The World Cup is the pinnacle of the beautiful game as it brings together the finest players on the planet for a month-long feast of football. Attention and media hype will without a doubt focus on the superstars which the public want to see represent their country; Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo and Ribery et al will be the lead actors in this show.
However, there are also a massive number of players which will use the platform of a World Cup in Brazil being beamed round the world to prove their credentials and show what they can do. There are always a few players in each international tournament who capture the eye and draw the attention of clubs and the public in general.
Here are a few relatively unknown talents who could shine in Brazil:
Mateo Kovacic – Croatia
Kovacic is a 19-year-old holding midfield player currently plying his trade in Serie A for Inter Milan. He has been in Italy for little over a year since completing his move from Dinamo Zagreb for £9.6 million last January. The young Croatian arrived in Milan to a huge fanfare and expectancy, which is to be expected for someone who costs that much as a then 18-year-old. However, since signing he has struggled to cement a place in Walter Mazzarri’s first team. He has only played 988 minutes of league football this season.
This summer could be perfect for Kovacic to step up and assert himself in this Croatia side as he could bring much needed balance as he is a naturally defensive player. Croatia are crying out for this type of player with discipline to allow the supremely talented Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to move further forward. Hopefully Kovacic is given a chance to impress.
Miralem Pjanic – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Pjanic is without doubt one of the most talented and under-rated midfielders in European football. The 23-year-old is one of the stars of Rudi Garcia’s Roma team that started the season spectacularly and is challenging for the title in Italy. Pjanic is slight and skinny and his main skills lie in dribbling and unlocking a tight defence with a key pass, much like Juan Mata in many ways. He was an €11 million signing for Roma in 2011, a low price for someone with such obvious talent.
He is a key-player for Bosnia & Herzegovina and so along with other senior internationals like Dzeko and Begovic will be expected to do his country proud in their first ever World Cup finals.
Eder Alvarez Balanta – Colombia
Eder Alvarez Balanta is, simply put, one of the most highly rated and promising centre-backs in world football. The 20-year-old has only made 24 appearances for his club as he has broken into the first team at River Plate in Argentina. He has already been called up into the senior international squad by manager Jose Pekerman as he has impressed so much in the league, with a Copa Sudamerica man of the match performance against San Lorenzo standing out from other performances. He has made such an impression amongst the game’s elite that Inter Milan reportedly lodged a bid for the player after just five appearances, which was rejected.
Alvarez will have to fight to get into the starting eleven in the group stages and prove to the manager that he is a better option to the more senior pairing of Zapata and Perea.
In July 2013 the player signed a new contract with River Plate with a $30 million release clause which is often mentioned as he has been linked with a move to Barcelona. “Balanta is not like Mascherano nor like Pique; he is a different sort of player with more presence, he is a strong defender, is good on the ball and knows how to play going forward” said River Plate vice president Omar Solassi after reports on the potential move to the Catalan giants. He's definitely someone who could have a huge future in the game, with or without a decent World Cup showing.
Mattia De Sciglio – Italy
De Sciglio is the best defensive player to come out of AC Milan’s academy since the early 1990’s. He has been at the club since he was ten and is now in the first team. The 21-year-old Italian plays right-back but also has the versatility to play on the left when called upon. His career is progressing well for his age with him becoming a mainstay for AC Milan this campaign.
Mattia stands to benefit massively from the Italy manager Cesare Prandelli’s switch from 3-5-2 to a more common 4-3-3 as it effectively creates a spot for him. I expect him to be the starting right-back for the Azzuri this summer as his competition for the position is Christian Maggio who is a bit too attacking for a full-back in a flat back four defence and is getting on a bit. Even at such a young age, De Sciglio has already proven he can cope with senior football and the pressures it brings.