Seven fledglings to look out for in South Africa
Whilst we’re all well briefed on the mega-stars of Spain, England and the Netherlands, and seen as though seven is my favourite number, here are seven stars in the making to watch out for in South Africa. All seven are widely tipped for big things. With some notable stars absent, could World Cup 2010 be the stage that unearths their huge potential? These are players who I feel could potentially set this tournament alight; and cement their names in World Cup legacy.
Nicolas Lodiero (Uruguay)
Possibly the most exciting talent Uruguay has produced since the days of Enzo Francescoli and Ruben Sosa. A born playmaker, he has the character, technique, speed of thought and explosive skills to become a world class attacking midfielder. Primarily deployed as a winger, the 21 year old is equally adept with either foot.
After impressing the likes of Liverpool (ENG) playing for his boyhood team, Nacional (URU), Nicolas Lodiero recently signed for Ajax (NED), to join forces with his talented international teammate, Luis Suarez.
Whilst he has featured little for Ajax since his arrival in Amsterdam at the start of 2010, he undoubtedly has the skills to light up Uruguay’s finals campaign. If he scores, watch out for his bizarre goal celebration of taking off his boot and using it as a telephone.
EFP Verdict: Could be the surprise star of an unfancied yet talented Uruguay team. Be warned!
Luis Suárez (Uruguay)
Luis Suarez is a world-class finisher with remarkable technical ability, blessed with a powerful shot and is suburb in the air. His performances for Ajax, plus a bucket load of goals over the past three seasons, suggests, at the tender age of 23, he is ready to make his mark on the biggest stage.
After firing 14 goals in 35 appearances for Groningen (NED) where he’d signed from Nacional (URG), Suarez was sold to Dutch giants Ajax where he would make his name. Considered as a supporting striker, who sets up his fair share of goals, he has weighed in with a whopping 74 goals in 97 games (including 49 goals in 48 games in all competitions last term). Last season he was Europe’s top goalscorer with 35 goals, but lost out on winning the prestigious golden boot as Lionel Messi’s 34 goals counted for more due to the higher quality of La Liga.
It came as little surprise, then, when Tabarez installed him in the starting eleven for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifying campaign, and Suarez returned the favour with strikes in the opening game against Bolivia, and against Chile two games later.
He also found the net against Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, and demonstrated once more that beyond possessing a goalscorer’s instinct, it is his ability to create scoring opportunities that makes him such an indispensable part of this Uruguay team.
EFP Verdict: With smart money on strike partner Diego Forlan (66-1), Suarez (50-1) is great outside shout for the tournament’s top goalscorer. If not, then he could provide the assists that sees Forlan take this illustrious title.
Ángel Di Maria (Argentina)
Having seen glimpses of this precocious talent, for Benfica against Liverpool, I’m certain this sharp-shooting, jet-heeled left winger has what it takes to shine on African soils. Completing his third season with the Portuguese giants, it’s no secret that Ángel Di Maria is currently the hottest property in world football, with Europe’s elite clubs competing for his signature.
A Rosario Central youth product, Angel Di Maria is a speedy and technically gifted left-winger with the ability to create and score goals. Di Maria’s blossoming international career has already brought him considerable success; staring in Argentina’s triumph in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada (2007) and the gold medal team at the Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing (2008). Di Maria stared alongside Lionel Messi, scoring some crucial goals en route to glory, which has seen him graduate to the senior squad, where he is expected to start on the left wing.
EFP Verdict: How well Argentina do depends much on how Di Maria handles the high expectation rested on his shoulders. An absolute world- beater or a shrinking violet? Could go either way.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Another precocious talent who comes heralding a huge reputation; and another plying his trade with the famous Ajax of Amsterdam. Comparisons with the mercurial genius Michael Laudrup might be a little premature, yet it’s a mark of just how high the Danish rate this kid.
Spotted by the Dutch giant’s talent spotters at just sixteen, Eriksen’s greatest strength is undoubtedly his vision. His speed of thought belies his tender years, recognising match situations quicker than most players almost twice his age. Furthermore, he is two-footed, technically superb and surprisingly versatile. Not only does he create goals, he also pops up with his own fair share too.
At just 18 he is the youngest player at the finals. He’s unlikely to start from the beginning but don’t be surprised if Eriksen makes an impact from the bench and forces his way into the first team as the tournament progresses.
EFP Verdict: Could either be an Owen or a Walcott.
Dominic Adiyiah (Ghana)
If Ghana are to be the African side that reaches the latter stages of this tournament then much depends on the performance of Dominic Adiayiah. By far the best player at last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, Adiyiah was named the best player, and also finished top scorer, as Ghana became the first African side to win the title.
His performance in the tournament’s seven matches, where he scored eight goals, not only won him a place a few months later in Ghana’s senior squad for the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Angola but it also earned him a lucrative move to Italian club giants AC Milan. To crown a heady few months, Adiyiah managed to play a few minutes in the final of the Nations Cup against Egypt in Luanda at the end of January and then was named Africa’s best young player for 2009.
Speaking on his success at the FIFA U-20, Adiayiah said: “I’m following in the footsteps of the likes of (Argentina greats Lionel) Messi, (Javier) Saviola and (Sergio) Aguero and I want to emulate their careers – and I’ll work hard to do that. I’m preparing to get to the top.”
EFP Verdict: Clearly has a bright future in the game but this tournament may’ve come too early. If Ghana provide a shock then expect Adiyiah to be an integral factor in their success.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
With the injury to Michael Ballack, Germany will be looking towards Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil to step out from the shadows of their talismanic Captain. Whilst Schweinsteiger is expected to exert his craft and influence on the game, Turkish born Ozil is there to provide the flair and finesse.
Mesut Ozil made the step up to international football with a string of outstanding performances. At last, people said, the three-time world champions had a new “number ten”. A technically gifted playmaker, Ozil is the kind of player that does not come along very often. This attacking midfielder brings the kind of invention and guile that can turn a game on its head.
Signing for Werder Bremen (GER) in January 2008, his career went into overdrive, stepping into the shoes of Brazilian playmaker Diego to fire the northern club to 2009 German Cup glory with the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in Berlin’s Olympiastadion.
The weeks that followed were the most important of Ozil’s career to date. At the UEFA European U-21 Championship 2009 in Sweden, he inspired Germany to the title with a series of remarkable performances and was voted man of the match in the 4-0 final triumph over England, scoring one goal and providing two assists. Germany coach Joachim Low rewarded the prodigious young talent with four appearances in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; with great success too, most notably when Ozil magically laid on Miroslav Klose’s winner as Germany pulled off a decisive 1-0 victory over Russia in Moscow in October 2009.
A reserved and modest figure off the pitch, Germany’s new hope cuts an explosive and marauding figure when he crosses the white line. At the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the midfielder is also an option for a left-wing berth or as a second withdrawn striker, giving him the freedom to wreak havoc from a central role.
EFP Verdict: Sure to star for a German side that will no doubt be there or thereabouts.
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
Having recently sealed a move to the illustrious Manchester United (ENG), and in line to start for Mexico in the opening match of World Cup 2010, things are moving at an ferocious pace for the 22 year old. The golden boy of Mexican football, Javier Hernandez carries the hopes of a nation. “El Chicharito” (The Little Pea) has become, in a very short time, a sensation on the Mexican football scene, scoring for fun and dazzling spectators with his ability in front of goal.
Hernandez is a complete forward – fast and intelligent, with remarkable shooting ability and impressive aerial power for a player only 1.75m tall. These attributes have certainly wooed Sir Alex Ferguson, but it remains to be seen if Hernandez can produce on the biggest stage of all.
EFP Verdict: Could show his potential, especially in opening match against the host nation, but his chances rest on those of his country’s, of making out of a tough group.
Roll on 3pm!