Published On Tue Jun 08 2010
Ever since 17-year-old Pele was unveiled at the 1958 Mundial, the World Cup is a place that welcomes young stars.
Last World Cup, Lukas Podolski of Germany was named first winner of the tournament’s best young player award — even if it was Argentina’s Messi who shone brighter in more limited time. Here are 12 World Cup debutants to watch, our choices going in for this year’s all-kid XI, plus one off the bench:
HUGO LLORIS, FRANCE, 23 YEARS OLD
No matter what you feel about the French team’s chaotic ride here, Lloris earned his spot. He’s the first-choice ’keeper at perennial Ligue 1 powerhouse Lyon, and if France is going to do anything in South Africa, he’s going to play a large role and will have to be at his acrobatic best.
SIMON KJAER, DENMARK, 21
It’s just a matter of time before the imposing defender at Palermo ends up with one of Europe’s glamour clubs. For now, he joins Liverpool’s Daniel Agger in a rock-solid partnership in the centre of defence that’s the main reason the Danes got this far — and have the upset potential to go even further.
NICOLAS N’KOULOU, CAMEROON, 20
Central defender plays a more advanced midfield position at Monaco, but he’s big and tough enough at 6-foot-1 and has emerged quickly since first turning heads at the 2008 Olympic tournament.
GREGORY VAN DER WIEL, NETHERLANDS, 22
With five seasons already at Ajax Amsterdam (two of them as a starter), he’s another one likely ready to move on to more lucrative pastures. Marauding right back has taken over from Khalid Boulahrouz as the starter on Dutch side.
MAREK HAMSIK, SLOVAKIA, 22
He’s already played six years of Serie A football, and rumours about a top-drawer transfer are by now routine. Hamsik, the top scorer at Napoli this season, and Slovakia are in a light group here; as the team’s midfield engine he could well add substantially to the eight international goals he’s already scored.
ANGEL DI MARIA, ARGENTINA, 22
Benfica midfielder manages to avoid being lost in the shuffle on a Seleccione loaded with attack options. Elegant and lethal, he looks to have nailed down a starting spot.
PEDRO RODRIGUEZ, SPAIN, 22
The Euro champions’ depth is such that Rodriguez may be nothing more than a bit player at these finals. But he is by no means a forgotten man, having eclipsed Thierry Henry in Barcelona’s deep rotation.
NICOLAS LODEIRO, URUGUAY, 21
A teammate of Van Der Wiel at Ajax, he’s a playmaking midfielder known at home somewhat inevitably, given his small size and big skills, as the Messi of Uruguay. Made his full international debut as a starter in Uruguay’s playoff with Costa Rica last fall.
THOMAS MUELLER, GERMANY, 20
Along with Mesut Ozil, Mueller represents the next wave of German attackers and the two will get plenty of looks given the Mannschaft’s injuries and finishing woes. Scored 13 goals and set up 10 more at Bayern last season.
ANDRE AYEW, GHANA, 20
One of two sons of Ghana’s legendary Abedi (Pele) Ayew on the roster — his brother, 22-year-old Rahim Ayew, is a backup defender/midfielder — Ayew’s time has yet to come, but he should see some action bombing down the right side of midfield or up front.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ, CHILE, 21
Serie A-based Sanchez (at Udinese) is arguably the most exciting talent of this whole bunch of precocious pups. Not very big (only 5-foot-7) but with skills and a change of pace that can make defenders look silly.
JAVIER HERNANDEZ, MEXICO, 21
First off our bench, from a Mexico team that’s full of rough young diamonds from their 2005 under-17 world title team, Chicharito is Manchester United-bound after the tournament is over.