Monday 24 November 2014

Stars of the World Cup

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Yoann Gourcuff

The Bordeaux playmaker has been the 'next big thing' in French football for some time now but having established himself in the international team this could be his moment. A glorious talent with film-star looks to match, Gourcuff has the ability to revive a France team in need of some inspiration.

Carlos Vela

Has only featured sporadically for Arsenal - whose fans greet him with 'For he's a jolly good Vela' - so should be raring to go for Mexico. He believes in himself, and the World Cup is the ideal platform for him to show his elegant touch and finishing.

Teko Modise

The star player of the South African Golden League, Modise has become a key figure with his energy, pace and creativity on the right of the midfield. He is in danger of becoming too old at 27 to tempt a European club into giving him a chance but a good World Cup might change minds.

Luis Suarez

Ajax's star striker has quicksilver pace and a powerful shot, but he can also drop deeper to help create goals for others. He could cash in against the likes of South Africa and Mexico. A good World Cup could guarantee him a move to a top Premier League club.

Angel di Maria

If Argentina are to silence the doubters then not just Lionel Messi will have to step up to the plate. Di Maria is the same age as the World Player of the Year and can become a great if not as great. The winger has exquisite ball control and a thundering left boot. Little wonder so many suitors were lining up to buy him from Benfica at the end of the season.

Sotiris Ninis

Gifted playmaker has the ability to start a bidding war between Europe's finest for his services.

Lukman Haruna

The clamour to sign this young man on his first professional contract included Real Madrid and Benfica, but Monaco eventually prevailed. These finals were expected to come too early for the teenaged midfielder with the thunderous shot. But his international debut a few weeks ago convinced Lagerback he was a coming force.

Park Chu-young

He may be the lesser known Park after Park Ji-sung of Old Trafford, but in many ways the Monaco man is more important to his nation. Goals will not be easy to get but this dead-ball specialist could have the answer. Has the dribbling skills to worry defences.

Wayne Rooney

Just off the back of his best season to date in a Manchester United shirt, Wayne Rooney carries the hopes of a nation on those broad shoulders. The striker is only 24-years old but already has 60 caps and 25 goals to his name. The fly in the ointment has to be his temperament. If Rooney can avoid the red mist he could well be the player of the tournament.

Landon Donovan

The outstanding American player of his generation. He only played 13 games for Everton while on loan from LA Galaxy but did enough to prove he will be a threat this summer. The 28-year-old generally plays slightly deeper than a recognised striker and scores from distance.

Valter Birsa

Fast and skilful, Birsa enjoyed a successful season on the left for Auxerre, helping them to third in the French first division last season. The 23-year-old was Slovenia's most impressive player in last September's defeat to England.

Karim Ziani

Last summer Ziani called time on a successful spell in France which culminated at Marseilles. He was hoping to step things up with a move to Wolfsburg but he has hardly played. He can be very creative but is prone to histrionics.

Tim Cahill

Only made his debut for Australia in 2004, a result of having played for Samoa at Under-17 level. Scored four goals in qualification, and holds the honour of having struck the country's first ever goal in the World Cup tournament. The Aussies will be relying on him once more.

Mesut Ozil

His nickname 'the new Diego' refers not to Maradona but to the Brazilian playmaker of that name whom he succeeded in the Werder Bremen midfield. In footballing terms he is more like his hero Zinedine Zidane than the great Argentinian. Ozil's strengths are his accurate left foot and ability to dribble at pace.

Andre 'Dede' Ayew

The son of Abedi 'Pele' Ayew is set to achieve something his famous father never managed - playing in a World Cup. However his dad was voted African Player of the Year three times, so there is still plenty left to achieve. His performance at the Africa Cup of Nations suggests he can be the next star to emerge from Ghana.

Milos Krasic

Wingers are back in fashion and Krasic, with his pace and skill, is Serbia's ace down the flanks. In addition, he works hard, and his height is an asset at set-pieces.

Jean Makoun

Anyone who witnessed the goal he scored for Lyons against Real Madrid will appreciate the talent of this 27-year old. It is time he delivered on the big stage for his country, much like his team.

Christian Eriksen

Arsène Wenger knows a good young player when he sees one and tried to sign Eriksen. But then, one doesn't need his cultured eye to spot the promise in the 18-year-old. The youngest player in the finals is also, somewhat inevitably, one of the most exciting.

Takayuki Morimoto

Ossie Ardiles gave this striker his league debut - at 15. His prodigious talent was shown as he became the youngest scorer in J League history three days before his 16th birthday. Did not make his international debut until last October but, at 6ft, he can spearhead Japan's attack.

Mark van Bommel

One of the more exciting defensive midfielders to watch, what with his crunching tackles and his fiery temper. While the 'Famous Four' of Sneijder, Van Persie, Robben and Van der Vaart will invariably attract the headlines, Van Bommel will provide the platform for their fireworks. And nobody should underestimate his passing game or his powerful shot.

Antonio Di Natale

Di Natale rose to international prominence during the Euro 2008 qualifiers and returning coach Lippi picked him for seven of Italy's 10 World Cup qualifiers on the road to South Africa. He was the top scorer in Serie A last season, with 29 goals from 33 games for lowly Udinese who finished 15th.

Oscar Cardozo

The striker nicknamed the Bamboo Tree scored 36 goals in 42 games for Benfica last season, including two against Everton and three against Liverpool. Everton, Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham are all sniffing around the 26-year-old, whose price will rise with every goal he scores.

Marek Hamsik

The 22-year-old playmaker has been the star of the Napoli side for the past three years, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented young players in Europe. He has pace, tight control, ability to score, and a good attitude, which is why he is attracting interest from several top clubs.

Ryan Nelsen

Reliable if unspectacular, the Blackburn defender will have to perform at his best if New Zealand are to have any chance of progression. Nelsen is credited with marshalling the defence brilliantly in their play-off victory over Bahrain.

Maicon

How good do you have to be to displace Dani Alves from the Brazil right-back role and Javier Zanetti from the same position at Inter? The answer is this 28-year-old. Jose Mourinho's Champions League hero perfectly encapsulates Dunga's philosophy - can defend as well as he attacks.

Gervinho

After Drogba and Kalou, the boy with the Brazilian nickname is the lesser known of the three-pronged attack. But he has the speed and the right foot to cause real problems on the flank. Harry Redknapp and Arsène Wenger are known to be interested. It won?t be long before the world understands why.

Jong Tae-se

Born and raised in Japan, Jong is the only player ever to have his name chanted by the otherwise paranoid Korean crowd. The striker is compared to Rooney although models himself on Drogba.

Nani

No other player has ever got away with calling Sir Alex Ferguson 'a very complicated man,' while questioning his hardline style. But Nani showed he was worth the forgiveness with a fine end of the season for United. Maybe he doesn't have Ronaldo's skill. But Nani is quick, has great footwork and could be terrifying in tandem.

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Amado Guevara

No spring chicken at 34 but a legend in Honduras for whom he is the record cap holder with 134. Known as 'El Lobo' or 'The Wolf' - and after a decent club career in the US he hopes to end his career on a high.

David Villa

The Barcelona-bound striker is both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. With 37 goals from 56 games, his strike rate is vastly superior to that of partner Fernando Torres (23 from 72). He will soon replace Raul as Spain's all-time top goalscorer on 44, possibly even at the World Cup.

Tranquillo Barnetta

The left winger has shouldered the responsibility for being Switzerland's main source of creativity since he became a regular five years ago. Shortlisted for Fifa's Best Young Player award at the last World Cup, he has just enjoyed his best season with Bayer Leverkusen.

Players to look out for in this year's tournament. Photos: Getty Images

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