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.
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Group C Preview, Columbia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan

Group C comprising of Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan is a very geographically diverse group, representing 4 totally different regions. Despite the presence of several talented players, the group lacks World Cup pedigree: None of the teams has made a quarter-final till date. Each team has at least one major weakness, some of which cancel each other out – which means all six fixtures are likely to be good fun.

Group C Schedule
S.No. Date Time Teams City Stadium
1 14/6 17:00 Colombia vs Greece Belo Horizonte Estadio Mineirao
2 15/6 02:00 Ivory Coast vs Japan Recife Arena Pernambuco
3 19/6 17:00 Colombia v Ivory Coast Brasilia Estadio Nacional
4 20/6 23:00 Japan v Greece Natal Arena das Dunas
5 25/6 21:00 Japan v Colombia Cuiaba Arena Pantanal
6 25/6 21:00 Greece v Ivory Coast Fortaleza Estadio Castelao

Locations

Cuiaba, Recife, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Natal

Temperature could be a major factor in Brazil. At the Confederations Cup last year, the intense summer heat was a huge problem for teams from outside South America, with 8 Italian players requesting a half-time substitution against Brazil. That naturally hands Colombia an added weapon. In addition to being the strongest team in Group C, they have already used the weather to their advantage in qualifying, scheduling all their home matches at mid-afternoon in hot Barranquilla.

As you can see, three of the venues (Fortaleza, Recife or Natal) are coastal cities, usually warmer and more humid than cities away from the coast. Curiously, all three of Colombia’s venues are in the hinterland (Cuiaba, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte), where the peak daily temperatures are significantly lowerIt’s risky to rely excessively on these things, but the cooler weather might level the playing field for their opponents.

 Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha National Stadium is the most expensive of the lot, and can seat upto 73,000

Team Guide

Colombia

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Colombia have risen from the ‘dark horse’ tag to become one of the main contenders to at least progress to the next round. Boasting a Fifa ranking of fourth at the start of 2014 and carrying one of the most expensive European footballers in James Rodriguez, they are in the competition to prove a point, as they will be making their first appearance in the World Cup after 16 years.

Their qualification at this year’s World Cup was no less than a roller-coaster ride. They won nine of their 16 matches to earn the second spot in South America, which included a 4-0 win against Uruguay, who had come into the game on the back of a two-year unbeaten run. But they had to wait till the last game to confirm qualification due to a few underwhelming performances.

Their coach, Jose Pekerman, brings with him a variety of different formations, but to varying degrees of success, which makes it very unclear as to how they will line up at the World Cup.

Key Player – James Rodríguez

FIFA Ranking : 8

For more information, read Columbia Team Preview.

Japan

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Japan didn’t even have a professional domestic league till 1993; now they’re taking part in their 5th consecutive World Cup, having hosted the 2002 edition. It’s been a meteoric rise fuelled by money, foreign know-how and work ethic. While a technically brilliant side, Japan are yet to figure out the knockout stages.

Japan became the first team to come through qualifications for the 2014 World Cup with a hope to make it further than their previous best of second round. With 10 points from six games, Japan finished second in the third round of the Asian qualification with Uzbekistan on top. In the final group round of the qualifiers, Japan cruised to the top spot, five points adrift of Australia to book a fifth straight World Cup berth.

Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has guided the nation to the 2011 Asian Cup glory which helped them secure a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup where Japan were thrashed badly by Brazil, Italy and Mexico.However, they seem to have found good form as a draw against the Netherlands and a victory over Belgium in late 2013 helped them prove their mettle.

Key Player – Keisuke Honda

FIFA Ranking : 46

For more information, read Japan Team Preview.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast World Cup team

As the highest-ranked African nation, Ivory Coast will arrive for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with some unfinished business. They suffered first-round defeats to Argentina and Netherlands in their opening matches in the 2006 World Cup, their debut appearance, while 2010 again saw them earning defeat when they drew against a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal, while suffering a 3-1 defeat against Brazil. This time around, the chances of making it to the second round are higher for the African giants.

They will pin their hopes on Didier Drogba, former Chelsea superstar and the captain for this year’s World Cup, while Manchester City’s in-form Yaya Toure will also be ready to achieve victories for his country.

One of only two nations to finish unbeaten in African qualifying (the other being Nigeria). They overcame Senegal 5-3 on aggregate in the play-offs. Lille man Salomon Kalou was top scorer with 5 goals.

Key Player – Yaya Toure

FIFA Ranking : 23

For more information, read Ivory Coast Preview.

Greece

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Greece will enter the 2014 World Cup with a lot of confidence, even though they had to go through the playoffs to qualify. Greece have a very good record of making it to the major tournaments after their surprise win at the European Championship a decade ago in 2004. They made it to the World Cup thrice out of the last four tournaments but only to add to their disappointment by being knocked out in the group stages on all three occasions.

Coach Fernando Santos likes to adopt a defensive approach, but a quarter-final appearance in the Euro 2012 means his strategy has had a considerable amount of success. Under his command, Greece will try to carry their pre-World Cup confidence to render a bold approach towards the tournament itself.

Greece’s star players Giorgos Karagounis (captain) and Kostas Kastsounaras, who holds the record for most caps, are again expected to deliver for the nation after appearing in all the qualifiers.

The Greeks are classic underdogs – lacking any real stars, but with fantastic team spirit. They will need it in spades if they are to get a whiff of the knockouts in Brazil.

Key Player – Kostas Mitroglou

FIFA Ranking : 12

For more information, read Greece Team Preview.

Key Fixture

Colombia vs Ivory Coast on 19th June. These two are the strongest sides on paper, and the difference in style – a typically Latin American, free-flowing side against a physically strong African side – should make this an interesting contest..

Observations

Even without Radamel Falcao, Colombia have the sheer quality to force their way into the knockouts. But their defence lacks pace or ability, and this could be exploited by the likes of Drogba and Yaya Toure.

Ivory Coast’s main problem is age – at 29, Kalou is the youngest survivor from the golden generation. Yaya Toure has had a great season with City, but a knee injury could keep him out of their opening fixtures, and that could prove vital if Drogba – in the twilight of his career – fails to deliver.

Greece are the worst side technically and creatively, while Japan are perhaps the best on both counts. If results were determined by visual appeal alone, both would hold very different FIFA rankings! Japan lost thrice at last summer’s Confederations Cup and lack a good striker, which could be their undoing against packed defences like Greece. While Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda flourished as central attackers, both have struggled out wide since joining Manchester United and AC Milan respectively. This tournament provides a good chance for them to remind the world of their abilities.

Predictions

Groups of Death are passe. Group C could be the first ever Group of Underdogs: 4 teams with a lot to prove, but none good enough to last the distance. The relative lack of World Cup experience makes predictions difficult, though. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt. If you disagree with the order suggested – you can see the comments section below, and you know what to do.

Predicted Leaderboard
Team   Points
Colombia 7
Ivory Coast 4
Greece 3
Japan 2

 

Ivory Coast Team Preview

The Players

Boubacar Barry goalkeeper, Lokeren

Ousmane Diarrassouba defender, Caykur Rizespor

Arthur Boka defender, Stuttgart

Kolo Touré defender, Liverpool

Didier Zokora defender, Trabzonspor

Mathis Bolly forward, Fortuna Düsseldorf

Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro defender, Toulouse

Salomon Kalou forward, Lille

Cheik Tioté midfielder, Newcastle United

10 Gervinho forward, Roma

11 Didier Drogba (captain) forward, Galatasaray

12 Wilfried Bony forward, Swansea City

13 Didier Ya Konan midfielder, Hannover

14 Ismaël Diomandé midfielder, Saint-Étienne

15 Max Gradel forward, Saint-Étienne

16 Sylvain Gbohouo goalkeeper, Séwé Sport

17 Serge Aurier defender, Toulouse

18 Constant Djakpa defender, Eintracht Frankfurt

19 Yaya Touré midfielder, Manchester City

20 Serey Die midfielder, Basel

21 Giovanni Sio forward, Basel

22 Sol Bamba defender, Trabzonspor

23 Sayouba Mandé goalkeeper, Stabaek

Star man

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Yaya Touré is a bull of a midfield player who leaves defenders looking like trampled daisies. His return of 20 Premier League goals would have scooped the player of the year awards in a normal season after his blockbusting displays for Manchester City. He should be given licence to push forward to cause maximum destruction, although his considerable skills will definitely be needed elsewhere too.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace …

The dirty work will fall to the aptly-named Serey Die. Having been banned for four months for walking out on his club in Algeria, the tough-tackling defensive midfielder was accused of match-fixing (an accusation he denied) while at Sion in 2010 after turning up to training in a new Porsche days after his fifth red card in the space of just 14 months. But Die’s proudest moment came two years later when he was banned for eight matches for slapping a 13-year-old ballboy.

The coach

A failed experiment with a home-grown manager, Francois Zahoui, saw ‘The Elephants’ return to the tried and tested formula of a European head coach. Sabri Lamouchi has done what was expected and reached the finals. Now to get out of the group.

Grudge match

After qualifying at the expense of bitter enemies Senegal, Lamouchi has bigger fish to fry. An opportunity to put one over former colonial masters France would be top of his list after being one of six unlucky players who were left out of Aimé Jacquet’s Les Bleus squad on the eve of their 1998 triumph.

Holed up

The Oscar Inn Eco Resort in Águas de Lindoia, 170km to the north of São Paulo, is owned and run by none other than Oscar Bernardi from Brazil’s 1982 World Cup side. So they can expect plenty of stories of what could and might have been for Zico and friends. And there’s always the nearby thermal baths and fresh springs from a region that supplies 60% of Brazil’s mineral water.

How they qualified
Beat Senegal 4-2 on aggregate in a two-legged play-off after winning a group containing Morocco, Tanzania and Gambia.

World Cup high
The joy of qualifying for the tournament for the first time in 2006 was tempered slightly when they found themselves in a group with Argentina, Holland and Serbia & Montenegro. It proved too tough a task for Didier Drogba and co.

World Cup low
The group stage elimination four years ago in South Africa was tough to take for what, on paper, is Africa’s strongest sign. They are not known as ‘chokers’ for nothing.

Familiar faces
Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle United), Arouna Koné (Everton).

Title odds: 100/1

The stereotype is …
Pace, power, raw talent, naïve at the back, doing it for Africa.

The reality is …
If anything the failings of the Ivory Coast’s ‘golden generation’ has come as a result of playing with caution and a sense that they are weighed down by the expectation levels.

What they’re known for
Didier Drogba 50 per cent
Civil war 20 per cent
Beaches 20 per cent
Alpha Blondy 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Hi O land of hope; Country hospitality. Your gallant legions noted your dignity.

How long it lasts
A disjointed 70 seconds.

How to dress like their fans 

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Head-to-toe white body paint, sunglasses and an elaborate hand-carved elephant-head mask. Pretty straightforward really.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Expect patronising comments such as: ‘They’re not just playing for the 20 million people back in the Ivory Coast. They’re carrying the hopes of one billion Africans.’