By Olasoji Tolulope
We are now less than 60 days away from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, excitement is mounting.
Despite the excitement surrounding the Champions League, no competition captures the essence of football quite like the World Cup. There is a sensational feel to the tournament that has been formed by generations of supporters of this great game.
The World Cup creates legends and iconic moments like no other tournament.
For youngsters, it can be a showpiece that will change the complexion of their professional career, while for players on the fringes of their clubs, it could also help re-launch gloomy careers.
From an African perspective, no team has been identified as outright favourites. However, in recent times, teams like Senegal (Korea/Japan 2002) and Ghana (South Africa 2010) have defied all odds to make it to the last eight.
These sides all had star men who rose to the plate on the grandest stage, thereby gaining fame and fortune during and after the World Cup.
At the end of this quadrennial tournament, a couple of new African rising stars will write their names into footballing history.
This feature profiles five young African talents who could be set to make a statement this summer.
Ghoulam | Part of a new, young Algeria
Faouzi Ghoulam (Napoli & Algeria)
Born in Central France to Algerian parents, Ghoulam is a traditional left-footed left-back. He's quick and makes bursting runs forward to join in with the attack. He's good at playing long balls and is a threat with crosses and from set-pieces.
Having played twice for France U-21 side, he chose to represent Algeria at the 2013 AFCON but was left on the sidelines for the entire tournament.
He finally made his international debut against Benin in a World Cup qualifier and made an instant impact by assisting the first goal. He moved to Italian outfit Napoli from Ligue 1 side Saint Etienne in the January transfer window and is expected to play a vital role in the Brazil-bound Algeria team.
Omeruo | Can he pass the test of the summer with flying colours?
Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough & Nigeria)
Nigeria’s defensive stalwart is an indisputable entry onto this list after his impressive showings at the 2013 Cup of Nations. He's expected to burst onto the world stage alongside partner Godfrey Oboabona in Brazil.
His ability will be tested as he's set to face four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Vedad Ibisevic and Edin Dzeko in Group F.
He has been performing consistently for Middlesbrough, since his loan move from Chelsea and should head to Brazil both in form and in good shape.
Atsu | Farmed out from Chelsea, can the winger deliver in Brazil?
Christian Atsu (Vitesse Arnheim & Ghana)
The left footed winger is an undoubted talent and has long been tipped as his country's brightest emerging star.
He sealed a move to European giants Chelsea and was immediately shipped out on loan to Dutch club Vitesse. He has since impressed with four goals and six assists to his name. He's quick and technically astute and has an eye for goal.
He is reminiscent of a young Lionel Messi and he's got the potential to strike a formidable partnership with Marseille winger Andre Ayew for the Black Stars this summer.
Onazi | Can the Lazio man's stock continue to rise this summer?
Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio & Nigeria)
Tipped for greatness, Onazi is an established member of the Super Eagles and has been burdened with much of the defensive duties in the midfield since making his place in the side. Despite these responsibilities, he’s also not shy of bursting forward to help attacks.
He also has a penchant for taking ferocious shots.
The young Lazio centre-midfielder is expected to keep his place in spite of the recent reshuffle in the middle of the park by Stephen Keshi given his dynamism and versatility.
Bony | Might need to wait until after Drogba's departure to impose himself with CIV
Wilfried Bony (Swansea & Cote d’Ivoire)
Typically, with Cote d’Ivoire, attention focuses on Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. However, it remains to be seen whether the 36-year-old forward can still lead the line effectively for the Elephants.
Bony should not be underestimated, he's an all-out striker who can also play behind Drogba. His agility, strength and goal-scoring can be valuable assets for the Ivorians this summer.
He already has 23 goals in 37 appearances for both club and country this season and is expected to play a vital role in the post-Golden Generation Elephants side.
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