America’s 19-year-old Julian Green replaced 32-year-old Landon Donovan

By Mary Cunningham

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup starting tomorrow in Brazil, here are the youngsters you may not know about

Mario Götze (22), Germany: The Bayern Munich forward has been on the big stage for the last four years. He was a member of two Bundesliga title wins with Borussia Dortmund, then made the switch to rival Bayern Munich after the 2013 Champions League Final, contested between the teams. With Marco Reus out of the tournament, it will be Götze who will shine for the Germans deep into the knockout rounds. If he has a memorable run of form, it will most likely mean Germany will be into the semifinals, or beyond.

Paul Pogba (21), France: The center midfield maestro for Les Bleus, as well as Juventus (and hopefully soon Manchester United, again), Pogba is already one of the best players in the world. Not many people are talking about France in the build-up to the cup, but it is a legitimate dark horse candidate to win the whole thing. The French travel to Brazil off an 8-0 destruction of Jamaica in their last tune-up match, and while other teams have been misfiring, Les Bleus have been dominant. Pogba will be the engine for the squad, and as he goes, so go the French. He has the ability to score some wonder goals, and this could well and truly be his coming out party on the grandest of stages. I will say this again, watch out for his team. France is a dangerous team, and is currently on a string of making the final in alternating cups (winning on home soil in 1998, losing the final in 2006).

Romalu Lukaku (21), Belgium: The main striker for Belgium, if he gets hot at this tournament, the Red Devils can hoist the gold trophy on July 13th. He recently scored a hattrick in a friendly match, and is coming off a monster year on loan with Everton from Chelsea. Belgium has gone from dark horse to fifth favorite to win the World Cup in a span of a year, and Lukaku is one of the reasons for that. He is strong, fast, and a lethal finisher. A good bet to win the golden boot as top scorer.

Thiabaut Courtois (22), Belgium: Another of the talented young Belgians, Courtois, on loan to Atletico Madrid for the past two years from Chelsea, is already the best goalkeeper in the world. Led Atletico Madrid to a La Liga title, and to the Champions League Final. He is big, strong, technically gifted, and is the last line of a strong defense. If he plays to his best, Belgium can ride his heroics all the way to the title. Part of a young core of players who will see Belgium as a top side in the world for the foreseeable future, many think this team is too inexperienced to win the title. Not me. Courtois may be the No. 1 reason this team will go deep into July.

Neymar (22), Brazil: The face of the tournament. As Meymar goes, so goes Brazil. The Barcelona man has a lot of home country pressure on his shoulders. Was at his best in the 2013 Confederations Cup, as Brazil beat Spain in the final to start the hype machine into full gear. Brazil needs him to score goals, and he should lead the Selecao deep into the knockout rounds.

Son Heung-Min (21), Korea Republic: The pacy forward from Bayer Leverkusen, Heung-Min leads a Korea Republic team that has flown under the radar. It finished third in the London Olympics, and he is just one of many youngsters on the roster. Can change a game with his speed and athleticism, and has a good shot to lead his squad out of the group stage and into the round-of-16.

Koke (22), Spain: Koke comes off a fantastic club season for Atletico Madrid. Along with Courtois, he led them to a La Liga title, and was within a minute of winning the Champions League title. The midfielder will try to help Spain win back-to-back World Cup titles, and he will be one of the engines for the Spanish attack that looks more lethal now with Diego Costa up top. Spain, somehow only the fourth favorite to win the title, has a big shot to win with its depth, and Koke will be a part of a very strong midfield.

Ross Barkley (20), England: Barkley is ready to announce himself as the best English midfielder, and one of the best in the world, if only England coach Roy Hodgson lets him play. He has attacking flair, and pace, but there is a question about whether or not Hodgson will start Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the middle of the park. If he was smart, he would put Barkley in the lineup, and leave him there for the 12 years. He is going to be a superstar.

Raheem Sterlling (19), England: As long as he stops making leg-breaking tackles, Sterling has a chance to play along side Barkley and freshen up the England attack. He plays on the wing, is very fast, and can change a game off the bench in the second half. Hodgson will most likely use him as a impact substitution, but he may get a chance to start as well.

Julian Green (19), USA: Jürgen Klinsmann absolutely made the right call leaving Landon Donovan off the squad, and now it is time to unleash his replacement. The forward, who plays for Bayern Munich, will get his chance to shine for the Americans. Fast and tricky, the dimuntive player has a chance to come in the match as a substitute, and if Klinsmann really wants to mix things up, he could partner Green with Clint Dempsey.

James Rodriguez (22), Colombia: The attacking midfielder/winger/forward will be the main man for Colombia now that Falcao is out of the squad. The AS Monaco man has a chance to step up and help his team in what looks to be a very winnable group. If he is scoring goals, or providing them to others, the South American team has a chance to advance well into the knockout rounds.


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