The World Cup has always been a tournament that turns emerging young talents into fully-fledged stars. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson identifies six bright prospects set to shine in Brazil
Having played a major role in Liverpool’s second-place finish in the Premier League last season, Sterling was fast-tracked into Roy Hodgson’s senior squad from the Under-21s in the latter half of the campaign.
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He wouldn’t have made the starting line-up had Theo Walcott been fit, but the Arsenal player’s absence through injury has created a space on the right flank that Sterling looks ideally suited to fill.
Fast, direct and technically superb, the teenager should be ideally suited to conditions in Brazil, and could emerge as the star of an England side that is set to contain a decent smattering of young players. As his performances at Liverpool proved, he is also capable of playing in a more central attacking midfield role if a change of tack is required.
Courtois’ exploits with Atletico Madrid over the last two seasons mean he is hardly an unknown quantity, but this should be the tournament when the youngster confirms his status as one of the top two or three goalkeepers in the world.
Hugely commanding thanks to his 6ft 6in frame, the Belgian is a superb shot-stopper as well as a dominant presence in the penalty area.
His ability to handle the big occasion was evident as Atletico claimed the La Liga title, and while Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho might not be sure whether he wants him or not, Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots has no such qualms about rating Courtois as his established number one ahead of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet.
He might not be the youngest member of the Germany squad, but Kroos is the player who has come on most in the last couple of years and is therefore heading to Brazil as a potential superstar in the making.
He has already proved himself at club level in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, and just as Mezut Ozil and Thomas Muller’s profiles soared after they starred in South Africa in 2010, so Kroos is likely to find himself at the centre of worldwide attention if Germany do well in Brazil.
His technique and work-rate mean he is able to play in a number of midfield roles, and he is equally at home directing affairs in a deep-lying position or probing for an opening behind a lone attacker. Germany are blessed with an abundance of talented midfielders, but it is telling that Joachim Low invariably finds a space for Kroos.
Russian football needed a fillip after the national side flopped spectacularly at Euro 2012 in nearby Poland and Ukraine, and it was provided by the emergence of Kokorin, a lively centreforward who has displaced Alexander Kerzhakov from Fabio Capello’s preferred team.
Anzhi Makhachkala paid 19m Euros for his services before the Dagestan club’s financial meltdown resulted in him returning to Dynamo Moscow, and his four goals in seven starts in qualifying were a major factor in Russia’s successful negotiation of a difficult-looking group.
Composed and clinical in the penalty area, Kokorin is also capable of scoring a goal from nothing, a valuable asset given a general lack of creativity in the Russian midfield
Varane was regarded as the best young centre-half in the world when he moved to Real Madrid from Lens in 2011, and while it took him a while to establish himself at the Bernabeu, he has gradually begun to fulfil the predictions of greatness that accompanied him to La Liga.
Having established himself in Real’s first team towards the end of last season, he impressed in the Champions League final, and is the defensive linchpin of a France side desperate to eradicate the memories of a wretched World Cup in South Africa.
Calm and assured in possession, the 21-year-old is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence, but is not afraid to mix it physically if the situation demands.
Described as a “professor of football” by teammate Niko Kranjcar, Kovacic is the latest in a long line of creative Croatian midfielders to have added some guile and vision to the heart of their national team.
His club career hasn’t always been plain sailing, as Inter Milan initially left him on the bench despite shelling out 15m Euros to sign him from Dinamo Zagreb in January 2013, but he was handed Wesley Sneijder’s number ten shirt last season and stepped up to the mark emphatically.
He impressed as Croatia beat their fierce rivals, Serbia, in qualifying, and set up a goal with an eye-catching dribble during the play-off win over Iceland. His midfield partnership with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic could be a thrill to watch.