The World Cup is no doubt the world’s biggest single-sport event. Every four years, national teams from around the world compete for the right to call themselves the World Champion. It is also an opportunity for individual players to make the world take notice. This year should be no different. Here is a list of ten players who are likely to make themselves known on the world’s biggest stage in Brazil.
1. Alan Dzagoev: Russia
Euro 2012 was unkind to Russia. The team beat the Czech Republic 4-1 in its first game and wound up not advancing to the knockout stages after a 1-0 loss to Greece due to the new UEFA tiebreaker rules. But in those three group stage games, Alan Dzagoev was clearly the best player. The CSKA Moscow playmaker scored three goals in Euro 2012, which is the same amount of goals scored as Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Mario Gomez, and Mario Balotelli in the same tournament. The only difference is Dzagoev’s Russian team was eliminated at the group stage.
Dzagoev will be relishing his chance to play against South Korea and Algeria because he loves to run into gaps between the midfield and the defense. Look for this attacking midfielder to create chances for his teammates and possibly score a few goals himself this summer.
2. Shinji Okazaki: Japan
The Japanese national soccer team is no longer a secret. While it isn’t the favorite to win the World Cup, this squad has the talent and capability of beating any team on any given day. Japan, along with South Korea, was selected to host the 2002 World Cup in 1996. It made an investment in how it brought along players in that year as well, and eighteen years later we are seeing the benefits from it. It was the first country to qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and again in 2014.
One player that will surely make the world take notice is Shinji Okazaki. He plays his club football for Mainz in the German Bundesliga and scores on a fairly regular basis. He averages about a goal every other game for Japan, which is by far the best strike rate of any other current forward from that country. Okazaki is also third on Japan’s all-time scoring list. This summer, expect the Japanese midfield of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda to feed this player passes into the box and get him many chances in front of goal.
3. Fredy Guarin: Colombia
If you know only one thing about the current Colombian national team, it would probably be how Radamel Falcao scores goals for fun. However, he suffered damage to his ACL and is out of the World Cup. Enter Fredy Guarin. This Inter Milan midfielder will have more attacking responsibility now that Falcao is not on the plane to Brazil. He is extremely athletic and can cover a lot of ground. He also has a rocket of a shot and likes to let them fly from long range.
Guarin’s performances for Inter Milan have been hit-or-miss, but he has what it takes to be a full on consistent hit this summer because more responsibility is on his shoulders. He will have to use his long-range ability and athleticism against Greece and the Ivory Coast due to defense being both teams’ priority. Whoever plays at the forward position for Colombia, expect Guarin to get them the ball in goal-scoring positions and to find himself in a few of those positions as well.
4. Joel Campbell: Costa Rica
Joel Campbell is a forward for Costa Rica who is currently on loan at Olympiakos in Greece but is under contract with Arsenal FC in England. He is a player who runs everything down and fights for every loose ball. Some defenders have described him as “pesky.” The 21-year-old is Costa Rica’s best option going forward because Costa Rica love to play a tight defense with many players behind the ball and then shock the opposing team on the counterattack.
Campbell’s small size and quick feet make him a nightmare for tall defenders to keep up with in open space. He is very young yet has already played thirty-two games for his country and scored nine goals. Look for link-up play between him and Bryan Ruiz against England.
5. Ross Barkley: England
Though he isn’t even a year from scoring his first goal for Everton FC in England, there is a buzz around this 20-year-old. He is a very creative midfield playmaker, which is very different from the majority of English “tough guy” midfielders. He is a smooth dribbler and is not afraid to take players on and beat them with his skill on the ball. He recently scored a goal for Everton where he dribbled 60 yards, made space for his own shot, and scored. There is not another England midfielder who has the bravery and skill to do that.
Expect Barkley to possibly come off the bench to instantly boost the English attack, especially against a defensively tough Costa Rica. The big question is does manager Roy Hodgson want an inexperienced 20-year-old to spearhead the attack?
6. Vedad Ibisevic: Bosnia and Herzegovina
The best and most well-known forward from this country currently playing is Edin Dzeko, but Vedad Ibisevic is just as lethal in front of goal. He currently plies his goal-scoring trade for VFB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga. Most defenses pay attention to Dzeko and make him their main priority for marking, but there is almost zero drop-off in skill for Ibisevic. He is an old school “poacher”-type of forward who lurks in the penalty area and pounces on passes and loose balls and makes the opposition pay.
Expect him to score some goals against the less than stellar defenses of Iran and Nigeria. Also, don’t be surprised if Bosnia and Herzegovina pull off a win against Argentina with Ibisevic scoring the deciding goal.
7. Ricardo Rodriguez: Switzerland
The Swiss are a true team, meaning it doesn’t have big-time stars yet it was a top seed for the World Cup draw. Wolfsburg defender, the 21-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez, will be very important to the Swiss attack this summer with his forward runs from the left side of the defense.
Rodriguez loves to get forward and put crosses into the box. The crosses of Rodriguez are accurate and find a teammate the majority of the time, which could mean trouble for Honduras and Ecuador. I expect the Switzerland coach to tell teammates to get Rodriguez touches out wide so he can get forward. Look for the left side of this Swiss team to give the other teams in Group E fits.
8. Romelu Lukaku: Belgium
He is probably the most well-known player on this list. We have not seen the Belgian national team in a major tournament in a generation (its last tournament was World Cup 2002). It is currently in a “golden generation” of talent, and Romelu Lukaku is a big reason this squad received such a label. He is under contract with English powerhouse Chelsea, which put him out on loan for each of the last two seasons. In 2012-2013 he played for West Brom and in this current 2013-2014 season he plays for Everton. He was West Brom’s leading goal-scorer last season and has the same honor for Everton this season. His contributions to West Brom were important as they finished eighth place in the Premier League, while the same team currently sit in sixteenth place without him. All of the forward play for Belgium will run through him. Expect him to start every game for Belgium due to the recent Achilles injury of another very good forward, Christian Benteke .
9. Konstantinos Mitroglou: Greece
Greece is known for defensive rigidness and discipline. Most would interpret that as boring and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, that was the Greek recipe for winning Euro 2004 at odds of 100 to 1. But ask anyone who watched Euro 2004, and they will tell you that it was a fairly boring tournament. The only knock on Greece is they don’t score a lot of goals. It is generally a rule of thumb that if Greece doesn’t win 1-0, they don’t win at all. Konstantinos Mitroglou is looking to change that.
2013 was a breakout year for the Fulham striker. He scored six of his eight career goals for Greece in 2013, and he was the difference in Greece’s World Cup qualifying two-game playoff with Romania, scoring twice in a 3-1 win and once in a 1-1 draw. Look for Mitroglou to liven up an average Greek attack.
10. Andre Ayew: Ghana
Ghana’s strength is central midfield due to children in that country playing in very close spaces and learning to become comfortable in crowded parts of the field. Andre Ayew is an exception to the rule. The Marseille winger is a left-footed player who loves to get in crosses from wide spaces and use his athleticism to leave opponents in his dust. He was on Ghana’s 2010 squad and was even named Man of the Match in its win against the USA, but most agree Asamoah Gyan should have received that distinction. He was pretty good in 2010, but his game has grown leaps and bounds over the last four years.
Andre Ayew has gone from a good player to a world beater and can use the World Cup to show the world his game has gone from good to great and put his name among the elite wingers of the world, such as Arjen Robben and Gareth Bale.