The world’s biggest and brightest stars will be aiming to showcase their skills at this summer’s World Cup but there are also a number of emerging players aiming to turn potential into proven quality at the finals.
NICOLAS LODEIRO (Uruguay)
The attacking midfielder only made his senior national team debut in the qualification play-off against Costa Rica last November but is set to provide a creative spark in South Africa for Oscar Washington Tabarez’s side. Impressed at the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt last year and helped his club Nacional to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores before joining compatriot Luis Suarez at Ajax in January.
MESUT OZIL (Germany)
Ozil provides creativity in midfield for Germany and could emerge as their star performer in South Africa. Impressive for Werder Bremen as they finished third in the Bundesliga to reach next season’s UEFA Champions League qualifiers, and Europe’s premier club competition would be a worthy stage for Ozil to perform on. He has quickly helped Werder fans overcome the loss of Brazilian star Diego to Juventus.
CARLOS VELA (Mexico)
His talent as a skilful all-round forward was spotted by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger after some excellent performances for his country at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, and after a spell on loan in Spain is now fighting to establish himself in the Gunners line-up. He is used with much greater regularity by Mexico, playing 12 times in the qualification campaign.
MICHAEL BRADLEY (USA)
His ability as a midfield all-rounder has largely silenced those who claimed he was only in the American team because his dad Bob is the coach. One of a growing number of the squad to have proved themselves in Europe – Bradley Jr is at Borussia Monchengladbach – he has worked hard to improve his discipline and while his distribution is still not the greatest, his energy and drive makes him indispensable.
SAMUEL INKOOM (Ghana)
Striker Dominic Adiyiah earned the plaudits and the move to AC Milan after his exploits in Ghana’s victory at the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt last year but industrious Basle right-back Inkoom has since had more success in making the transition to the senior side, and could be a useful contributor for the Black Stars this summer.
MILOS KRASIC (Serbia)
The pacy right winger has some of western Europe’s biggest clubs sniffing round him after some excellent displays in the Champions League this season with CSKA Moscow. A great dribbler who will relish taking on any defence he comes up against, and would be a good bet to score a spectacular goal or two along the way.
SIMON KJAER (Denmark)
The Danes of 2010 may lack the flair and finesse of the great side of the 1980s but in Daniel Agger, Christian Poulsen and Palermo defender Kjaer they are solid defensively. He is being closely watched by a number of clubs and if he impresses in South Africa the Sicilians might be made an offer they cannot refuse.
SHINJI OKAZAKI (Japan)
Japan coach Takeshi Okada has set an ambitious target of reaching the semi-finals, but the first task will be getting out of a tough group containing Holland, Denmark and Cameroon. Okazaki was in red-hot form throughout 2009, scoring 15 goals for the national side and is set to be the focal point of Japan’s attack in South Africa.
GERVINHO (Ivory Coast)
The Lille forward is one of the up-and-coming stars in the Elephants line-up and is set to partner Chelsea star Didier Drogba up front for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side.
RAUL MEIRELES (Portugal)
The Porto midfielder was one of the few players to enhance his reputation in Portugal’s unconvincing qualification for South Africa. A tireless box-to-box performer, he showed glimpses of his ability at Euro 2008 and will be a key component of Carlos Queiroz’s side two years on. At 27, he is approaching his peak and needs to impress if he wants a crack at one of Europe’s biggest leagues.