With just a few days left until the biggest football tournament on the planet, which youngsters are going to make the breakthrough in South Africa?
Fabio Capello and Dunga could well regret the omissions of Theo Walcott and Neymar respectively following the World Cup if their squads fail to show the necessary sparkle and invention in South Africa.
Young players traditionally make a big impact at the World Cup; Pele in 1958 and Paul Gascoigne in 1990 are just two famous examples. At the end of a long hard season, young legs can make a real difference allied with a mentality of wanting to prove to the world that they have what it takes on the biggest stage of all.
Below are 101greatgoals’ tips for the 10 young players likely to make a name for themselves at the 2010 World Cup. The criteria for inclusion are that the starlet must be 23 or under and not already a world star, hence the exclusion of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Nani.
There are also some honourable mentions at the bottom of the piece but feel free to add your tips in the comments. Simply click on the name for video evidence.
Mesut Oezil (Germany, 21) It is no exaggeration to say that the Werder Bremen playmaker has the ability to be as good as the very best, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Oezil has it all and was a major factor behind Germany’s Under-21 European Championship win last summer. Having contributed an incredible 19 assists in the Bundesliga last season, Oezil is the key attacking player in Jogi Loew’s team and he is unlikely to disappoint.
Pedro (Spain, 22) After scoring 20 goals for Barcelona last season and establishing a new record of netting in six different competitions, Pedro could be a key player off the bench for Spain in South Africa. Unlikely to start for Vicente Del Bosque’s side, Pedro has the natural flair and goalscoring ability to make an impact against tired opponents. Established himself in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side and has the momentum needed to be a key man for the European champions.
Aaron Lennon (England, 23) The Spurs flyer missed almost the whole of the second half of the season, which should leave him fresh for the World Cup. Theo Walcott’s omission means Lennon is now certain to start England’s group games and if he showcases his blistering pace, he should set up plenty of goals for Rooney, Crouch and company. Has often been criticised for failing to score goals and his wayward crossing, but this was evidently improved in the first half of 2009-10.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile, 21) Nicknamed “Wonderboy” as well as the “Chilean Lionel Messi”, Sanchez is the creative fulcrum in a Chile side that could well surprise in South Africa. He has impressed for Udinese over the past two seasons after moving from River Plate and averages close to a goal every other game for the national team.
Pablo Barrera (Mexico, 22) The Pumas UNAM Mexico winger can play on either flank and is exceptionally quick. Unlikely to be an automatic starter in Javier Aguirre’s first team, Barrera is set to be an impact substitute and has impressed in the recent warm-up games.
Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay, 20) The Uruguay front line of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have been tipped to bang in the goals, but it is Lodeiro who will provide the ammunition for the celebrated front pair. Has had a slow start to life in European football with Ajax since a January move, but was a sensation in his home country and was predictably nicknamed “The Uruguayan Messi".
Sergio Romero (Argentina, 23) Diego Maradona’s undisputed number one going into the World Cup will be looking to show the form that saw him play a key part in AZ Alkmaar’s Eredivisie title win in 2008-09. Crucially the 6ft 3in custodian is adept at saving penalties, which could lift him to hero status in the latter stages of the tournament.
Keisuke Honda (Japan, 23) In true Japanese tradition, their bright young hope is a cultured midfield schemer. Honda rose to prominence in Holland with VVV Venlo and then impressed for CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. Has an excellent shot from distance and is also a fine set-piece taker.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia, 22) Probably Slovakia’s most important player, Hamsik has been incredible for Napoli in recent seasons and will likely get on the scoresheet in South Africa. He chipped in with 12 Serie A goals last season and 10 the year before, and coming from deep he can cause havoc.
Gervinho (Ivory Coast, 23) The “Brazilian Elephant” was one of the best strikers in France last season, impressing for Lille alongside another starlet in Eden Hazard who won’t be in South Africa. Gervinho has all the qualities to frighten even top quality defences like Brazil and Portugal, but like many of the players on this list, he could be used as an impact player if Didier Drogba or Aruna Dindane fail to score.
Honourable mentions: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Nani (Portugal), Simon Kjaer (Denmark), Jesus Navas (Spain), Alexandre Song (Cameroon), Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Angel Di Maria (Argentina), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Michael Bradley (USA).