The World Cup is almost upon us. With just under two days to go until Brazil and Croatia get proceedings underway, here is a list of 5 youngsters to watch who will see plenty of action for their countries:
Serge Aurier (21):
A lot will be made of the talent at Ivory Coast’s disposal ahead of the World Cup and Serge Aurier is no exception.Continuing the trend of attacking full backs, Aurier is the latest to emerge and is a certain starter for Ivory Coast. He had an excellent season for Toulouse in Ligue 1 which has led to constant speculation linking him with a move. Though normally a right-back, he was often used higher up the pitch for Toulouse at times. Having scored six times for Toulouse, he certainly offers an attacking alternative for the Ivorians. He remains quite raw though and has a tendency to pick up needless yellow cards mainly due to being caught out of position. He relies on his pace and strength to recover defensively but expect to see him constantly offering himself as an option going forward. If he continues the impressive form he has shown over the last year, it is inevitable he will be plying his trade at a new club next season.
James Rodriguez (22):
With the build up to Colombia’s World Cup centered around the fitness of Radamel Falcao, many have forgotten just how talented this Colombia team is. Amongst them is 22 year old James Rodriguez. Although the injury to Falcao is a huge blow to Colombia, one player who may benefit from his absence is Rodriguez. Having moved to Monaco shortly after Falcao, Rodriguez has largely played in Falcao’s shadow. The hope amongst Colombians now is that Rodriguez will be given licence to roam with Pekerman opting for a 4-5-1 formation. So what can we expect to see from Rodriguez? Having scored 9 times and assisted 11 times last season, Rodriguez will be the playmaker in the squad. His pace and direct running will cause defences problems but he is also a threat from dead ball situations. Despite the talent that remains, James Rodriguez is Colombia’s biggest weapon this summer as the Colombian finally shows signs of fulfilling his potential
Romelu Lukaku (21):
Those who watch the Premier League will have heard of Lukaku. Those who haven’t, soon will. Lukaku spent last season on-loan at Everton where averaged a goal every two games, 15 in 31 to be precise. Lukaku’s talents have been talked about for some time having finished top scorer of the Belgian league at just 17 years of age. With his strong physique and power, he is constantly compared to Didier Drogba but they are very different players. Lukaku wasn’t guaranteed a starting role in Belgium’s squad but a knee injury to Christian Benteke now means the responsibility lays firmly on Lukaku’s shoulders to score the goals. His role in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 will be to act as a focal point and bring players such as Hazard, De Bruyne and others into play. This is where the comparisons with Drogba differ. Whereas Drogba was excellent with his back to goal and holding off defenders, Lukaku’s strengths lie in his ability to run at defenders with pace and power which may well explain Mourinho’s decision to let him leave on-loan. However, if Lukaku continues to score goals and prove his worth then it will go a long way to helping a very talented Belgium side live up to their hype.
Raheem Sterling (19):
Back in November, Raheem Sterling wasn’t even a regular in Liverpool’s starting XI. For a player who showed potential the season before, he hadn’t progressed a great deal. Fast forward six months and Sterling is not only a part of Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad, he is a strong contender to start. Having been part of a lethal front three alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Sterling tormented defences with his pace as Liverpool tore through teams at will in the latter half of the season. What has been evident in Sterling’s progression has been an improvement in his technical skill with his first touch, awareness and decision making improving greatly under the guidance of Rodgers. Credit must go to Rodgers for showing faith in Sterling, he even deployed him as a no.10 in games last season where his pace once again caused constant problems. This summer, he puts on an England shirt with many fans hoping he can bring the excellent form for Liverpool with him.
Marco Verratti (21):
Verratti has had an excellent season for PSG. Positioned in a midfield trio alongside Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi, he accumulated a pass completion average of over 90%. Rightly so, his performances earned him Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year as well as a place in the Team of the Season. His eye for a pass is incredible and you can understand why the comparisons with Andrea Pirlo are constant. Yet Verratti came in for some criticism toward the latter part of the season. His passing qualities are evident but there is a tendency for him to hold onto the ball longer than required and get dispossessed which happened a lot during PSG’s first-leg victory over Chelsea in the Champions League. His lack of progression was a cause for concern for Prandelli but Verratti responded well and has gone from being on the outskirts of the 23 to a likely starter against England in Italy’s opening game after an excellent perfomance against Ireland. With Pirlo set to retire after the World Cup , Verratti is well positioned to become the heir to his hero’s throne.
There are a number of young players who will hope to express their talents in Brazil. Below are a list of other young players to keep an eye on:
Netherlands: Memphis Depay, Jordi Clasie, Bruce Matins Indi
Belgium: Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois
Croatia: Mateo Kovacic
France: Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezemann, Raphael Varane
Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri, Josip Drmic, Ricardo Rodriguez