This month, the watching world will be glancing through the biggest shop window in football. The World Cup in Brazil is also a chance for the players taking part to prove themselves on the biggest stage of all. Bang in a hat-trick in the group stage and your agent will be inundated with calls from top clubs before you’ve even had the chance to send home a postcard.
Ricardo Rodriguez - Switzerland, 21, left-back
Currently tearing up and down the flank for Wolfsburg, the 21-year-old has had a fantastic season in the Bundesliga. Any winger would be proud of his season’s stats: five goals, nine assists and he’s created 78 chances for his team-mates, all from left-back. Tenacious in the tackle and adept at taking set-pieces, the Swiss is actually like a young Leighton Baines, albeit without the haircut. He could be an ideal solution for Tottenham.
Keylor Navas - Costa Rica, 27, goalkeeper
The Costa Rican keeper could end up being a name England fans struggle to forget – he’s been in sensational form for Levante this season and has a habit of frustrating bigger sides. Outside Spain’s top four, the Valencia-based outfit conceded fewest goals in La Liga last season, an impressive stat considering the team finished 10th. An agile keeper with cat-like reflexes, he’s thwarted the best La Liga has had to offer this season, and no keeper in Europe’s top five leagues made more saves (160). He could be ideal for either Liverpool or Atletico Madrid (depending on the future of Thibaut Courtois).
Memphis Depay - Netherlands, 21, left wing
He drifts in from the left, scores goals, thinks a lot of himself – if that sounds awfully familiar, be aware that Depay doesn’t have the air of the other ‘New Ronaldos’. He seems more determined and he’s damn sure he’s going to make it to the top. Twelve goals and nine assists was a decent return from his 32 appearances in a PSV shirt last season, and he’s sure he’ll improve on that: “A player like me should score 30 goals a season,” he recently proclaimed. The Netherlands face stiff competition in Group B and the Oranje will need to be at their best to qualify. The pace and raw energy of Depay could prove to be Louis van Gaal’s secret weapon, and the pair may link up again sooner than you think too, with Manchester United being strongly linked with the youngster’s services.
Vincent Aboubakar - Cameroon, 22, striker
The Lorient striker finished last season joint second in Ligue 1’s scoring charts, behind only Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At 6ft tall and with broad shoulders, the striker could certainly hold his own in the more physical Premier League. Coupled with blistering pace and composure in front of goal, he could work well alongside a target man, or as a lone striker. He might be one for Arsène Wenger to consider, as he could add much needed pace to Arsenal’s front-line at a fraction of the cost of other targets. Also look out for some Lomano Lua-Lua esque celebrations if he scores.
Serge Aurier - Ivory Coast, 19, right-back
Heavily linked with the Gunners already, the man from Toulouse looks to be a ready-made replacement for the exiting Bacary Sagna. Athletic, good in the air, a strong dribbler with a fantastic end product, he’s likely to be marauding down the flank at a Premier League ground near you soon. A good World Cup could arouse interest from elsewhere, but Aurier has stated it would be hard to turn down Arsenal if they came knocking.
Sofiane Feghouli - Algeria, 24, winger
Feghouli has been described as ‘a physical beast’ - no, not praise from his better-half, but from Arsène Wenger when asked about the Valencia winger. Deployed mainly on the right, Feghouli scored four and created eight goals for the Los Che this season. Algeria have tough competition in Group H and Fegouhli will need to be at his best if they are to reach the second round. A strong runner with quick feet and eye for a pass, he could be an ideal replacement for Gerard Deulofeu at Everton
Juan Cuadrado - Colombia, 27, winger
Fiorentina’s Cuadrado has made some impression this season; 11 goals and five assists have seen him become one of Europe’s most coveted wingers with reported interest from Barcelona. He’s also partial to the odd stonker of a strike, as Juventus know only too well. Colombia will need him at his best with the absence of Radamel Falcao, and he’s ready to deliver. Cuadrado could find himself being looked at by Chelsea as they look to revamp their frontline.
Kenneth Omeruo - Nigeria, 20, centre-back
The commanding Nigerian centre-back is unlikely to get game time at Stamford Bridge thanks to the arrival of Saint-Etienne defender Kurt Zouma. Recently on loan at Middlesbourgh, the time is right for Omeruo to step up to the Premier League and prove his worth, and a move to Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United could be the perfect fit.
Son Heung-Min - South Korea, 21, forward
He only moved to Bayer Leverkusen last summer, but the South Korean had such a productive season at the BayArena that there has already been talk of him stepping up another level in this transfer window. Signed for £8.5 million, a snip in today’s market, Heung-Min provided 10 goals and four assists from an attacking midfield role. He also supplied the goal that secured Champions League qualification for Leverkusen – fee paid back in full. Liverpool are known admirers and a healthy showing for the South Korean’s in Brazil could see his value rocket, as well as winging his way to England...
Alexander Kokorin - 23, Russia, striker
With four goals from seven starts in qualifying, Kokorin comes in to the tournament with some international pedigree . Signed by Anzhi Mackhachkala for €19m before their financial collapse, he soon hot-footed back to whence he came - Dynamo Moscow - and carried on from where he left off. Quick and composed, he’ll be looking for Alan Dzagoev to provide the ammunition to fire Russia through Group H. He could be an ideal solution for Southampton, especially with Rickie Lambert’s departure now confirmed.
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