10 Youngsters Who Could Make a Big Impact at the 2014 World Cup
With some crucial international matches taking place over the next week, and the World Cup just nine months away, here’s a look at ten youngsters who could have a big impact in Brazil next summer – all players are 20 or under.
Paul Pogba, France and Juventus – 20
Over the past couple of years, Antonio Conte has been able to depend upon the best midfield trio in Italy – Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo. But it sums up Pogba’s quality that Conte has sometimes attempted to change his system in order to include a fourth midfielder – and there’s now speculation that Pirlo might be allowed to depart next summer, such is the Frenchman’s quality.
A star of France’s victorious U20 World Cup campaign alongside the similarly talented Geoffrey Kondogbia, Pogba made his senior debut back in March against Georgia. Although he was sent off four days later against Spain, his performances in both games were highly impressive, and he scored on his return to the side against Belarus last month.
Didier Deschamps has options in the centre of the pitch, but Pogba should force his way into the side.
Juan Quintero, Colombia and Porto – 20
“I watched the Under 20 World Cup and there was a kid called Quintero playing for Colombia,” remembered Rio Ferdinand. “The way he receives the ball, you don’t really see young players in our country doing that.”
Ferdinand’s comment was part of a wider complaint about English football, but he’s certainly not the only admirer of Quintero. A small, slender left-footed number ten capable of gliding past opponents with ease, Quintero has an uphill fight for a place in a hugely talented Colombia side, but offers creativity in something of a problem position for Jose Pekerman.
Judging by Quintero’s performances since his summer move to Porto, he might be suited to a super-sub role. Both his goals have come within seconds of his entrance as a substitute – first on his debut against Vitoria Setubal, then at the weekend against Arouca, from a free-kick he’d won himself.
Mateo Kovacic, Croatia and Inter – 19
If you know anything about the political history between Croatia and Serbia, you’ll be fully aware that a crucial World Cup qualifying match between the two is amongst the most intense fixtures possible in international football – especially when Igor Stimac and Sinisa Mihajlovic are the two coaches.
Not the ideal setting for an international debut, you might think. But Stimac handed a first cap to the young Inter midfielder, and he was magnificent in the deep-lying position in Croatia’s familiar 4-1-3-2 system, constantly threading passes into attack. “It’s not easy to play from the start in a game like this,” Kovacic admitted after the game.
Kovacic is primarily a creator rather than a tackler, and it’s arguable that Stimac needs to afford the defence more protection. Still, a good season for Inter, and Kovacic should be part of Croatia’s World Cup side – assuming they get through the play-off round.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England and Arsenal – 20
The only player on this list to have previously played at a major international tournament, Oxlade-Chamberlain started for England in their opening Euro 2012 game against France last summer. Since then, his Arsenal career has stalled slightly – with poor form, injuries and increased competition for his place all to blame.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain is more suited to Roy Hodgson’s England than Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. A keen rugby player as a teenager, Oxlade-Chamberlain carries that direct, powerful running style into his football performances, and is best when playing as a simple ball-carrier, demonstrated by his good display and goal in England’s victory over Brazil this summer.
Hodgson’s side are defensively sound and unlikely to consistently dominate possession, so what they really need is a midfielder that excels at transitions, turning defence into attack smoothly. Oxlade-Chamberlain appears one of Hodgson’s favourites, primarily because he brings that quality.
Raphael Varane, France and Real Madrid – 20
Signed by Real Madrid for €10m after just a single season playing for Lens in Ligue 1, Varane is the perfect centre-back: 6’3, strong in the air but quick across the ground, excellent in a positional sense, a calm tackler and capable of bringing the ball out from defence. Never mind being a future great defender, Varane already is.
Somewhat bizarrely, back in April Varane was voted as a member of the best foreign XI in the history of Real Madrid, alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Alfredo Di Stefano. Granted, Real haven’t indulged in expensive foreign centre-backs as much as higher up the pitch, but it underlines how highly he’s rated.
For France, Varane has only started two games, but should establish himself in Deschamps’ starting XI over the next six months, with Eric Abidal, Adil Rami, Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho the main competition.
Julian Draxler, Germany and Schalke – 20
Germany have tremendous strength in depth in attacking midfield positions, with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Sidney Sam, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski all battling it out for the three roles behind the centre-forward.
But it underlines Draxler’s tremendous raw ability that he’s been included in Jogi Low’s squads, and already has seven caps. Although originally used as a winger at Schalke, Draxler’s long-term position is probably in the central attacking midfield role in a 4-2-3-1, where he shares Ozil, Gotze and Kroos’ positional intelligence.
Quick across the ground, a fine dribbler and capable of spectacular long-range goals with minimal backlift, Draxler is a huge talent – and could be Low’s (relatively) secret weapon next summer.
Viktor Fischer, Denmark and Ajax – 19
We’ve spent the last four years discussing Christian Eriksen as the next big thing – but now he’s established himself as a fine Premier League playmaker, attention has instead turned to another talented Dane coming through the ranks at Ajax.
Whereas Eriksen plays centrally, Fischer – like his granddad Poul Pedersen, who also played for Denmark – is a winger. He boasts a tremendous first touch, an impressive turn of speed and is a cool, calm finisher, often stroking the ball into the net sidefooted or rounding the goalkeeper.
Denmark’s qualification hangs in the balance, but Fischer’s talent is unquestionable. Capped only four times so far, Fischer is exactly what Morten Olsen needs: a fresh, exciting new talent out wide.
Marco Verratti, Italy and PSG – 20
PSG have signed a variety of talented creative players over the past couple of years, but whereas the likes of Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore and Lucas Moura have been in and out of the side, the deeper-lying Verratti has been a revelation.
Something of a Pirlo-esque ‘regista’ that collects balls from the defence before pinging accurate balls into attack, he’s already won Ligue 1 and has Champions League experience. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has been extremely open to the use of youngsters, and Verratti debuted in a 2-1 defeat to England last year.
Prandelli was critical of Verratti following his performance in the 1-1 draw with Holland back in February, despite him scoring a fine goal. “Verratti has great character and technique, but he needs to be quicker in midfield and be far more tactical,” he said. Nevertheless, should Pirlo or Riccardo Montolivo get injured, Verratti could play a key role in Brazil.
Florian Thauvin, France and Marseille – 20
He’s yet to be called up by Didier Deschamps, but Thauvin has been amongst the most-discussed players in France this year, mainly thanks to his transfer moves. Although he signed for Lille from Bastia in January, with him remaining on loan in Corsica for the rest of the season, this summer he decided he wanted to play for Marseille instead.
He eventually forced the move through, and upon arriving in Marseille was immediately compared to Franck Ribery. It fits – Thauvin is a tricky dribbler and capable of sudden, explosive shots – and it’s refreshing that not every French Marseille midfielder must be compared to Zinedine Zidane.
Still, Thauvin’s behaviour this summer might harm his international chances. Following the problems at the last World Cup, France are understandably resistant to potential troublemakers, and Thauvin might have to wait his turn. That would be a shame – with a great young generation of defensive players like Pogba, Kondogbia and Varane, France could do with Thauvin’s positivity.
Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy and Milan – 20
In the first half of last season, El Shaarawy was Milan’s saviour. They’d suffered from the departure of various big-name players that summer, and El Shaarawy hit 14 goals in his first 17 games to keep Milan’s Champions League qualification chances alive. But after Christmas, his form dipped dramatically – and since then, he’s scored only four times in 34 appearances.
Various factors have contributed – the signing of Mario Balotelli changed Milan’s priorities, while El Shaarawy looked exhausted by the end of last season, and could have done without the Confederations Cup.
But Prandelli’s insistence on taking him to Brazil suggests he’s set to do the same again next summer. A pacey attacker capable of playing alongside a strike partner, or starting from a wide-left position, his relationship with Balotelli at Milan is crucial to his international chances – if they develop a good partnership, Prandelli will attempt to replicate it.
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November 6th, 2018 by Simon A