion's League.

20. Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich)

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    Ivica Olic was brought to Bayern Munich in 2009 as a substitute for Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez, but ended up their starting striker due to injuries.

    He proved one of their most important players as he scored six goals in a series of marvelous performances during the Champion's League to help Bayern advance to the final.

    Olic scored an additional 11 goals in 29 domestic appearances.

19. Hernanes (Lazio)

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    Hernanes went from the Brazilian Serie A to the Italian Serie A in one summer and still manages impressive performances on a weekly basis.

    The Brazilian midfielder, named the most promising footballer in the world during 2009, has been an important part in Lazio's run to the top three spots in Italy.

    He has five goals and four assists in 16 appearances, including a spectacular free kick in a 3-1 victory over reigning champions Inter Milan. 

18. Cleo (Partizan Belgrade)

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    Partizan Belgrade finished bottom of Group H in the Champion's League, with 0 points and only two goals scored.

    Both of these goals came from Brazilian striker Cleo, and as impressive as that doesn't sound, it really means a lot.

    Cleo's two goals brought his European totals of this season to 10 goals in 12 matches, as he scored eight goals in qualification and almost single-handedly led his team to the Champion's League.  

    He has another eight goals in 14 SuperLiga appearances, and his quality finishing has had him linked with Premier League outfit Liverpool.

17. Oscar Cardozo (Benfica)

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    Oscar Cardozo has always been a consistent scorer for Benfica but had the season of a lifetime in 2009-10.

    He picked up the Golden Boot in the Portuguese League and Europa League, with season totals of 38 goals in 47 games, eight of those coming in the Europa League.

    He also played a large role in Paraguay's run to the quarterfinals in the World Cup but had a penalty saved by Iker Casillas in an eventual 1-0 loss to Spain.

16. Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland)

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    Asamoah Gyan became one of the heroes of the World Cup by scoring three goals and helping Ghana to the quarterfinals before missing a penalty which eventually eliminated the African team and denied them a spot in the history books.

    After his impressive summer, he has arrived at Sunderland where he has been an impressive striker and proved he really has what it takes.

    He currently has five goals and two assists in 14 matches (five starts).

15. Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund)

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    In 2009, Lucas Barrios transferred to Germany from Chile and made an immediate impact on the Bundesliga.

    He helped Borussia Dortmund to fifth place, enough for Europa League football and finished as third top scorer with 19 goals.

    This season, he has scored eight goals in 14 Bundesliga games and has helped Borussia Dortmund to the top of the Bundesliga, as well as scoring once during five Europa League matches.

    The Paraguayan striker has been linked with Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan and is currently ranked sixth in the World Football Castrol rankings.

14. Nilmar (Villarreal)

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    twelve goals in 44 games—those are the numbers put up by Nilmar in all competitions last season. Want to know what he has this season? 12 goals in 21 games.

    The Brazilian striker is currently joint 4th top scorer in La Liga, with 10 goals and 3 assists in 16 matches.

    He has formed a deadly striking partnership with Giuseppe Rossi and helped Villarreal to third in La Liga.

    This summer, Nilmar played four World Cup matches, starting once. He had little impact on the squad but went on to score against Iran in an international friendly later this year.

13. Hulk (Porto)

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    FC Porto are currently on top of the Liga Sagres, with an eight-point lead over bitter rivals Benfica and not a single defeat to their name this season.

    And there is no doubt this is in large part due to striker Hulk.

    Last season, Hulk had a pretty decent scoring record and attracted some attention with his three Champion's League goals, but this season has been like no other for the Brazilian international.

    He currently has 13 goals and three assists in 13 appearances within Portugal, as well as two goals in the Europa League group stages.  

12. Johan Elmander (Bolton)

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    Eight goals in 55 matches. Those are the numbers which Bolton's Johan Elmander have put up in the past two seasons, but this season has been anything but disappointing for the Swedish striker.

    He can operate as a striker or as a winger, with eight goals and four assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season. 

    Twenty-nine-year-old Elmander has been linked with Liverpool and Inter Milan recently. 

11. Radamel Falcao (Porto)

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    In 2009, Radamel Falcao was a prolific scorer in the Argentina Primera Divison. Now, just one year later, Falcao is one of the top strikers in all of Europe.

    He finished the 2009-10 seson scoring 25 goals in 28 domestic appearances for Porto, as well as four goals in eight Champion's League appearances, bringing his season totals to 43 matches and 34 goals.

    Falcao has started back again this season scoring seven goals in 12 matches within Portugal, as well as seven times in six Europa League fixtures.

10. Bebe (Manchester United)

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    Bebe hasn't seen much first team football this season but is undoubtedly one of the most surprising players in 2010. 

    The once homeless player earned himself a transfer to the biggest club in the world with impressive preseason form in Portugal. He never once played a top-flight match in the country, essentially going from the second division of Portugal to the biggest football league in the world in just one summer. 

    He has already scored a goal in his Champion's League debut as well as once in the League Cup.

9. Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Fernando Llorente has always been a consistent scorer in La Liga, but he broke into the European spotlight last season with his six goals in the Europa League.

    He has since turned into one of La Liga's biggest scoring threats and an important part of the Spanish national team.

    This season he has 10 goals in 16 La Liga games, as well as five goals in eight international appearances.

8. Edinson Cavani (Napoli)

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    Edinson Cavani has become one of the dealiest and consistent strikers in Europe during the 2010-11 season.

    He is a spectacular player who always scores when its least expected and can come up big in the dying moments of a game. This season he has 10 goals in 17 appearances within Serie A, as well as five goals in sixEuropa League matches for Napoli.

    He has also had a great year on the international level for Uruguay. Cavani scored and assisted one goal apiece at the 2010 World Cup and has scored five times in recent international friendlies.

7. Chicharito (Manchester United)

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    Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez went from Mexico to Manchester in one season and has instantly turned into a fan favorite.

    He can score with all parts of his body and seems to do so when his team needs it most.

    He currently has four goals in 10 appearances (six starts) in the Barclay's Premier League, and one goal in four games (one start) in the UEFA Champion's League.

    The Mexican international has also had a splendid year for his nation, scoring two goals in four World Cup appearances and eight times in 12 international friendlies.

6. Gareth Bale (Tottenham)

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    Gareth Bale went from a rising star to a world beater overnight.

    He has been one of the most threatening players in Europe since his Champion's League hat-trick against Inter Milan, wreaking havoc on the left flank with his one-touch passing and unbeatable pace.

    This season he can boast five goals in 17 Premier League games, as well as four goals and two assists in the Champion's League group stages.

5. Andy Carroll (Newcastle United)

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    In one season, Andy Carroll went from an average scorer in the Championship to one of the most threatening strikers in the Premier League.

    He is the ideal No. 9, a player who possesses immense strength and can score with his feet as well as his head.

    His 10 goals in 16 games earned the 21-year-old his England call-up.

4. David De Gea (Atletico Madrid)

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    David de Gea is only 20-years-old, but he is already the first choice keeper for Atletico Madrid and has been attracting rave reviews.

    Last season, he was an important part in Atletico's Europa League success, keeping four clean sheats in nine matches.

    He has also started this season in impressive fashion, pulling off a penalty save against Diego Milito during Atletico's 2-0 Super Cup triumph, and managing eight clean sheets in 23 matches.

3. Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich)

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    Thomas Mueller is only 20-years-old, but is already one of the best players in Europe.

    He can operate in the midfield or as a forward, consistently scoring and creating goals.

    In 2009-10, he had a breakout season with Bayern, playing a huge role in their domestic and European success. In the Bundesliga, he played 34 games, scoring 13 goals and assisting six. In the Champion's League, he played 12 games, scoring and assisting two goals.  

    While this is quite an impressive feat, it wasn't until this summer that he has his true breakthrough.

    He played six World Cup games, scored five goals and assisted three, beating the likes of David Villa and Diego Forlan for the Golden Boot. He also picked up the Best Young Player Award for his important part in Germany's third place finish.  

2. Samir Nasri (Arsenal)

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    Samir Nasri went from Arsenal's top prospect to Arsenal's MVP with his fine performances in 2010.

    He finished the 2009-10 season with five goals and six assists in 34 appearances for Arsenal, before having an absolute breakthrough in the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

    Nasri, only 23, currently has eight goals in 13 Premier League games, as well as two goals and two assists in the Champion's League group stage.

    His fine performances saw him named 2010 French Player of the Year, above Florent Malouda and Hugo Lloris. 

1. Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)

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    Shinji Kagawa went from Japan to Europe in just one season but hasn't folded under the pressure in the least bit.

    Since arriving from Cerezo Osaka this summer, he's been a consistent scoring threat for Dortmund, able to score and create goals with his smart passing and speed.

    He currently has eight goals in 17 league appearances, as well as two goals in the Europe League group stages.