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Five Players To Watch At The World Cup

ronaldomessiiniesta

With just two weeks to go now until the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, it feels like time to start examining the participants in greater detail. There is hardly any point in telling you to look out for the likes of Xavi, Lionel Messi, Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo, so instead we’re going to take a look at some of the slightly lesser hyped individuals, whose performances could be the difference between their countries falling flat in the group stage or making a surprising run to the latter stages of the competition. A lot of countries at this year’s World Cup will fancy their chances of going all the way, and a lot of unheralded players are about to become a lot better known. With that in mind, here are five players we have picked out to watch.

 

Angel Di Maria (Argentina)

Angel Di Maria was a key part of the Real Madrid team that went on to claim the Champions League title this season, and not just in the final, where he was named UEFA’s man of the match. His game has been transformed this season, following the arrival of Gareth Bale to play where Di Maria had previously. The Argentinian is now more commonly found in the middle of the park, where his dribbling and passing abilities have seen him become a pivotal part of the Real team. While he could not be considered a strong tackler, his high work-rate compensates for the attacking bodies who stay forward, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale to be devastating counter-attackers when Madrid regain possession from the opposition.

His assists total of almost one every other game is also very impressive, totalling 22 in all competitions this season. And he is still versatile enough that he can play on either flank too, as he did during the final against Atletico Madrid, where he was very dangerous carrying the ball at speed, flying past defenders as he went. Argentina have a huge selection of forward players to choose from, so striking the right balance in formation will be very important. The inclusion of Di Maria in the line-up makes it easier to get that balance right.

Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)

Another player who had success in European football this season, Rakitic was a key component of the Sevilla team who won the Europa League.  The creative midfield player has a great range of passing, both short and long, while he also has a keen eye for a goal. He finished the season with 12 goals and 10 assists for Sevilla as they finished fifth in La Liga. Perhaps naturally someone who would play off the striker, Rakitic has had to move back to a deeper-lying role for his country, with Luka Modric playing further forward for Croatia. Croatia are very lucky to be able to field two quality playmakers like that in their team, and their ability to retain possession and create chances for the forward players will be a huge asset to them.  Neither player is going to win too many tackles for their side, so more defensive players will have to be lined up alongside them, but Croatia are going to be dangerous in possession at the World Cup. The hosts Brazil play them in the tournament opener, and will have to be very careful not to get ambushed.

rakitic

Jordy Clasie (Netherlands)

Clasie has been linked with a summer transfer to Manchester United when Louis Van Gaal takes over, so their fans should pay attention to the combative midfielder’s performances this summer. Van Gaal is the current boss of the Dutch international team, and seems certain to install Clasie in the heart of his midfield for the World Cup, particularly given that Kevin Strootman and Rafael Van Der Vaart will miss the tournament through injury. Clasie is a tough tackling deep-lying midfield player, but one who is capable of making just about any pass. He works hard around the field, but is more than capable of going forward and having a shot from distance. His positional awareness is impressive, as he picks the ball up from interceptions as often as winning it in the tackle. The Netherlands have often struggled at major tournaments because of a willingness to select too many attack minded players, leaving huge gaps in the middle of the field. The selection of Clasie, along with the probable formation change to a 5-3-2, should mean that won’t be a problem for Van Gaal’s side, and Holland will be a threat to any team they come across in Brazil.

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

If Belgium are to fulfil their promise and make a big impact in Brazil, then Romelu Lukaku will simply have to have a good tournament. After the injury to Christian Benteke, Lukaku is the only central striker of note in Belgium’s squad. He is fortunate enough to be playing ahead of the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin De Bruyne, so defenders attentions will not be placed entirely on him. Lukaku can play as a target man, holding up the ball for his teammates to collect, but he often does his best work by pulling out to the right flank. Lukaku is a very adept dribbler, so when he isolates a defending full-back against him he can wreak havoc. He has had a stellar year for Everton when fit, finishing the season with 15 goals and 6 assists in 29 starts, and was a major part in their qualifying for the Europa League next season. His big job with Belgium will surely be to put the ball in the back of the net, as the creative players behind him should give him enough chances. How many he takes will go a long way to determining where Belgium finish in the competition.

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

You may have heard of Rodriguez, as he was the latest in a long line of Porto players to be sold on for a huge transfer fee, as he moved to Monaco last summer. The young playmaker helped to return the big spending club to the Champions League for next season, and contributed 9 goals and 12 assists to the cause himself. He generally plays in a very advanced midfield role, sitting just behind the striker and is capabale of slicing open a defence any time he is given the ball. He is only 22, but already has 21 caps for Colombia, who will be looking for him to feed their bevy of talented strikers, including Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez, early and often. It will be very tough for defences to nullify Rodriguez considering the other attacking talent Colombia can field together, so Rodriguez should be able to find space often enough to do serious damage. He can just as easily score himself from a long-range strike or free-kick as slide in some of his teammates, so make sure to keep an eye out for him.

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

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