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.

Brazil 3 – 1 Croatia

Brazil: Cesar; Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho, Gustavo; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred. Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Kovacic, Modric; Rakitic, Perisic, Olic; Jelavic.

Ref: Yuichi Nishimura
Att: 62,103

Story of the match:

  • Neymar scores twice for hosts
  • Croatia angry at penalty decision
  • Oscar also on target for Brazil
  • Vanishing spray and goal-line technology used for first time at World Cup

Brazil are off and running.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It was Dia dos Namorados on Thursday, the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day, which meant there were chocolates and flowers and couples holding hands tucked among the sea of yellow jerseys that stretched from the Itaquera neighborhood over to Jardins. From sunrise all the way until the shimmering moon peeked above the skyline, Brazilians showed their passion for one another, and for soccer, as the World Cup began.

But love — in any form — is a complicated matter. While there were moments of heat and adoration, particularly when Neymar scored the first of his two goals with a shot that bounced in off the post, Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia hardly made for the perfect date. Inside and outside Arena Corinthians, emotions were mixed even before a referee’s decision in favor of Brazil plunged the tournament into controversy in the first game.

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I’m feeling rather sorry for Croatia who were quite hard done by. Neymar should have been sent off before both goals for a high elbow, a soft soft Peno, and perhaps an equaliser unfairly disallowed.

As it Happened.

  • 11′  It Was An Auto-Gol!
  • 26′ Reeee -nope YELLOW card
  • 29′ GOAAAALL NEYMARR
  • 69′  Penalty To Brazil! Brazil Leads 2-1!
  • 84′  No Goal
  • 92′  Gooooooooooool Brazil!

The moments before kick-off had been typically rousing. A passionate Brazilian crowd delivered another fervent rendition of the national anthem. Croatia were no more than an afterthought to most outside the thousand travelling fans.

Brazil actually fell behind early when Marcelo turned the ball into his own net in the 11th minute, after Ivica Olic had sprinted down the left side and sent a dangerous cross in front of the goal.

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Marcelo, who was retreating, basically ran the ball into his own net. Most in the announced crowd of 62,103 stood in stunned silence and then began booing and whistling angrily, having witnessed Brazil’s first own goal in World Cup history.

But when they needed a moment of magic, the man whose image had been splashed across every newspaper and TV station in Brazil provided it. Chelsea midfielder Oscar fought through two challenges and found Neymar. When the striker turned for goal, moving the ball on to his left foot, he had one thing in mind. The contact was not pure but the shot was unerringly accurate, creeping in from 25 yards, glancing the right post on its way.

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 50 Games 32 Goals And now Brazils 8th highest top scorer..

And he’s just 22 years old

Neymar pressed “rb” + “b” on that shot. Smart move. #fifa #fineseshot #BRAvsCRO

His second, 19 minutes before the end, was altogether more controversial. Dejan Lovren was judged to have fouled Fred in the box. Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot, despite replays showing little contact had been made. Neymar converted, the ball deflecting in off the out-stretched arm of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, to spark scenes of celebration. article-2656644-1EB7355200000578-114_634x624

Lol Neymar didn’t have the bottle to try an Abdoun #pussy #AbdounTheGreat #NottinghamForestJoke

Oscar put a gloss on the final score with a tremendous late goal that his man-of-the-match performance warranted. With Croatia committed upfield, he burst forward and toe-poked in from 25 yards, taking Pletikosa by surprise with a low drive.

It ensured a 10th consecutive win for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side but Brazil demonstrated flaws and fragilities. They did not play with the fluency or flamboyance that saw them swat aside Spain to win the Confederations Cup so emphatically last year. I still stand by my prediction that both these two sides will progress to the next round, but Brazil are going to have to play much better if they want to win the World Cup.

Man of the Match

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The Referee – Great influence in helping Brazil claim victory and excellent spray paint work! 10/10

Croatia Team Preview

The players

Stipe Pletikosa goalkeeper, Rostov

Sime Vrsaljko defender, Genoa

Danijel Pranjic defender, Panathinaikos

Ivan Perisic midfielder, Wolfsburg

Vedran Corluka defender, Lokomotiv Moscow

Dejan Lovren defender, Southampton

Ivan Rakitic midfielder, Sevilla

Ognjen Vukojevic midfielder, Dynamo Kyiv

Nikica Jelavic forward, Hull City

10 Luka Modric midfielder, Real Madrid

11 Darijo Srna (captain) defender, Shakhtar Donetsk

12 Oliver Zelenika goalkeeper, Lokomotiva Zagreb

13 Gordon Schildenfeld defender, Panathinaikos

14 Marcelo Brozovic midfielder, Dinamo Zagreb

15 Ivan Mocinic midfielder, Rijeka

16 Ante Rebic forward, Fiorentina

17 Mario Mandzukic forward, Bayern Munich

18 Ivica Olic forward, Wolfsburg

19 Sammir midfielder, Getafe

20 Mateo Kovacic midfielder, Internazionale

21 Domagoj Vida defender, Dynamo Kyiv

22 Eduardo forward, Shakhtar Donetsk

23 Danijel Subasic goalkeeper, Monaco

Star man

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Mario Mandzukic scored 33% of Croatia’s goals in qualifying and the rangy Bayern Munich striker is crucial to a team whose other attacking options include the 34-year-old Ivica Olic, the Hull striker Nikica Jelavic and the former Arsenal forward Eduardo, who has flitted in and out of the Shakhtar Donetsk team this season. Sadly Mandzukic, sent off in the play-off win over Iceland, will be suspended for the opener against Brazil.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Josip Simunic. Fined for an offensive salute after the play-off last month. Throw in the odd studs-up challenge and you have a player with one foot in the departure lounge.

The coach

A no-nonsense, blood-and-guts defensive midfielder who captained Croatia at the 2006 finals and broke his nose so often he admitted he had “stopped counting”, Niko Kovac has been described by Niko Kranjcar as “always a leader, on and off the pitch”. However the 42-year-old has little on his managerial CV besides a spell with the Under-21s and as an assistant at Salzburg.

Grudge match

Croatia’s greatest rivalry is with Serbia, an enmity born before the break-up of Yugoslavia. The two nations met for the first time in qualifying, with relations not helped by the then managers’ shared hatred – Croatia’s Igor Stimac had once told his opposite number, Sinisa Mihajlovic, that “I pray to God your whole family gets murdered”; Mihajlovic, meanwhile, had once identified Stimac as “the only person I could strangle with my bare hands”. Perhaps fortunately, both had left their posts within weeks of their second meeting.

Holed up

The Tivoli Ecoresort in Praia do Forte offers guaranteed luxury and serenity. This will be particularly welcome for veterans of the 2006 World Cup, when the peace and quiet of their base in Bad Brückenau was interrupted in the middle of the group stages by a concert played within yards of their luxury verandahs by British hard rockers Uriah Heep and Deep Purple.

How they qualified
Steamrollered by Belgium in qualifying, but recovered to put Iceland out in a two-legged play-off.

World Cup high
Their first World Cup remains their best effort, getting to the semi-finals in 1998 after putting out Germany.

World Cup low
Losing twice to England whilst failing to qualify in 2010. Or perhaps losing twice to Scotland this time round.

Familiar faces
Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Nikica Jelavić (Hull City).

Title odds: 150/1

The stereotype is …
Cultured midfielders, rampaging wingbacks and gifted forwards with a touch of genius to them.

The reality is …
A team that should be a lot more interesting than they actually are. Mandzukic the attacking spearhead and Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic swarming behind him.

What are they known for?
Rocky outcrops 44 per cent
The golden generation 30 per cent
Cheap package holidays 23 per cent
Adrian Chiles 3 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Mila, much as you are a celebrity, You are dear to us only, Honey, where you are straight, Honey, where are you mountains!

Duration
A larynx-straining 14 verses, although only four are usually sung.

How to dress like their fans

images (2)
Find your nearest greasy spoon café and nick all the red-and-white chequered tablecloths.

Commentator’s go-to stat
The first country to recognise Croatia’s independence in 1991 was Iceland. Who Croatia have just knocked out in a play-off. There’s gratitude for you.