Top 10 promising young talent at the WC

#10 Romelu Lukaku: Belgium

Romelu Lukaku: Belgium
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku showed an example of what’s to come in this summer’s World Cup after scoring a superb solo goal in the 5-1 win against Luxembourg on May 26 in a game that also saw him bag a hat-trick. On loan at Everton from Chelsea last season, the 21-year-old scored 15 goals and made six assists in the Premier League. He’s now scored 32 goals and made 10 assists in his two full campaigns in the English top flight. Belgium are expected to go far in the World Cup, according to ITV, and with striker Lukaku in great form, they could well reach the final stages of the tournament.

#9 Paul Pogba: France

Paul Pogba: France
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is well known but has yet to play in a major international tournament at senior level for France. The 21-year-old joined Juve in 2012 and has gone on to win back-to-back Serie A titles and Supercoppa Italianas, as per Wikipedia. Pogba’s fast rise to glory has been incredible. The talented midfielder won the Golden Ball to go with his FIFA U20 World Cup triumph with France in 2013. He only made his international senior team debut in March that year. Scoring seven goals and making seven assists, while also boasting having made 74 successful dribbles and 48 key passes in Serie A, Pogba is set to play an important part in the France side this summer. Certainly one to watch.

#8 Raheem Sterling: England

Raheem Sterling: England
The Premier League’s 2014 Young Player of the Year nominee Raheem Sterling, who currently plays for Liverpool, is another England hopeful who can really make a difference in this summer’s World Cup. The 19-year-old winger scored nine goals and made five assists for the Reds in the Premier League, and he could be an important impact player for England manager Roy Hodgson.

#7 Joel Campbell: Costa Rica

Joel Campbell: Costa Rica
While Arsenal winger Joel Campbell came to the attentions of many following his superb curled effort for Olympiakos against Manchester United in the Champions League last season, the Costa Rican international has been in incredible form during his loan spell. Campbell, 21, has scored eight goals and made 12 assists for the Greek side. He returns to Arsenal following his temporary spell with Olympiakos but could be the catalyst for the Costa Rica side this summer and could hamper England’s hopes of qualifying from the group stages when the two sides meet in June.

#6 Gerard Deulofeu: Spain

Gerard Deulofeu: Spain
While it can be difficult for newcomers to the Spain squad to force their way into the first team, Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu may be one player to whom manager Vicente Del Bosque looks in the World Cup. The 20-year-old spent last season on loan with Everton, scoring threegoals and making three assists. He quickly built up a reputation for his penchant for trickery to beat his opponent, with 44 successful dribbles made, while proving to be a genuine goal threat, too. While he failed to make the initial 30-man provisional squad, Deulofeu was called up for the pre-tournament friendly against Bolivia and could put himself in the driver’s seat for a place on the plane should anyone pull out. He does have Pedro, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas and Andres Iniesta to contend with for a place in the Spain side, but Deulofeu isn’t there to make up the numbers and could be a successful wildcard this summer.

#5 Memphis Depay: Netherlands

Memphis Depay: Netherlands
Promising PSV Eindhoven winger Memphis Depay is a name to remember. The 20-year-old only made his Netherlands debut in October 2013, but he’s now a player who could play an important part in the side in this summer’s World Cup. Depay has scored an impressive 12 goals and made eight assists in 32 league games. He’s made just a handful of appearances for the Netherlands side but has more than proved he’s ready for the next step.

#4 Mateo Kovacic: Croatia

Mateo Kovacic: Croatia
The lesser-known Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan is perhaps devoid of notoriety but not quality. The 20-year-old Croatian international has featured in all but six of the Nerazzurri’s league games last season. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who drives the ball from deep and into dangerous areas in the final third. Kovacic has made four assists in the league and boasts 71 successful dribbles from midfield. He’s also made 44 tackles and 28 key passes. The Croat played a pivotal part in Inter finishing in a Europa League place, too.

#3 Julian Draxler: Germany

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Julian Draxler: Germany
Germany boast an impressive midfield in their World Cup squad, but Schalke’s Julian Draxler is certainly one of the most exciting. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a good campaign with the Bundesliga outfit, scoring five goals and making seven assists in the league and Europe. Draxler averages more successful dribbles per game than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Barcelona’s Neymar. Such is the strength of the Germany midfield, Draxler could be limited to substitute appearances, but he’s sure to impress when he does get on the pitch.

#2 Ross Barkley: England

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Ross Barkley: England
Everton’s exciting midfielder Ross Barkley is a player who could make the difference for England. Such has been the impressive nature of his performances this season, Barkley has been compared to former England attacking midfielder Paul Gascoigne by his own club manager Roberto Martinez, via ESPN. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a superb breakthrough season with the Toffees, scoring six goals and making 80 successful dribbles in 34 Premier League games from midfield. He’s more than merited his call-up for this summer’s World Cup and will look to make an impression. Fearless Barkley has shown himself to be unfazed by the occasion in games and will certainly get minutes on the pitch for England in the World Cup.

#1 Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast
Ivorian defender Serge Aurier is tipped to have a good World Cup with Les Elephants, as reported on ITV. Last season for French side Toulouse, the 21-year-old scored six goals and made six assists from right-back. He’s deadly going forward, evident with his 191 crosses being made in Ligue 1,  and he’s comfortable in possession, with 1577 passes attempted and 1213 completed.

Belgium Team Preview

The Players

Thibaut Courtois goalkeeper, Atlético Madrid

Toby Alderweireld defender, Atlético Madrid

Thomas Vermaelen defender, Arsenal

Vincent Kompany (captain) defender, Manchester City

Jan Vertonghen defender, Tottenham Hotspur

Axel Witsel midfielder, Zenit Saint Petersburg

Kevin De Bruyne midfielder, Wolfsburg

Marouane Fellaini midfielder, Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku forward, Everton

10 Eden Hazard midfielder, Chelsea

11 Kevin Mirallas midfielder, Everton

12 Simon Mignolet goalkeeper, Liverpool

13 Sammy Bossut goalkeeper, Zulte Waregem

14 Dries Mertens forward, Napoli

15 Daniel Van Buyten defender, Bayern Munich

16 Steven Defour midfielder, Porto

17 Divock Origi forward, Lille

18 Nicolas Lombaerts defender, Zenit Saint Petersburg

19 Mousa Dembélé midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

20 Adnan Januzaj midfielder, Manchester United

21 Anthony Vanden Borre defender, Anderlecht

22 Nacer Chadli midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

23 Laurent Ciman defender, Standard Liège

Star man

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Eden Hazard is not the easiest player to manage at times – as José Mourinho will testify (forgotten passport before a Champions League tie at Schalke; catastrophic defensive gaffe against Atlético Madrid) – and not Belgium’s most influential player in qualifying (De Bruyne surpassed him with four goals and four assists) but the Chelsea playmaker is unquestionably the country’s talisman. Hopefully he’ll turn up at the airport to catch the flight to Brazil with his passport.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Marouane Fellaini. It’s those elbows. They’re dangerous, not in a Leonardo-on-Tab-Ramos-in-1994 sort of way, but nasty all the same. You certainly wouldn’t want to run into one of them, which is what Fellaini claimed Pablo Zabaleta did in March. “That’s the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life,” the Manchester City defender said.

The coach

Marc Wilmots, class act as an attacking midfielder and a person, is popular with his talented young group and getting the best out of them.

Grudge match

Neighbours Holland aren’t the worst of enemies – but they’re not best friends either. An epic Derby der Lage Landen/les Pays-Bas took place in 1985, when Belgium beat the Dutch in a World Cup play-off that featured some shameful play-acting from Franky Vercauteren, Ruud Gullit in tights and the late header that made Georges Grun a national hero.

Holed up

The Paradise Golf and Lake Resort, 50km from São Paulo, was persuaded by Wilmots to stock a lake with trout so that his squad can enjoy a spot of fishing to relax. “When I was a player, Belgium always seemed to be based in monasteries, and it was impossible to keep your sanity for a month,” said Wilmots, whose six-minute guided tour of the hotel and its grounds is available on YouTube.

How they qualified
Highly impressively, eight wins and no defeats, as they put Wales,Scotland, Croatia and Serbia to the sword in Group A.

World Cup high
Came fourth in Mexico 1986, beating the USSR and Spain in knockouts, losing to winners Argentina in the semis and France in the third-place play-off.

World Cup low
Disappointingly failed to qualify for 2006 and 2010 – but now have a generation to eclipse the good times of Enzo Scifo and company.

Familiar faces
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (Tottenham), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, on loan Everton), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City).

Title odds
16/1

The stereotype is …
Technical, boring, not especially good, tended to rely on one exciting player per team and surround him with water carriers.

The reality is …
Absolutely bursting with young talent, hard to know who to leave out. Still, look at how certain other ‘Golden Generations’ have done. Set up in a fluid 4-3-3, with the accomplished Axel Witsel anchoring midfield, Belgium will look to Kevin De Bruyne (former Chelsea) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea for now) to provide the craft and guile and Romelu Lukaku (on Chelsea’s books) the goals. So more a royal blue generation than a golden one.

What they’re known for
Frites 40 per cent
Beer 40 per cent
Absence of famous people 20 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Is available in about 27 languages, Google machine blew up translating German into Dutch and back into Walloon via French.

Duration
Better hope they only play one of the versions.

How to dress like their fans

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One of those skullcap helmets with the horns in red and yellow is a must. Bring a lot of red balloons.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Supporters filled the national stadium with 46,000 children’s drawings of national team players. Relations between fans and players are excellent.