Every time the World Cup rolls around, we get to enjoy the burgeoning form of at least a handful of youngsters. Perhaps that's minor consolation for the inevitable underperformance of players who are already supposed to impress us, but it's exciting nonetheless to discover new faces. The rest of the world will learn a bit more about the U.S.' Michael Bradley (a lot more than just the coach's son), Jozy Altidore (already looks at home amongst the established stars) and Stuart Holden (whose recent showings hint at good things to come). In no particular order, here are some of the names from around the world that you may well find yourself hearing a lot over the next few weeks:
He's more familiar than some others, having been linked with a move away from Benfica to Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and just about any other European club with money to spend, but still a relative rookie on the international stage. He's a winger with the pace and skill to frighten fullbacks. Though he's not known for scoring many goals, he's come up with some pretty important ones -- Argentina's Olympic gold-winner in 2008, for starters -- and scored a ludicrously pretty goal with the outside of his left boot in Argentina's recent 5-0 drubbing of Canada.
Krhin will probably start games on the bench, but should be eye-catching when he comes off it: at 6'3" and with the stamina of a pit pony, the Internazionale academy product makes his mark on midfield no matter where he plays. His former manager, Jose Mourinho, whose opinion is worth a cent or two, says Krhin has "everything a young player should have." At the last check, that included strength and dynamism, confidence in possession and technique to match, decent passing ability and a willingness to get from box-to-box stopping or creating as required.
Kjaer's participation will depend on his recovery from a blow to the knee during the recent friendly versus Senegal, but his inclusion in the squad (named after that game) tells you how highly Morten Olsen rates him. The Palermo defender was named Danish Talent of 2009 after an international debut in which he marked Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of the game to help the Danes to a 1-0 win over Sweden. His resistance in the next match, a 1-1 draw with Portugal, cemented his place in the starting lineup. On the ground or in the air, thou shalt not pass is Kjaer's motto -- and he scores goals, too.
Yet another "new Zinedine Zidane" for Les Bleus, as well as a new Kaka, and possibly Arsene Wenger's new Cesc Fabregas, if the old one leaves Arsenal for Barcelona this summer. These are big boots to fill and there's a little disgruntlement in France that Gourcuff, who plies his trade at Bordeaux, hasn't yet stepped comfortably into them. In fairness, no French player looked especially good in qualifying, and as part of the new-look 4-3-3 lineup against Costa Rica, Gourcuff peppered Keylor Navas' goal with long-range efforts. He looks particularly good over a dead ball -- setting up William Gallas' equalizer against Tunisia on May 30.
Has already won league titles with Colo Colo and River Plate, and is now impressing back at Udinese. Sanchez fits so nicely into the definition of tricky winger that it was no surprise to see him linked to the newly-Ronaldo-less Manchester United last summer. His quick-footed, forward-looking play is also a perfect fit for Marcelo Bielsa's Chile side, which adheres to the simple policy of attack, attack, attack. He has the skills and healthy contempt for opposition reputations to make any defender wish they'd picked up a knock in the warm-up.
Nkoulou plays in midfield for Monaco but has made a central defensive berth alongside Cameroon great Rigobert Song his own since joining the squad in 2008, and he looks to be Song's natural heir. A feisty tackler who won't pull out of a challenge, Nkoulou is a reliable decision-maker and at 6-1, he doesn't often get caught out in the air, either. Although the Indomitable Lions recently went down 3-1 to Portugal, Nkoulou looked comfortable keeping Cristiano Ronaldo at bay, forcing the Portuguese to look elsewhere for goals.
The word from Korea is that the current crop is the best to have come out of the republic, and the midfield, in which Sung-Yong stars, is at the heart of that. He hasn't had too much time on the pitch in the Scottish Premier League since a Christmas switch to Celtic, but he was Asia's Young Player of the Year in 2009, largely off the back of his partnership with Lee Chung-Yong (now at Bolton) at FC Seoul. Sung-Yong models himself on England's Steven Gerrard, working hard to cover every blade of grass. His distribution is superb.
Along with striker Luis Alberto Sanchez, Lodeiro is one of the bright young things that has some pundits tipping Uruguay to beat France out of Group A. Dubbed "the new Messi" based on his starring role at Nacional and the U-20 Uruguayan side (and the fact that he's not that tall either), Lodeiro buzzes around the field causing trouble for defenders in much the same way. He is more likely to release the ball to someone else than Messi, but he has a sweet left foot when he does fancy a shot.
The young striker didn't make his international debut at this level until November, hasn't played club football since signing for AC Milan in January, and will almost certainly be on the bench. Nonetheless, he could make an impression as a second-half substitute -- perhaps something bigger if Milovan Rajevic decides to shake things up. He's fast, knows how to carry the ball and though he'll always look for space to shoot, he can turn creator too. With Adiyiah having almost single-handedly won Ghana the U-20 World Cup (he won the Golden Ball and the Golden Shoe), let's hope we get to see another of his delightfully choreographed goal celebrations.
Spanish players catching the eye of Rafael Benitez is neither rare nor always a recommendation of quality, but Navas is as exciting a prospect as the ex-Liverpool manager thinks he is, attracting admiring glances from Real Madrid and Barcelona, too. It's likely he'll be behind David Silva in Vicente Del Bosque's pecking order, but he's a quality impact substitute, and if Spain goes as far as many predict, it'll need fresh legs available. Navas strikes the ball beautifully and his willingness to get forward down the flanks sees him provide plenty of opportunities for teammates.