Players to watch

The 'galaxy of stars' cliche is never more relevant than at the World Cup. Here Aljazeera casts an eye over some of the established stars and up-and-coming youngsters on show in Germany.

    FRANCE



    An established superstar and one
    in the making

    While Thierry Henry was one of the French strikers who failed to score at the last World Cup and thus returned home in shame in the four years since he has elevated himself to one of the dominant strikers in Europe.

    Henry’s goals at club level saw him take Arsenal to their first ever Champions League final. While he left Paris disappointed he’ll be looking to leave Germany a happier man.

    Another inclusion to watch is Olympique Marseille's Franck Ribery. While the Tournament will see the curtain come down on the career of Zinedine Zidane, the leading player in Ligue 1, who was dubbed "Scarface" during his time in Turkey, is already being hailed as the heir to the throne. Should the 23 year old shine at the World Cup then Manchester United will not be the only suitor for his services.

    GERMANY

    Michael Ballack is looking to turn
    the jeers into cheers

    German captain Michael Ballack was booed in his last match for German champions Bayern Munich prior to his mega-pound move to London club Chelsea. However, it is unlikely the jeers will return as club loyalties are put to one side and Ballack leads out the German side on home soil. Crowned German footballer of the year three times, the goalscoring midfielder is viewed as the only player of world class in the German squad and one of the best headers of the ball in the world. Should the home side want to prove their doubters wrong he will need to fire on all cylinders.

    SPAIN

    Villa (L) gave up a career as a
    miner for football

    Valencia striker David Villa is likely to share the burden of target man for the  Spaniards with Atletico Madrid talisman Fernando Torres. Possessed of a good touch and a keen eye for goal his exploits at Real Zaragoza attracted Valencia and he duly found the back of the net 24 times for in la Liga this season.

    Should he reproduce his club form, Spain may finally fulfill their potential on the world stage.

    Diminutive midfielder Cesc Fabregas is another player from Arsenal whose good form helped the club reach their first ever Champions League final.

    Fabregas has had to fill the
    boots of Patrick Viera

    He was thrown in at the deep end at the start of the season by being asked to replace midfield powerhouse and former club-captain Patrick Viera, but the 19 year-old has acquitted himself with aplomb. In March he became Spain’s youngest cap player in 70 years when making his debut against the Ivory Coast in March.

    Real Madrid are among a list of admirers that should lengthen considerably after the World Cup.

    TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

    The qualification of the Soca-Warriors is already one of the fairytale stories of the World Cup.

    Dwight Yorke is finally onto the

    game's biggest stage

    But should there be any hope of a fairytale ending then veteran Dwight Yorke will need to be in top form. The former Manchester United striker has reinvigorated his career at Sydney FC, leading the Australian club out at the World Club Championship in Japan as well as claiming the A-league’s inaugural title.

    Yorke plays in central midfield for his country and is the lifeblood of his side in every aspect as they attempt to live the dream.

    ARGENTINA

    Messi is the latest holder of the
    title "The New Maradona"

    Teenage midfielder Lionel Messi was not alive when Diego Maradona last lifted the World Cup for Argentina 20 years ago, but the teenager nicknamed "El Pulga" (The Flea) is the man tipped to help the South Americans end the drought.

    Messi moved from Argentina to Spain at the age of 13 to seek medical treatment for his dormant growth hormones. He also used the trip to have a trial with Barcelona who immediately signed him up. He made his debut in the Primera Liga when just 16 years old. And became  Barca's youngest league scorer when he netted the winner against Albacete at 17 years, 11 months and 7 days. A 150 million euro buy-out clause in his contract is testament to his value to Barca. Should he live up to the hype this summer it will look like a bargain.


    IVORY COAST

    Drogba has his critics but none
    are from the Ivory Coast

    Didier Drogba has his fair share of critics who question both his talent and his ethics. However there are no doubts over his value to the Elephants of the Ivory Coast where he is the focal point of attack.

    The former French league footballer of the year commanded a British record fee for a striker when he moved to Chelsea from Marseille and he will silence his detractors if he excels in Germany.

    ITALY

    Toni has found the net a massive
    31 times this season

    29-year old sharpshooter Luca Toni  was a latecomer to international football. After a largely unheralded career with some of Italy's smaller clubs he made his name with Palermo, plundering 30 goals in his first season as they captured the Serie B title.

    The promotion did little to halt his goal scoring as he added 20 goals to his career tally the following season. Sold for 10 million euros to Fiorentina, he has continued to pass milestones this season, banging in 31 goals, the most by any player in a season since 1958, and becoming the first player from the Tuscan club to score a hat-trick for Italy.

    SOUTH KOREA


    Park was one of Korea's stars
    as they reached the 2002 semis

    Park Ji-Sung was at the heart of South Korea’s surprising run to the semi-finals on home soil at the last Tournament. Since then he has become one of Korea's successful exports, carving out an impressive career in Europe. Park became a sporting legend in Korea with his winner against Portugal in the group phases that cemented their passage into the last 16.

    After three seasons with PSV Eindhoven he became the first Korean ever to sign for Manchester United. He has made the conversion to English football with relative ease and his energetic, all action approach is likely to be vital to his side chances of repeating their heroics of four years ago.

    BRAZIL

    Brazil's defence is seen as the
    weakest part of their team

    There is no question with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka et al that Brazil have the capability to score lots and lots of goals, but there is always a question of whether they can stop them. Benfica's Luisao could be charged with that task and the towering centre-back looks to be up to it.

    He was rock-solid for his club as they unexpectedly progressed to the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions League and he has become a regular for the national side. He is also fairly useful further up the field as he proved by scoring the 2004 Copa America final against arch-rivals Argentina.

    ENGLAND

    Walcott has seen more action for
    his country than his club

    It was like something out of a boy’s own manual when Theo Walcott was plucked from relative obscurity to secure the fourth striker's spot in the England squad ahead of the likes of Jermain Defoe. Most football fans in England would have at least heard of Walcott given his 12 million pound move to Arsenal from Southampton at the age of just 16. However few will have seen him seeing as he made only a handful of appearances for second division Southampton and has yet to make a senior appearance for Arsenal.

    In a managerial reign marked by conservatism, Sven Goran Eriksson has taken perhaps one of the greatest gambles in the history of the English national team by picking Walcott. With both Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen plagued by injury doubts, the Swede chose to name only Walcott and lanky target man Peter Crouch as back-up.

    Should the 17-year-old be called upon his selection could end Eriksson's tenure of England with a masterstroke or leave an indelible stain on his record.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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