World Cup: Potential Breakout Stars
Angel Di Maria, 22
The relative newcomer on the international stage is considered one of the most exciting young wingers in the world. Though he's not known for scoring many goals, he's come up with some pretty important ones -- starting with Argentina's gold-medal-winner at the 2008 Olympics.
Rene Krhin, 20
Krhin will probably start games on the bench, but should be eye-catching when he comes off it: At 6-foot-3 and with great stamina, 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."
Simon Kjaer, 21
Kjaer's participation will depend on his recovery from a blow to the knee during a pre-tournament friendly against 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 beat Sweden 1-0. He can score goals, too.
Yoann Gourcuff, 23
Yet another "new Zinedine Zidane" for Les Bleus. These are big boots to fill and there's a little disgruntlement in France that the midfielder, who plies his trade at Bordeaux, hasn't yet stepped comfortably into them. In fairness, no French player looked especially good in qualifying.
Alexis Sanchez, 21
He's already won league titles with Chile's Colo Colo and Argentina's River Plate, and is now impressing with Udinese in Serie A. 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.
Nicolas Nkoulou, 20
Nkoulou plays in midfield for Ligue 1's 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.
Ki Sung-Yong, 21
The midfielder 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 on the strength of his partnership with Lee Chung-Yong (now at Bolton) at FC Seoul. Sung-Yong models himself after England's Steven Gerrard, working hard to cover every blade of grass. His distribution is superb.
Nicolas Lodeiro, 21
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.
Dominic Adiyiah, 21
The fast, creative 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 at the start of games in South Africa. Nonetheless, he could make an impression as a second-half substitute -- perhaps something bigger if coach Milovan Rajevic decides to shake things up. 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.
Jesus Navas, 24
It's likely Navas will be behind David Silva in coach 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.