Each World Cup brings with it a fresh new generation of young footballers and tournament debutants, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is no exception. In the four years since the world gathered in South Africa, plenty of new faces have graced the international stage with their impressive displays of footballing prowess.
This World Cup, 23 brand new players will be introduced to the globe, since Bosnia and Herzegovina has qualified for the first time in history. However, the regular teams also feature new players. Such is the nature of the World Cup that every four years, every nation is rejuvenated with next-gen stars. Here are the five World Cup debutants worth watching who could make their debut in the 2014 tournament:
Mario Götze (Germany)
Position: Attacking Midfielder
He’s the hottest commodity out of the Bundesliga and may just be the best midfielder in the world. For a German outfit with no shortage of midfield options, Götze is king, and that’s something that German champions Bayern Munich didn’t take for granted – the Bavarians stole Götze from Borussia Dortmund in 2013, by activating his contract’s release clause to the tune of €37 million.
Götze will make his World Cup debut in a tough group featuring Portugal, Ghana, and the United States. While his goalscoring and creativity make him an asset, his most important feature is his ability to slow the game down in spurts, enough to see a pass and cripple opposing defensive lines. His nimble footwork helps him ease past defenders, making him a mobile anchor in an already-impressive German midfield.
Jordi Alba (Spain)
Position: Left Fullback
When Spain won the FIFA World Cup in 2010, it did so using a combination of Real Madrid and Barcelona players in the starting line up; names like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta were well-established beforehand and were turned into legends upon lifting the trophy. Yet, in that team of yesteryear was Joan Capdevila, an older left fullback from Villarreal, arguably one of Spain’s better defenders in the tournament.
Now no longer in the mix, Spain enters this tournament with many of the same names as the last, but one of the new players to break into the starting XI is Jordi Alba. The young Barcelona fullback was groomed in Valencia and has been a starting choice ever since. His impressive runs down the left wing have led to crucial goals and assists, making Alba one of the more exciting fullbacks in the tournament. So, when Spain takes to the field next summer, take notice of Alba, a debutant defender worth watching.
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
How Mario Balotelli didn’t make the last World Cup is a mystery to many. It’s a decision that Italy ended up regretting, so devoid of goals in the group stage that one of the world’s most popular footballing countries (and, then, the reigning champions) crashed out of the tournament in the group stage. Even in 2010, Balotelli was a known talent, but his attitude, behavior, and temperament made him a risky choice, and he was ultimately omitted.
Balotelli has matured, though, and is expected to make the Italian squad for the 2014 World Cup. He’s a goal scorer, pure and simple. He’s a big presence in the box, has a mean long shot, and can turn a game on its head without notice. Super Mario is a player who earned his spot shortly after the 2010 World Cup and kept it since. He started throughout qualifying, as well as in the 2012 Euro Cup and the 2013 Confederations Cup. A World Cup debut will bring the new Balotelli into the spotlight.
Paul Pogba (France)
Position: Central Midfielder
Here’s a breakout star from 2013 who could have done just enough to secure a spot come World Cup time. Paul Pogba was an unknown name prior to this year’s Serie A season with Juventus, but what a year it has been! The young midfielder filled in for Claudio Marchisio at the start of the season and has become one of the most exciting players in Italy. The Guinean midfielder is nicknamed Paul the Octopus because of his long legs, which are on full display during his many crunching tackles.
He is a midfielder who makes the act of intercepting the ball an art form. Such is his skill that he began playing for France in 2013, picking up seven caps. He picked up the Golden Boy award, given to the best young player of the year and he certainly deserves the accolades. Can he keep up this kind of form in the World Cup? France will need him to – the nation was sent packing early in 2010 due to poor performances and in fighting. A strong World Cup is needed for France and for Pogba.
Position: Forward, Left Winger
The hopes and dreams of the host nation Brazil rest on the shoulders of Neymar, who will make his World Cup debut next summer. He’s the one player the world will be watching intently, some waiting to see what the hype is all about, while others await the dazzling tricks, feigns and (most importantly) beautiful goals that Neymar can produce so very often. Neymar was actually talked about back in 2010, with fans of Brazil demanding his inclusion in the World Cup, but Dunga, the coach at the time, chose not to take the then 17-year-old Brazilian teen sensation.
Since then, Neymar has established himself as one of the best players in the world, landing a spot in FC Barcelona and displacing Spanish legend David Villa from the team entirely. Such is his quality that, come the summer of 2014, Neymar won’t just be the most talked-about player of the tournament: he could very well be its most valuable player.
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