As the FIFA World Cup reaches the eve of Group D play, it is time to look inward at the pieces that make up these world-class teams: the players. All four teams have their experienced veterans and well-known stars, but who are the future stars of English, Italian, Uruguayan and Costa Rican soccer? Here is a look at some of the best young players in Group D for the 2014 World Cup.
Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard are household names in England, but only the most hardcore fans know much about Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling, or Ross Barkley. A left defensive back with only two international caps, Shaw is not likely to see the field this time around unless there is an injury, but the 18 year old has 35 Premier League appearances with Southampton FC and is on the verge of signing a deal with Manchester United that will make him the highest paid teenager in football. Liverpool midfielder Sterling has been praised for his quick aggressive play, but that comes with a cost, judging by his rash action in the Ecuador friendly that earned him a red card. Barkley, who caused a stir in Brazil by nearly missing the team bus and holding up traffic, has been compared to Rooney and may actually see playing time in the 2014 tournament if Jack Wilshere’s ankle injury prevents him from subbing for Rooney.
Uruguay has a renowned (and hated) player in Luis Suárez, whose biting of Branislav Ivanovic during a Liverpool game with Chelsea made headlines. Abel Hernández has not bitten anyone, but the Palermo striker is making waves in Serie B. At just 23 years old, Hernández has 14 goals in 28 starts and put four balls in the net in the Confederations Cup. Suárez’s injury has provided an opportunity for RCD Espanyol striker Christian Stuani to get into the first game. The 27-year-old dug his way out of bench obscurity with a little luck and a little outperforming of fellow newcomer Gastón Ramírez during training sessions, and will join the rest of the starting 11 as a midfielder in Suárez’s absence.
Italy’s most talked-about player this tournament has been Andrea Pirlo, the 35-year-old midfielder with 13 goals on 109 international caps, but 24 year old Ciro Immobile has had his share of attention thanks to glowing praise from Salvatore Schillaci, as well as his incredible play in the Fluminense friendly, which included three goals. Italy is hoping to win Group D for this World Cup by overcoming England with young players like Immobile and Mario Balotelli, the 23-year-old Milan forward known as “Mad Mario”—though he’d prefer to be known as the “best striker in the world.”
Bryan Ruiz is touted as the most creative player for Costa Rica and rounds out an older, experienced front third for the team. The middle, though, has a good mix of fresh energy and proven skill, with 23-year-old Diego Calvo alongside veteran Christian Bolaños. Calvo, who plays for Vålerenga in Norway, has a single international goal in 10 starts. In the back end of the field, 25-year-old Oscar Duarte will control the middle with tried and tested fellow center back Michael Umana. Duarte has 35 appearances with Belgian club Brugge.
Some of these players will remain bench jockeys until 2018, barring injury or fatigue, but others could have their chance to shine in 2014. The young players of Group D are ready to show football fans what they can expect from future World Cup tournaments, when their elders have moved on and they are considered the best on their teams.
Commentary by Christina Jones