The Top 10 Breakout Players to Watch in the World Cup


Due to injuries and exclusions, we've revised this list. Check out the new and improved list of The Top 10 Breakout Players to Watch in the World Cup.

Every four years the 32 best teams in the world compete for soccer glory at the World Cup. This June, the tournament takes place in Africa for the first time in its 70-year history. While soccer is a true team sport, individual players can make all the difference. Young soccer studs can make a name for themselves by elevating their teams past the group stage. Here are my top 10 young players who are poised to have a breakout World Cup this summer. Yes. Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo arenot on the list. They stepped onto the scene and made impacts in the 2006 World Cup. Watch and cheer for them before they get faux hawks and become underwear spokesmodels.
—John McCauley

10. Theo Walcott /20/England/Forward
A great finisher with amazing speed and skill. Walcott was a surprise selection for the England squad in 2006 at 16 years old, but he never played (not one minute). Look for him to see action this summer as a sub when teams are tired and vulnerable to his pace.
Watch: vs. United States, June 12 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Algeria, June 18 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Slovenia, June 23 @ 10:00 AM ET

9. Nicklas Bendtner /22/Denmark/Forward
His aerial abilities, physical presence (6'3), versatility on the field, and the ability to hold off opponents make him a key player in Denmark’s attack. He will need to find the net if Denmark plans to get out of a strong group (Netherlands, Cameroon and Japan).
Watch: vs. Netherlands, June 14 @ 7:30 AM ET; vs. Cameroon, June 19 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Japan, June 24 @ 2:30 PM ET

8. Pato /20/Brazil/Forward
A talented finisher who has a nose for the goal. He possesses great field vision and technique, but might have a hard time getting minutes on a Brazilian squad loaded with scoring talent (Ronaldinho, Robinho, Luis Fabiano, and Adriano). Look for him to come on late in games.
Watch: vs. North Korea, June 15 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Ivory Coast, June 20 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Portugal, June 25 @ 10:00 AM ET

7. Alexis Sánchez /21/Chile/Forward
What he lacks in size, he makes up for with his strength and speed. Known as “El Niño Maravilla” (the Wonder Boy), Sánchez looks to lead Chile in their return to soccer’s main stage after a 12-year hiatus. Look for him to play wide and to use his skill to beat defenders in the open field.
Watch: vs. Honduras, June 16 @ 7:30 AM ET; vs. Switzerland, June 21 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. Spain, June 25 @ 2:30 PM ET

6. Giovani dos Santos /20/Mexico/Forward
After an impressive 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup—where he received the MVP award for the best player in the tournament—Giovani and Mexico have momentum going into the World Cup. His speed, shot accuracy and ball control will help their attack.
Watch: vs. South Africa, June 11 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. France, June 17 @ 7:30 AM ET; vs. Uruguay, June 22 @ 10:00 AM ET

5. Karim Benzema /22/France/Forward
Karim’s youth and talent have made him one of Europe’s best prospects and he has already proven himself in the French Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga with Real Madrid. A good player on either side of the field, he'll use speed and strength to penetrate opposing defenses. He will most likely be used as a sub behind Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka, but will see significant time in matches if France gets ahead early.
Watch: vs. Uruguay, June 11 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Mexico, June 17 @ 7:30 AM ET; vs. South Africa, June 22 @ 10:00 AM ET

4. Gonzalo Higuaín /22/Argentina/Forward
A fast striker known for his powerful shot, dribbling ability, and knack for being in the right place at the right time. With 11 goals in 14 matches for Real Madrid, he finally was called upon in crucial World Cup qualifying matches by coach Diego Maradona. If given the opportunity, Gonzalo will play a valuable role for an Argentine side that has had trouble scoring goals.
Watch: vs. Nigeria, June 12 @ 7:30 AM ET; vs. South Korea, June 17 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Greece, June 22 @ 2:30 PM ET

3. Giuseppe Rossi /22/Italy/Forward
Born in New Jersey to Italian immigrant parents, he shunned the US squad in 2006 for a chance to play for the Italian national team in 2010. After recent success in the Italian league and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup—where he scored two goals against the US—look for Rossi to make an impact off the bench with his speed, skill, and powerful shot.
Watch: vs. Paraguay, June 14 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. New Zealand, June 20 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. Slovakia, June 24 @ 10:00 AM ET

2. Jozy Altidore /United States/20/Forward
Altidore, a strong, athletic player who has great finishing skill and is fun to watch, will have to score if the US is to advance out of a weak group that includes Slovenia and Algeria. With the lose of forward Charlie Davies—who was severely injured in an automobile accident—Jozy will have to step up his game like he did against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Like Landon Donovan in 2002, Altidore could become the next star of the national team.
Watch: vs. England, June 12 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Slovenia, June 18 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. Algeria, June 23 @ 10:00 AM ET

1. Cesc Fábregas /22/Spain/Midfielder
Cesc’s superb passing, vision on the field, and ability to control the pace and play of a match will see Spain through the knockout stage, and quite possibly the finals. He did see time in 2006, when he was 18, but not nearly enough to be excluded from this list.In 2008, he helped Spain become the Euro champion with 1 goal and 4 assists.
Watch: vs. Switzerland, June 16 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. Honduras, June 21 @ 2:30 PM ET; vs. Chile, June 25 @ 2:30 PM ET