The World Cup is a magical period of the summer where the entire world unites in fascination of ‘the beautiful game’. All international political differences and foreign policies are put aside as eleven men from each of the best footballing nations across the globe kick a ball around a field in Brazil. However, the World Cup is much more than this. The emotions of whole nations are balanced on moments such as a rush of blood from one man, and a split-second moment of inspiration can result in national joy and write everlasting history. Here I have compiled a team of eleven warriors who I believe will shine in the World Cup and increase their respective reputations further.
Vincent Enyeama - Nigeria
The 31-year-old Lille stopper first entered the World Cup fray as a young reserve at the tender age of just nineteen at the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan. Since then, Enyeama has impressed in each major tournament, with his performance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa persuading top French club LOSC Lille to sign the ‘keeper. This year, despite the fact that Nigeria have Lionel Messi’s Argentina in their Group F, only Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran complete the group so the Africans possess a decent chance of qualifying into the knockout stages of the competition. After keeping 20 clean sheets in 37 appearances for his club, making 3.32 saves per goal conceded, could Enyeama finally establish himself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers this summer?
Serge Aurier – Ivory Coast
In the midst of a transfer battle for the 21-year-old between Arsenal and Liverpool, Aurier, Europe’s most productive defender after scoring six goals and making six assists during the course of last season for French club Toulouse, is keen to impress for his country on the biggest stage of all this summer. The Ivorian youngster is a willing defender, making an average of 2.8 tackles per match last season. In a rather average Group C also containing Colombia, Greece and Japan, could Aurier shine?
Nicolas N’Koulou - Cameroon
After an impressive season for club Marseille, the 24-year-old is primed to impress the world by holding back star strikers in his group from the likes of Brazil. Making an average of 10 defensive actions per game last season, the Cameroonian has been awarded ‘man of the match’ an outstanding 7 times in his 37 appearances this season. Also with an average pass accuracy of 88% and an average pass length of 23 metres, N’Koulou is surely one to watch this summer.
Diego Godín – Uruguay
After an extremely successful season beating Barcelona and Real Madrid to the La Liga title and reaching the final of the Champions League, Atletico Madrid’s defensive rock Diego Godín heads to Brazil filled with confidence. The 28-year-old was statistician Squawka’s highest rated player from the Spanish champions’ entire squad, nearly doubling the performance score of super striker Diego Costa. With 10 average defensive actions per game and only 3 defensive errors all season, Godín was named ‘man of the match’ six times throughout the season. The world cup couldn’t come at a better time for the centre-back.
Raphael Varane - France
After a solid showing in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, Didier Deschamps should give the 21-year-old upcoming defender his chance on the world stage. Making an average of 6 defensive actions per game with only one defensive error all season in his 14 appearances, the Real Madrid defender is surely an asset for the French team in their relatively easy Group E also containing Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. Also with a fantastic average pass accuracy of 89%, Varane could be key in a surprise challenge from France towards the world cup final.
James Rodriguez – Colombia
Perhaps more of an established star than the others selected in this article after signing for Monaco for 45 million Euros last year, the fecund 22-year-old Monaco winger is considered one of the best young players in the world. After creating 85 chances in 34 games last season for his club, finally his chance has come to show his worth on the biggest stage of all. With an 82% pass accuracy complementing his goalscoring ability, (Rodriguez netted 9 times last term) the Colombian should be more than capable of terrorizing the defences of the likes of Greece and Japan in Group C. Look out for this one.
Ivan Rakitic – Croatia
With a transfer to Spanish giants Barcelona seemingly imminent, Rakitic arrives in Brazil after scoring 12 goals and making 10 assists for his club last season. This makes the Sevilla midfielder one of an elite group of 15 players across Europe’s top five divisions to hit double figures for both goals and assists. Rakitic was effulgent in the Europa League last season, also creating an exquisite 78 chances in 34 appearances for his club while also making 62 interceptions, proving the 26-year-old is an all-round adroit midfielder. With a pass accuracy of 80% and an average pass length of an impressive 21 metres, the world cup arrives right on time for the creative Croat.
Raheem Sterling – England
After a season of rapid establishment from the 19-year-old with high-flying Liverpool, Sterling is another who is glad of the timing of his trip to Brazil. Creating 51 chances in 33 appearances with an 82% pass accuracy, the youngster has quickly adapted to finding his way through the best and older, physical defenders of the Premier League. Managed to perfection by Brendan Rodgers, last season was the perfect preparation for Sterling’s World Cup campaign. Sterling’s bright spark combined with other English youngster Ross Barkley’s serpentine runs should provide Roy Hodgson’s England side with a luscious breath of fresh air this summer.
Antoine Griezmann – France
France was devastated to discover the loss of star player Franck Ribery for their 2014 World Cup campaign. However, every cloud has a silver lining - 23-year-old Griezmann has scored 16 goals in 35 appearances this season for Real Sociedad, the highest scoring player in the league excluding players of the top three league clubs of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Also creating 34 chances in the process with a 77% pass accuracy, the youngster could potentially be the young player of the tournament if France can manage to impress in their aforementioned relatively easy Group E.
Loic Remy – France
Now at 27 years old, the speedy striker still always seems to be subject to media speculation. After an impressive season on loan at Newcastle as arguably their star player netting 14 times in 26 appearances, Remy himself told L’Equipe: ‘The World Cup is a great opportunity for me. I could be a good surprise’. The French forward is a creative asset for ‘Les Bleus’ also, creating 30 chances in his 26 appearances with a passing accuracy of 81%. As aforementioned, France are in a relatively weak group so Remy has a great chance to impress if he gets his chance ahead of Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud. He’s said it himself, but can he deliver?
Ciro Immobile – Italy
The 24-year-old Torino striker is in the form of his life heading into this year’s World Cup. Having scored a hat-trick in Italy’s last friendly with Fluminese and also assisting his nation’s other two goals, manager Cesar Prandelli must feel obliged to select the forward in his starting line-up against England. After a productive season at his club scoring 22 goals in 33 games while creating 34 chances for his team, this man is surely trustworthy to do the Italian job.
Embrace partaking in the global unity brought by the world cup this summer, and impress your mates down at the pub by bringing up a few of these names and predicting a superb World Cup for them all.
By Tom Clarke - @