The Top 10 Breakout Players in the World Cup

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Welcome to our definitive list of the players who have the best chance to make a name for themselves in the 2010 World Cup. (We did a similar list months ago, but injuries and exclusions gave us a chance to do a little more reporting from the office.) With a solid first round and a few memorable highlights, these players might just get noticed. If they can carry a team to the finals and drop some jaws with a few goals or assists, Nike might bless them with a multi-million dollar commercial. Memorize a few of these names, bring them up around the water cooler before the first round ends, and surprise your co-workers with your soccer wisdom.

10. Salomon Kalou/24/Ivory Coast/Forward
Kalou’s versatility and speed make him a very dangerous player in the open field and on counter-attacks. If the Ivory Coast hopes to advance out of the “Group of Death” with Portugal, Brazil and North Korea (sorry North Korea), he will have to find the back of the net, especially with the recent loss of star forward Didier Drogba.
Watch: June 15, 2010 @ 10:00 AM ET, June 20, 2010 @ 2:30 PM ET, June 25, 2010 @ 10:00 AM ET

9. Nicklas Bendtner/22/Denmark/Forward
His aerial abilities, physical presence, 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. Aaron Lennon/23/England/Midfielder
Lennon, is an incredibly fast midfielder with excellent skill. He will use his speed and trickery in the open field to beat defenders and create opportunities for the talented English forwards.
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

7. Jozy Altidore/United States/20/Forward
With the loss of forward Charlie Davies—who was severely injured in an automobile accident—Altidore will have to finish if the US is to advance out of a weaker group that includes Slovenia and Algeria. Like Landon Donovan in 2002, Altidore could become the next star of the national team with a successful World Cup.
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

6. 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

5.  Ramires/23/Brazil/Midfielder
A bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Ramires impressed coach Dunga in WC qualifications with his hard work. He beat out much flashier and experienced players like Ronaldinho.
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

4. Obafemi Martins/25/Nigeria/Forward
Known for his somersault goal celebrations, this powerful striker can help the Super Eagles advance to the knockout round and potentially go deep in the tournament. Martins has incredible speed and will be feared by defenses, especially late in matches when they are tired and vulnerable.
Watch: vs. Argentina, June 12 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. Greece, June 17 @ 10:00 AM ET; vs. South Korea, June 22 @ 2:30 PM ET

3. Giovani dos Santos /21/Mexico/Forward
After an impressive 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup—where he received the MVP award for the best player in the tournament—Giovani has Mexico poised for the World Cup. His speed, shot accuracy, and ball control will help an aggressive 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

2. Gonzalo Higuaín /22/Argentina/Forward
He's a fast striker, renowned for his powerful shot, dribbling ability, and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Initially overlooked by coach Diego Maradona, he was finally called upon in crucial World Cup qualifying matches. 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

1. Cesc Fábregas/23/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 to 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.
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

–John McCauley

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