32 Potential Stars of the 2014 World Cup

With players from 32 different nations and six separate continents competing at the 2014 World Cup, it would be understandable if you weren’t familiar with every single player who takes the field in Brazil (seriously though, if you know the Iran one to 11 I’d be worried).

As a guide, here is a basic rundown of some of the more obscure (and some not so) players that could star at this summer’s World Cup.

Brazil

1Bernard

Name: Bernard
Age: 21
Position: Left winger

While much of the spotlight in Brazil is on Barcelona forward Neymar, there are many in South America that rate the talents of the elusive winger Bernard just as highly. Reportedly tracked by both Arsenal and Liverpool last summer, Bernard’s £22m transfer to Shakhtar Donetsk hasn’t quite taken off. By no means a likely starter for the hosts and tournament favourites, Bernard will be looking to make a direct and skillful impact from the substitutes bench.

Croatia

2Kovacic

Name: Mateo Kovacic
Age: 20
Position: Central midfielder

Despite his tender years and relative inexperience at international level, Mateo Kovacic could well line-up alongside Real Madrid’s Luka Modric in the heart of the Croatian midfield. A dynamic and versatile midfield player who has strengths defensively and offensively, Kovacic was an infrequent starter for Inter Milan in Serie A last season – however, there have been calls for the 20-year-old to become a more prominent figure in Walter Mazzarri’s team.

Mexico

3Peralta

Name: Oribe Peralta
Age: 30
Position: Striker

With 16 goals from 27 internationals, Oribe Peralta is likely to be Mexico’s main goal threat in Brazil. Peralta was chosen as one of Mexico’s overage players in the 2012 Olympic Games and helped his country land the gold medal with two goals in the victory over Brazil. Having recently completed a high profile move from Santos Laguna to Club America, the forward became the most expensive signing in Mexican league history at $10m.

Cameroon

4Moting

Name: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
Age: 25
Position: Left winger

Having been born in Germany and featured for the country at Under 18, 19, 20 and 21 level, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (or just Eric for short) adopted to play senior international football for Cameroon. An impressive dribbler with an eye for goal, Choupo-Moting’s form for Mainz in the Bundesliga has fuelled speculation of a switch to Juventus or Roma. The attacker’s 10 goals in 32 for Mainz last season and 10 in 24 for Cameroon mean he will be a danger for opposition defences – as he showed recently with a fine taken goal in a friendly with Germany.

Spain

5Costa

Name: Diego Costa
Age: 25
Position: Striker

Given that the majority – if not all – of the Spanish squad are household names to most football viewers, there may be little surprises in store from the reigning world champions. Nevertheless, the ascension of Atletico Madrid (and soon to be Chelsea) forward Diego Costa has been remarkable. Having played second fiddle to Radamel Falcao in the 2012/13 campaign, Costa was thrust into the limelight by boss Diego Simeone last season and didn’t disappoint with his incessant harassment of opposition defences and deadly finishing. A Brazilian to win the World Cup for Spain? Perhaps.

Netherlands

6Depay

Name: Memphis Depay
Age: 20
Position: Left winger

A rumoured target for Manchester United, Memphis Depay could act as an impact player for 2010 World Cup finalists, Holland. An impressive long distance shooter with expertise from a dead ball, Depay netted 12 goals in 32 outings for PSV Eindhoven last season with a further eight assists to boot.

Chile

7Vargas

Name: Eduardo Vargas
Age: 24
Position: Right winger

Following an £11.5m move to Italian side Napoli in 2012, Eduardo Vargas’ career has yet to really kick-on. After making his maiden voyage into Europe, Vargas soon found himself back in South American football with Gremio on loan. Another temporary spell with Valencia followed in the second half of last season where Vargas showed some of the talent he threatened as a youngster. It is Vargas’ form for Chile that stands out though. With 12 goals in 27 games, Vargas will be hoping to further re-launch his personal profile in Brazil.

Australia

Name:  Mat Ryan
Age: 22
Position: Goalkeeper

Aussie stopper Mat Ryan is the man with the unenviable task of keeping out Spain, Netherlands and Chile for the team ranked the lowest of all participants in the World Cup. Despite being just 22 years of age, Ryan has already established himself in Europe following a switch to Belgian side Club Brugge in 2013 where he managed 11 shut outs in 30 matches during the last campaign. His promise is such that he’s even been linked with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Colombia

9Guarin

Name: Fredy Guarin
Age: 27
Position: Central midfielder

With the Colombians feeling the loss of star striker Radamel Falcao, much of the responsibility will fall on the broad shoulders of Inter Milan midfielder Fredy Guarin. A strong and athletic midfield player, Guarin has been one of Inter’s more consistent performers in a tough few years for the Nerazzurri. Previously linked with a move to Chelsea, Guarin signed a new deal with Inter in March.

Greece

10Kone

Name: Panagiotis Kone
Age: 26
Position: Right winger

Panagiotis Kone is a player with the eye for the spectacular – demonstrated most audaciously in the 2012/13 season when he scored an outrageous bicycle kick against Napoli from the edge of the area. Although Kone’s team Bologna were relegated from Serie A recently, the forward still emerged from the season with reputation in tact and could make a switch to Palermo.

Ivory Coast

11Gradel

Name: Max Gradel
Age: 26
Position: Right winger

Former Leeds United winger Max Gradel has become a key component for Ligue 1 side St Etienne and helped Les Verts to an impressive fourth-placed finish – narrowly missing out on Champions League football. Though injury disrupted the start to his season, Gradel came back strong and contributed heavily in the run-in with three goals and five assists in the last eight matches. Recently linked with a move back to old side Leicester City.

Japan

12Okazaki

Name: Shinji Okazaki
Age: 28
Position: Striker

With 38 goals in 75 internationals (putting him fourth in Japan’s all-time goalscorers list), Shinji Okazaki will be Japan’s biggest goal threat in Group C. Okazaki plays his football in the German Bundesliga and came away from the 2013/14 season with a very credible 15 goals in 33 games for Mainz – a record for a Japanese player in the German top division (previously held by Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa while at Borussia Dortmund).

Uruguay

13Hernandez

Name: Abel Hernandez
Age: 23
Position: Striker

The tall, strong and left-footed striker Abel Hernandez could become a more prominent figure for Uruguay than perhaps previously expected if talisman Luis Suarez cannot recover in time to make the start of the tournament. While Hernandez’s form in his early years with Palermo attracted interest from some of Europe’s top clubs, the 23-year-old has remained in Italy and managed 14 goals from 28 appearances in the county’s second tier over 2013/14 – helping the club return to Serie A.

Costa Rica

14Campbell

Name: Joel Campbell
Age: 21
Position: Right winger

Arsenal’s talented young attacker Joel Campbell first came to the forefront of an English audience when he starred for loan side Olympiacos in a last 16 Champions League tie against Manchester United – scoring in a 2-0 victory for the Greek side. With 11 goals and 12 assists to his name last season, Campbell is starting to make a name for himself and will be the biggest danger for group opponents Italy, England and Uruguay alongside Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz.

England

15Barkley

Name: Ross Barkley
Age: 20
Position: Attacking midfielder

Among England’s array of young players included in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Brazil, Everton’s Ross Barkley is arguably the most likely to have a significant impact – that’s if he’s allowed to fulfill his natural position in the hole behind the striker. A gifted two-footed technician, Barkley’s ability to travel with the ball and commit defenders – especially when there is space to run into – could be a vital asset for England. Whether Barkley will receive the game time to display his talents remains to be seen and could depend on whether Hodgson is ready to sacrifice Wayne Rooney to a wide role or a place on the bench.

Italy

16Immobile

Name: Ciro Immobile
Age: 24
Position: Striker

Alongside fellow Italian international Alessio Cerci (another player to look out for), Ciro Immobile fired Turin’s second club – Torino – to a highly respectable 7th-placed finish in Serie A. With 22 goals from 33 domestic games to his name, Immobile has earned a £15.5m move to Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund in the close season. A member of the Italian Under-21 team that reached the final of the European Championships last summer, Immobile could provide a clinical alternative to maverick forward Mario Balotelli.

Switzerland

17Shaqiri

Name: Xherdan Shaqiri
Age: 22
Position: Right winger

In the shadows of fellow wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at club level with Bayern Munich, there’s no doubting the talents of Xherdan Shaqiri. Thanks to his time with the German outfit, Shaqiri has already become the most successful Swiss player ever and is seen as a star in his homeland. Despite being restricted to 17 appearances in the Bundesliga last season (not helped by injury), Shaqiri still managed six goals. If Switzerland are to progress from Group E then Shaqiri will no doubt be the driving force. Seen as Liverpool’s secondary transfer target if a deal for Adam Lallana falls through.

Ecuador

18Montero

Name: Jefferson Montero
Age: 24
Position: Left winger

If Ecuador are to upset the odds in Brazil then a lot could rest on the success of wingers Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero. Reportedly recommended to Manchester United in the past by fellow Ecuadorian Valencia, Montero is a pacey and direct wide player that will worry opposition full-backs. Now playing in Mexico after a spell in Spanish football, the World Cup could be the ideal platform for Montero to prove his qualities to European admirers.

France

19Pogba

Name: Paul Pogba
Age: 21
Position: Central midfielder

After his fairly low key departure from Manchester United, Paul Pogba’s rise to stardom has been pretty phenomenal. A tall, strong and powerful athlete with great feet, Pogba is the epitome of a modern day midfielder with the ability to score outrageous goals from distance and boss opponents many years his senior. At 21, Pogba has made himself a regular for both Juventus and country – leaving United to ponder what could have been had they bowed to the player’s demands.

Honduras

20Costly

Name: Carlo Costly
Age: 31
Position: Striker

A one-time Birmingham City loanee, much-traveled striker Carlo Costly has had spells in the US, Poland, Greece, Romania and Mexico – though he now plays in his homeland for Real Espana. Indeed, it is homeland where Costly is truly appreciated and has been adopted by the Honduran support as a true fan favourite for his goalscoring exploits (31 goals in 69 internationals) and endless endeavour. Look out for the “Costlynha”, Costly’s trademark feint – a fake drag back and burst of acceleration .

Argentina

21Alvarez

Name: Ricardo Alvarez
Age: 26
Position: Attacking midfielder

In a squad blessed with some outstanding talent, the selection of Ricardo (or Ricky) Alvarez could be considered somewhat of a surprise. After being supposedly targeted by a string of top European clubs – including Arsenal and Liverpool – Alvarez’s move from Velez Sarsfield to Inter Milan in 2011 has failed to capture the imagination of the San Siro faithful. However, after featuring more frequently for boss Walter Mazzarri last season, Alvarez has begun to show signs of his dribbling and creative instinct once more. Getting into the Argentine team could be Alvarez’s biggest challenge yet though.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

22Ibisevic

Name: Vedad Ibisevic
Age: 29
Position: Striker

While much will be known of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first choice forward Edin Dzeko, the man who will be looking to supplement the Manchester City man will be 29-year-old Vedad Ibisevic. In a career than has taken in the MLS and French football with PSG, Ibisevic has now started to make his mark in Germany formerly Hoffenheim and with current side Stuttgart. A reliable finisher, Ibisevic netted 15 goals in all competitions during 2013/14 while he has 20 goals in 54 for his country.

Iran

23Ghoochannejhad

Name: Reza Ghoochannejhad
Age: 26
Position: Striker

You may be unsurprised to learn that Reza Ghoochannejhad boasts the longest name in English football – though friends like to call him “Gucci”. A graduate of Dutch football, Ghoochannejhad now plays his football for Championship Charlton Athletic. While his career in England has yet to flourish (one goal from 17 matches for Charlton), Ghoochannejhad’s record for former club Truiden in Belgium and, indeed, for Iran (nine in 12) suggests he knows where the goal is.

Nigeria

24Enyeama

Name: Vincent Enyeama
Age: 31
Position: Goalkeeper

Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama enjoyed an outstanding campaign for French side Lille – recording an amazing 11 consecutive clean sheets in Ligue 1. In fact, the Nigerian conceded only 25 goals from 37 domestic matches and was awarded the African Player of the Year in the top French division.

Germany

25Draxler

Name: Julian Draxler
Age: 20
Position: Left winger

With the news of Marco Reus’ unfortunate pre-tournament injury against Armenia, Schalke’s Julian Drazler could burst into the spotlight in Brazil. Rumoured to have been the target of a £40m bid from Arsenal in the January transfer window, Draxler is a good dribbler with the eye for a through ball – though he did manage just two goals in the Bundesliga last season.

Portugal

26Carvalho

Name: William Carvalho
Age: 22
Position: Defensive midfielder

There is much excitement in Portugal over the rising talent of 22-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho – although it’s unclear whether national coach Paulo Bento will bow to the pressure of starting the youngster ahead of more established names. After originally starting out as a forward-thinking playmaker, Carvalho has been crafted into a combative defensive midfielder. Carvalho’s promise has seen him linked to Liverpool and Manchester United in recent times.

Ghana

27Atsu

Name: Christian Atsu
Age: 22
Position: Right winger

Though many might be unfamiliar with the name Christian Atsu, the winger was actually signed by Premier League outfit Chelsea last summer – only to be immediately loaned out to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem. The 22-year-old has enjoyed a productive season in Holland with five goals and six assists to his name. A return to Chelsea is thought to be unlikely though and Atsu could well be putting himself in the shop window during this World Cup.

USA

28Johannsson

Name: Aron Johannsson
Age: 23
Position: Striker

With roots in Iceland, Aron Johannsson is a relative newcomer to the US national team having only made his debut in August 2013. However, Johannsson is one of just a handful of US squad members who play a leading role in a European team. The striker notched 26 goals in 53 matches for AZ Alkmaar and could be the US’s best bet of making an impact in a very competitive Group G.

Belgium

29Mertens

Name: Dries Mertens
Age: 27
Position: Left winger

By no means a regular with Serie A side Napoli, Dries Mertens is an extremely dangerous player who offers a constant threat to defences with his fluid style and often devastating finishing. Despite starting just 21 games in the Italian top division, Mertens still managed 11 goals and his strike-rate for former team PSV (45 in 88) demonstrates as much. With that said, Mertens has just two goals for Belgium from 24 caps and may find playing time limited with the likes of Eden Hazard, Nacer Chadli and Kevin Mirallas available for selection.

Algeria

30Bentaleb

Name: Nabil Bentaleb
Age: 19
Position: Central midfielder

One of the few successes from Tim Sherwood’s brief reign as Tottenham Hotspur boss was the emergence of midfielder Nabil Bentaleb. Given his debut in Sherwood’s first game in charge as a second half substitute, Bentaleb immediately showed a maturity in possession beyond his years. Composed and creative, the rapid development of Bentaleb saw him make his international debut in March 2014 and the teenager will now be hoping to start for Algeria in Brazil.

Russia

31Dzagoev

Name: Alan Dzagoev
Age: 23
Position: Attacking midfielder

After impressing in the opening stages of Euro 2012, much was expected of Russia’s Alan Dzagoev. While the 23-year-old has played consistently for club side CSKA Moscow – helping them to the Russian title – the hype around Dzagoev’s talent hasn’t yet quite illuminated to previous expectations. However, likely to start on the right for Fabio Capello, Dzagoev could again show his class on the international stage after joint top-scoring two years ago.

South Korea

32Son

Name: Son Heung-Min
Age: 21
Position: Left winger

A quick and incisive winger – who can also play as a forward – Son Heung-Min has developed his game in Germany from the age of 16 with, first, Hamburg where he managed 20 goals in 78 outings before becoming a club record signing for Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2013. With 10 goals from 29 league starts for Bayer in 2013/14, Son could prove an excellent counter-attacking option for South Korea with his ability to exploit space in behind a defence.

  • Roy Chandler

    Nice blog mate … but 1 little correction about the Nigerian goalie bit … Enyema didn’t play in the friendly monitored for match fixing, it was a guy called Ejide.

    • Matthew Wood

      Thanks for the comment, Roy! You are completely right! An oversight on my part – will correct!