World Cup: 10 young stars to light up Brazil, Ghana’s Christian Atsu in the list

Christian Atsu

Ghana’s Christian Atsu

While coaches speak of the value of experience at a World Cup, it is inevitably the lesser known young players who provide some of every tournament’s stand-out moments.

Here’s 10 players you might not have heard of who can light up the World Cup:

Christian Atsu (Ghana)
One of Chelsea’s legion of loanees at Dutch outfit Vitesse, 22-year-old Atsu picked up the fans’ Player of the Year award at his temporary home and could win more admirers in Brazil with his trickery both down the wing and in a more central role.

Despite only making his international debut two years ago, Atsu has quickly built up 21 caps for his country and will want to use the world stage to impress Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.

He has been dubbed the ‘African Messi’ by Ghanaians and even if they struggle in a tough group with Germany, Portugal and USA as rivals, Atsu should get opportunities to show off his pace on the counter.

Bernard (Brazil)
Last year’s Confederations Cup gave enough of a preview of Bernard’s talents to have a host of top clubs tailing him before he ended up at Shakhtar Donetsk for a fee of around £20 million.

Despite a tough season in Ukraine, with problems on and off the field, the 21-year-old made it into Luiz Felipe Scolari’s on the back of his past electric cameos for the Seleção.

Coming off the bench, Bernard will be expected both to take advantage of space when Brazil are leading games and to help break down sides when the host nation are chasing, with his intelligent play which will be key to changing the flow of games.

Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)  

Algeria will be far from favourites in Brazil but having convinced talented right-sided attacking midfielder Feghouli to choose to play for them rather than France adds an impressive string to their bow.

With his blistering pace and dribbling skills, Feghouli will be one to watch in Group H and has an eye for goal, as shown against Sevilla in the Europa League semi-finals and in the five goals he already has for his country.
Feghouli has criticised for his inconsistency and was subbed off on his only appearance on British soil against Swansea.

Julian Green (United States)
Having only changed nationality after playing for a series of German youth sides in March, Green has just two caps for the US under Jurgen Klinsmann.
The 19-year-old made his debut for Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich and his impressed to an extent that Tottenham have identified him as a target to add some bite to Mauricio Pochettino’s new look midfield.

Having made it into the US roster ahead of Landon Donovan the pressure is on Green, who is likely to be utilised as an impact substitute where his pace will trouble tiring defenders.

Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
All the fuss about Croatia’s midfield pre-tournament has been about creative sparks Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, so much so that their 20-year-old crucial cog in midfield has almost been ignored.

Interest from Manchester United and Liverpool brought his name into the public eye and despite a difficult start to the season, Kovacic has been quietly improving in a struggling Inter Milan side.
His combination of tidy passing and strong tackling in midfield is likely to draw more admirers this summer.

Divock Origi (Belgium)
Origi is one of only two out-and-out strikers for Belgium alongside Romelu Lukaku and having been nurtured as Lille’s new ‘prince’ after the departure of Eden Hazard.

Just 19 years old, Origi has the potential to be the complete package: matching his height with agility, trickery and a powerful shot. His pace stretches defences while his frame leaves markers constantly occupied.

He offers the Red Devils another dimension to their play and although his talent is still very raw, he is the kind of player that often thrives in the spotlight that only a World Cup can provide.

James Rodriguez (Colombia)
It seems strange that a £36m player could go under the radar but Monaco’s lack of European football meant that Rodriguez slightly avoided the spotlight this year.

The 22-year-old pulls the strings in midfield for club and country and his impressive turn of pace will get fans in Brazil off their seats. The pressure is on Columbia’s primary creative force in Falcao’s absence but if he can handle that and match his performances that put him into the Ligue 1 team of the season, Rodriguez’s drive could help guide his country through the latter stages.

Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland)

Switzerland’s place as a top seed in the World Cup draw was ridiculed but their young players will be on a mission in Brazil to prove that seeding right – with Rodriguez keen to keep up their typically strong defensive record.

The left back helped Wolfsburg to a fifth place finish in the Bundesliga and is one of that rare breed that fans tend to love: a full back with an eye for goal.
Rodriguez is a free-kick specialist and finished the season with five league goals coupled with nine assists.

Son Heung-min (South Korea)

South Korea’s squad is full of young players but Son is the brightest star after four seasons in the Bundesliga at the age of just 21.
Blessed with two good feet and great pace, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder has the skillset to be a danger to any of the sides in Group H.
He has been criticised for taking too many shots – but that should prove entertaining on the big stage and if he can convert a couple of those efforts South Korea could cause upsets.

Georginio Wijnaldum (Holland)

For years Wijnaldum was flagged up by Football Manager devotees as one to watch, but his entire career so far has been spent in the Dutch Eredivisie with Feyenoord and more recently PSG.

The 23-year-old prefers to play as a central playmaker but might find competition fierce there with Wesley Sneijder still running the show in midfield – and instead could be left to cut in from out wide or to make an impact from the bench.

Injury absence this season should leave him fresh to impress at the World Cup and the PSV captain will be keen to show off the silky skills that had Brendan Rodgers interested earlier this year.

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