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For those of you who haven’t followed us, our Talent Radar feature has become hugely popular over the last few months as we continue our website’s strategy of focusing on the younger players. Keeping that in mind, we have published this mini-series of the 25 Young Players to Watch at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Before you read the article, there are a couple of points about the criteria which will help you understand our approach to this list, the players selected, the order of the ranking etc. Players eligible for this list are those that were 21 and below at the start of the 2013-14 season (considered to be August 1st for convenience). We have taken into consideration their ability, but above all, we have considered what impact they can have on their respective side and the tournament as a whole paying attention to potential playing time as well.
15) SEAD KOLASINAC
Bosnia | Left-Back | 20
How did he do? As Schalke continue to cement their place as a Champions League regular, Sead Kolasinac has slowly developed into a strong full-back while gaining experience at the top. After injury kept him out at the start, Kolasinac came into the first-team and hasn’t since looked back, starting every Bundesliga game that he was available for while also playing in the Champions League. Defensively solid, Kolasinac is a real threat going forward as well. With a good crossing ability and an ability to work the channels.
What can we expect from him? Kolasinac, though only 20, will be the first-choice left-back for the debuting Bosnian side. Though the inexperience at a competitive tournament may be a factor for Bosnia, they can certainly spring a surprise or two. As mentioned, Kolasinac can keep the oppositions wide men quiet, but watch out for his forward runs. There will be lots of crosses and runs down the channel to set-up the likes of Eden Dzeko. One such assist is sure to come off, that’s a prediction we’re making.
14) KEVIN DE BRUYNE
Belgium | Winger | 22
How did he do? De Bruyne started the season at Chelsea and many expected him to be an integral member of the first team. He even began the season brightly, getting an assist on the very first day. However, a lack of opportunities meant that he was sold to Wolfsburg in January. The younster has an excellent reputation in Germany, and his performances at Wolfsburg made the reason very clear. 3 goals and 6 assists in 16 appearances are a very positive return. De Bruyne will be looking for more of the same next season.
Read a detailed scout report about De Bruyne
What can we expect from him? De Bruyne is an important cog of a Belgium team that is expected to give a good account of itself at the upcoming tournament. The winger forms a part of the attacking line up that Wilmots puts out, and with all the focus on Hazard, De Bruyne can expect to find space and time to operate and make an impact. We can expect De Bruyne to be a starter for Belgium, and a lot of their results depend on the performances of this versatile winger.
13) RAPHAEL VARANE
France | Centre Back | 21
How did he do? Varane first burst onto the scene in the 2012-13 season. Given his opportunity by Jose Mourinho, the defender cemented his spot in the first team with some terrific performances. The youngster had a season that was interrupted by injuries on 2013-14, and as a result he lost his starting spot to Pepe, but this shouldn’t be a cause of dissatisfaction for Varane, because he surely is the future of Real Madrid and France. With his talent, one might expect to see him a little higher up the list, but an underwhelming season at club level sees him at 13.
Read a detailed scout report about Raphael Varane
Varane was ranked #2 in the list of defenders in our 100 Best Young Players Watch out for in 2014 feature
What can we expect from him? We expect Varane to be a starter for France, despite competition from the likes of Eliaquim Mangala. Varane, along with Koscielny, will look to form a solid partnership at the back and propel Les Bleus to success at this year’s World Cup. This defender is a tough tackler, and his ball playing ability along with his athleticism make him a difficult player to beat. If Varane, under the guidance of the excellent Didier Deschamps, can get over his tendency to dive into unnecessary tackles, he can be a scary proposition for opposition attackers. We expect Varane to be a key cog of this French wheel that seems to have an easy run to the quarter finals.
12) MATEO KOVACIC
Croatia | Central/Attacking midfielder | 20
How did he do? In an improving Inter side under Walter Mazzarri, Mateo Kovacic became a regular, alternating between the central and attacking midfield position (as he will for Croatia). Though decent from a deeper role, Kovacic’s best football comes out from an attacking area. Smart through balls were a regular feature, with his influence on games growing. While one can clearly tell there is a lot more to come from the 20-yr-old.
Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Mateo Kovacic
Mateo Kovacic also featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2014, coming in at #19 in our list of midfielders.
What can we expect from him? Coach Niko Kovac will have a decision to make, but playing Kovacic in the attacking midfielders’ role seems to be the best option for the national team. With Rakitic & Modric behind, Kovacic will look to maximise any space offered in between the lines, looking to combine with Mario Mandzukic. Croatia should see themselves through, and this youngster will clearly have a telling influence on the game. The only reason he isn’t higher up is because he remains a fairly raw player.
11) XHERDAN SHAQIRI
Switzerland | Winger | 22
How did he do? After a bright start to his Bayern career in 2012-13, Shaqiri had to endure a frustrating season in 2013-14. Due to the presence of players like Ribery, Robben, Gotze, and Thiago, Shaqiri found that playing time was minimised. But Shaqiri’s importance to the national team was never in question, his lack of playing time is a testament to Bayern’s prowess and not his own inferiority. Even with the lack of game time, he managed to be involved in 8 of Bayern’s goals in the 17 league games that he played, so a goal or an assist every other game.
What can we expect from him? Shaqiri will play a role in Hitzfeld’s side that attempts to give him a maximum influence on the game. Coming in at the right of the midfield, Shaqiri will be looking to get narrow as often as possible, arguably playing an attacking midfielders’ role as opposed to a winger. He will look to feed frontman and fellow Talent Radar feature, Josip Drmic, with through balls while also looking to get a shot off himself.