‘The African Messi’ & other potential World Cup stars




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By Chris Bevan

There are plenty of potential stars of 2014 World Cup – and many new faces too. squads are unlikely to provide many surprises; days when the tournament would introduce unknown to a global audience are, largely, gone. But crop of young talent heading for this month will be hoping to make a big impression at what, for some, will be their first finals. will shine biggest stage of all? BBC Sport’ TV and radio World Cup commentators pick the from outside the Premier League aged 23 and under are worth watching out for. Some are familiar, less so.

James Rodriguez, Colombia Age: 22Club: Monaco : MidfielderNickname: ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ (The New Kid)

Steve Wilson: James Rodriguez is an outstanding young playmaker and is nicknamed ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ (the new kid) Colombia tribute to Carlos Valderrama, was known as ‘El Pibe’ (the kid). will be a very big stage for him and maybe by the next World Cup he will be more mature, but he could shine this summer.

Simon Brotherton: James is Colombia’ --chief and has the ability to sprinkle stardust any match. From what I saw of him, he was arguably even better and more influential for Monaco once his team-mate and compatriot Radamel Falcao was injured last . So, the fact that Falcao is out of the World Cup might not necessarily be bad news for Colombia.

Christian Atsu, Ghana Age: 22Club: Chelsea : Midfield/wingerNickname: ‘The African Messi’

Steve Bower: An attacking player nicknamed ‘The African Messi’, Christian Atsu got two goals qualifying for the World Cup and played a big part helping Ghana get back to the finals after they did so well four years ago Africa. Atsu has been playing in the Netherlands with Vitesse but he is actually Chelsea’ player. They signed him from Porto in 2013, beating a host of top clubs to get him. He was loaned to the Dutch side without playing a game for the Blues, but has been in outstanding form this and could make a big impact coming the bench in .

Raphael Varane, France Age: 21Club: Real Madrid : Centre-halfNickname: ‘Mr Clean’

Guy Mowbray: Most people will have already heard of Raphael Varane but, other than his appearance in the Champions League final, might not be able to pick out a performance by him. They will after this World Cup. His former manager at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho, has said he already rates Varane as the best central defender in the world. In what might be a defensively minded tournament, Varane could turn out to be a key player for France.

Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland Age: 22Club: Bayern Munich Position: MidfieldNickname: ‘Auberzwerg’ (Magic Dwarf) and ‘Kraftwurfel’ (Power Cube)

Ian Dennis: There is a danger when you’ve seen a player from a few years ago that you think he is older than he actually is. I first saw Shaqiri four years ago when he hit a spectacular goal against England in Basle in a European Championship qualifier as Switzerland lost 3-1. He impressed me again at Wembley in a 2-2 draw the following summer. It’s hard to believe he is only 22 but his pace and movement will cause problems. Shaqiri favours his left foot and he can be threat at set-pieces too.

Matthew Ryan, Australia Age: 21Club: Club BruggePosition: Goalkeeper

Guy Mowbray: I cannot see his progressing out of a group with Spain, the Netherlands and Chile, but it means Australia goalkeeper Matthew Ryan will be busy in Brazil and a few more people might know his name after this World Cup. He is already a very good goalkeeper and has been in excellent form playing in Belgium. I would not be surprised if we see him at a decent English club in the future.

Neymar, Brazil Age: 22Club: Barcelona Position: Striker Nickname: ‘Joia’

Steve Bower: Neymar has had an average and inconsistent at Barcelona but has scored more than 20 international goals since the last World Cup alone. I think you could almost break it down to saying that if Neymar has an outstanding World Cup, then Brazil have an outstanding chance of lifting the trophy. Watch Neymar score a cheeky penalty during a Brazil training session