2014 World Cup: Ten young stars to watch out for

Can you hear the sound of the world’s biggest carnival yet?

When it wheels into the newly-built Arena Corinthians on June 12 over one billion viewers will be gripped by World Cup fever.

Home nation Brazil will take on Croatia in Sao Paulo to begin the month-long festival of football.

Of course, there is much expectation and pressure on the Brazilian team to win on home turf and there have also been well-documented clashes and protests surrounding the judiciousness of the finances released by the Brazilian government to host this magical tournament. (There will be more on that in a later blog).

To help get your football juices going this blog will be the first of ten special World Cup blogs to supplement your enjoyment of the greatest sporting event on the planet.

Blog number one previews ten of the best young footballers to feature at the World Cup this summer.

To qualify, there are two criteria: A player must be aged 23 or under and must be making his World Cup debut.

So, let’s start the countdown. Who is set to be the brightest young talent of the World Cup?

10. Fabian Schär – Switzerland, age 22, centre-back (5 caps, 3 goals)

Perhaps a surprise inclusion at ten on this list, Schär is arguably one of the most exciting defenders in the world. His aerial ability from set-pieces is allied to an instinctive reading of the game and his impressive pace serves him well when faced with one-on-one duels. Recent performances for Basel in the Europa League suggest that Schär excels on the big stage and will be in contention for a starting place in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador.

9. Mario Götze – Germany, 21, attacking midfielder (27 caps, 7 goals)

Undoubtedly one of the best German talents, of which there are many, but will he get a regular starting spot in Brazil? The competition for places in the German midfield could hinder Götze’s chances of making a big impact on the tournament but he has proven his goalscoring prowess at international level despite being in and out of the Bayern Munich side this season.

8. Son Heung-Min – South Korea, 21, attacking midfielder (23 caps, 6 goals)

After an impressive season with Bayer Leverkusen, Son will be carrying the affection of South Korea on his shoulders. Son usually plays just off the lead striker but such is his versatility and talent he can switch positions across a forward three and is also deployed on the wing. Son’s flexibility rids South Korea of a rigidity which had plagued their game in recent years but with their new hero they should be a threat to Belgium, Russia and Algeria in group H.

7. Adnan Januzaj – Belgium, 19, attacking midfielder (0 caps, 0 goals)

At just 19, Januzaj is part of a youthful and promising Belgium squad in Brazil. A long wrestling match between several countries is to blame for his lack of international experience but, after opting for Belgium, manager Marc Wilmots has wasted no time in including the Manchester United star in his plans. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin de Bruyne ahead of him in the pecking order Januzaj could make a significant impact coming off the bench against tiring opponents with his jinking runs.

6. Ross Barkley – England, 20, attacking midfielder (3 caps, 0 goals)

Barkley’s place on this list is dependent upon Roy Hodgson giving him the playing time many onlookers are craving. The precocious young talent has drawn comparisons with Paul Gascoigne but his technical ability stretches far beyond that of Gazza’s. Even if Hodgson prefers to be conservative in Brazil he is set to make substantial contributions when coming off the bench, particularly with his energetic and creative game.

5. Paul Pogba – France, 21, central midfielder (8 caps, 1 goal)

An authoritative and commanding presence in midfield, Pogba is very much in the Yaya Toure mould of footballer. He can rampage forward and score goals as a stellar season at Juventus has proven. Doubts still remain about his mentality but bearing his age in mind that is a problem he will overcome with maturity and should that process happen this summer he could be France’s star player in Brazil.

4. Mario Balotelli – Italy, 23, striker (29 caps, 12 goals)

Commeth the spotlight, commeth the maverick. Balotelli relishes attention and a World Cup in Brazil presents him with an opportunity to display his skills in the biggest arena of them all. His superb performances at Euro 2012 saw a coming of age for the rebellious striker and he has built upon that with some assured displays at AC Milan. He will be the spearhead of Italy’s attack versus England but can he control his temper to replicate his Euro 2012 showing?

3. Thibaut Courtois – Belgium, 22, goalkeeper (15 caps, 8 clean sheets)

Some may be surprised that a goalkeeper makes third place on this countdown, but Courtois will be one of the stars of the tournament. His potential is staggering and his acclimatisation to Spanish football with Atletico Madrid at a young age has been exceptional. A series of assured displays coupled with some outstanding saves shows why Chelsea paid €9m for him when he was just 19.

2. Eden Hazard – Belgium, 23, winger (43 caps, 5 goals)

A world-class talent but inconsistent with it, Hazard has the chance to exorcise his critics with a memorable display in Brazil. His tally of five goals in 43 games for Belgium is underwhelming but after enjoying a spectacular season for Chelsea there are signs he could flower into an international star this summer as part of a dangerous Belgium team.

1. Neymar – Brazil, 22, forward (47 caps, 30 goals)

There has been no expectation as high as this on any player in history. A home World Cup in a land where football is a religion. It seems made for Neymar and all his astonishing skill, but can he deliver under such a burden? His goal-laced performances at the 2013 Confederations Cup would offer a resounding yes to that question, even after an unconvincing opening season at Barcelona. Despite that, the Brazilian team is built to utilise his incredible talent with some tipping him to earn the Golden Boot. Could this tournament belong to the darling of Brazil?

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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The Forgotten Footballers

OK, so we all remember footballing legends’ careers when they’ve finally hung up their boots, but what of the once-famous players still plying their trade in modern football?

Below is a list of ‘forgotten footballers’ that I have compiled. See if you agree with my top 20 countdown.

20. Milan Baros

Still only 31, and fresh from a successful spell at Galatasaray, Baros gets onto the list by virtue of the fact he now plays for Banik Ostrava in his native Czech Republic – who knew that? I certainly didn’t, but Baros is again amongst the goals for what was his first ever club, scoring five times in nine games thus far.

19. Luca Toni

The World Cup-winning Italian striker has been something of a journeyman in his career so far – like many of the players in this countdown – but his stint at Bayern Munich will be remembered as his most successful. Toni left the German giants in 2010 for Roma, and has since played for Juventus and UAE side Al Nasr before returning to current club Fiorentina.

18. Asamoah Gyan

A controversial figure in Sunderland after leaving them on-loan for Al-Ain, Gyan has torn apart the UAE Pro-League for his new club, scoring 58 goals in 43 games so far.

17. Lucio

The big World Cup-winning centre-back made his name in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and then Bayern Munich, but after moving to Italy he has drifted into relative anonymity after high-profile moves to Inter Milan and subsequently Juventus. The 35-year-old now plays for Sao Paulo.

16. Kevin Kuranyi

Famous for his immaculately-trimmed beard, Kuranyi has not played for Germany in international tournaments since his 2008 retirement. Prolific spells at Stuttgart and Schalke have been followed by an equally-good stint at Lokomotiv Moscow, where he has bagged 32 goals in 83 games – making his move to Russia all the more mysterious.

15. Adrian Mutu

Goalscoring, contractual issues and drug-taking are all chapters in Mutu’s career, but the Romanian striker has struggled to re-build it after testing positive for cocaine in 2010. Now playing for AC Ajaccio in France’s Ligue 1, Mutu’s 11 goals this season steered the Corsican side to safety – but only just.

14. Ricardo Quaresma

Once a player with dazzling pace and skill, Quaresma has failed to live up to the hype surrounding his potential and, after stints at Barcelona, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Porto, now finds himself playing for Al Ahli in Dubai. Quaresma still makes himself available for Portugal, but with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani preferred to him on the wing, he has drifted into the tail-end of his career without creating much fuss.

13. Deco

Chelsea fans will likely remember the talented Brazilian playmaker, who is now 35 years old. He has previously played for Barcelona after winning the Champions League with Jose Mourinho at Porto in 2004. Deco now plays in his homeland for Fluminense.

12. Mido

Once highly thought of, Mido has gone off the radar – largely due to battles with his weight. After racking up his eleventh career club following a move to Barnsley, Mido has played just one game for the Tykes – all this for a striker who counts Ajax, Roma and Spurs amongst his former employers.

11. Junichi Inamoto

Junichi Inamoto was labelled a Japanese heartthrob after starring for his country during the 2002 World Cup which they co-hosted alongside South Korea. Now, after numerous spells at European clubs, the ex-Arsenal youth midfielder has moved back to Japan where he plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League.

10. Juninho

Famous for his free-kicks, Juninho has had to endure heavy criticism for moving to the Middle East for money. He was one of the first big-name footballers to do so and has barely been mentioned since. His tally of 75 goals from midfield in just under 250 games for Lyon remains impressive, but after joining Al-Gharafa in Qatar he has not played to the same level. He now plays for New York Red Bulls in the MLS.

9. Rivaldo

It didn’t seem so long ago that Rivaldo notched a hat-trick for Barcelona against Manchester United with a spectacular overhead-kick. Even fresher in the memory is his goal against England en route to winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. Rivaldo still plays at the age of 41, and has chased big-money moves to Uzbekistan and Angola before settling at current club Sao Caetano in his homeland.

8. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie

Perhaps a striker more known for his name rather than his goalscoring ability, the ex-Arsenal man went on loan to five different clubs in ten years before signing a three-year contract with Panathinaikos in 2011 where he currently averages a goal every 10 games.

7. Rafael Marquez

A Barcelona and Mexico legend, Marquez was a rock at centre-back during the height of his career. A two-year link-up with MLS side New York Red Bulls has now finished, but Mexican side Club Leon tempted him back to his homeland, and he has made 13 appearances for them so far.

6. Michael Johnson

Dubbed “The New Steven Gerrard”, Johnson’s promising career has been blighted by mental health issues, serious knee injuries and drink-driving charges. Recent pictures of Johnson show his weight to have ballooned, and at the moment he is a free agent after being released by Manchester City.

5. Kleberson

Another 2002 World Cup winner, Kleberson moved to Manchester United in 2003 where he was berated for a series of lamentable displays. He mustered just two goals during his two-year stay, and now plays for Philadelphia Union in the MLS.

4. Amr Zaki

Described by then Wigan manager Steve Bruce as being “as strong as an ox”, Zaki has disappeared from the international footballing eye. The Egyptian striker was a goalscorer with strength and pace – in much the same mould as Alan Shearer – but now finds himself a free agent after problems with his commitment, injuries and professionalism. Zaki did sign a deal with Egyptian club ENPPI in 2013 but his contract was terminated by mutual consent after a heated disagreement.

3. Alex Manninger

The Austrian stopper boasts Arsenal and Juventus among his former clubs but he has opted to continue his career with FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga after lengthy and impressive spells in England and Italy.

2. Dani Guiza

Having spearheaded a devilish Spanish attack with David Villa for several seasons, Dani Guiza’s career has been steadily disintegrating. A big-money move to Fenerbahce ended after three years when he scored just 23 goals. A strange move to Malaysian side Darul Takzim, where he netted six times in 10 games, is the latest chapter in his career. He is still owned by La Liga side Getafe where his clinical finishing will inevitably still be in demand.

1. Angelos Charisteas

The final man on the list, and perhaps a footballer with the biggest fall in notoriety ever. Charisteas became a hero in his native Greece when he scored the only goal of the game against Portugal in the 2004 European Championship final. Since then he has played at Ajax, Feyenoord and Schalke without much success. He currently plays in obscure surroundings for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia’s Professional League.