England starlets set to shine at World Cup 2010
This season of world football is set to be the most thrilling in recent history – concluding with one man holding aloft that hallowed golden trophy in Johannesburg.
But as top-flight action kicks off around the globe, who should we be looking out for?
Which players are capable of bursting on to the international scene and emulating the famous exploits of an adolescent Owen during France 98?
As we travel around the world’s continents, find out which wonderkids are expected to transform their country’s fortunes and get the vuvuzela horns blowing louder than ever in next summer’s tournament, along with those flying under the radar.
Part one: Europe – England & Holland
Where better to begin our scouting tour than in the two countries boasting a 100 per cent record in their respective World Cup Qualifying campaigns – England and Holland.
Those following England’s fortunes will be yearning to see John Terry lift the trophy next July and there is plenty of recent evidence to suggest Fabio Capello’s side stand a very good chance in South Africa – achieving seven wins from seven competitive games to date – and, as the season progresses, they may have plenty more to shout about.
England are a side in transition under Capello and the cultured Italian has made it clear that his World Cup squad is far from impermeable to fresh talent. And no wonder with the young talent that his adopted country bears.
The most recent to raise both his profile and the expectation laid upon him is Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
The 17-year-old enjoyed a highly promising pre-season – scoring two well-taken goals against Rangers in the Emirates Cup – and his talents have not gone unnoticed. The skilful youngster can play on either flank and possesses a sweet left foot.
Wilshere should be given plenty of opportunities to impress this season under Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman deploys his youth players and reserves in each round of the Carling Cup and, should Wilshere make his mark, he will be tasting Premier League action soon enough.
The talents of both Jack Rodwell and Michael Mancienne will also be adjudged under the watchful eye of Fabio Capello.
Everton Prodigy Rodwell, 18, made his Premier League debut in March 2008 and, despite limited playing time, has impressed greatly.
The composed youngster has started this season in explosive fashion and become Everton’s youngest-ever goalscorer in European competition – scoring two long-range scorchers in the Europa League – and has been tipped by David Moyes to become the complete midfielder.
If he continues the season in familiar fashion, he would prove difficult for the England boss to overlook when naming his squad for South Africa.
Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne will be commanding a regular starting place this season on loan to Hull City.
The 21-year-old centre-half will have a tough battle on his hands to displace either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand at the heart of England’s defence, but injuries could play a part in what will prove a gruelling season for the imperious pair.
Having represented England at every youth level – recently starring for the Under-21’s – Mancienne will be desperate to catch the attention of Fabio Capello in anticipation of next year’s finals.
Holland’s coach Bert van Marjwik has a wealth of established talent at his disposal as he sets out to go one better than the World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978, and mastermind his nation’s first-ever World Cup win. But, there are few gifted young players with the potential to earn a starting berth in the senior side in time for 2010.
Ibrahim Affelay, 23, will be one hoping to breakthrough and set the tournament alight. Despite his tender age, the skilful winger has already competed in 113 senior matches for PSV in the Eredivisie and notched 25 goals along the way.
He was part of Marco van Basten’s Euro 2008 squad, but only managed several substitute appearances.
Ajax right-back, Gregory van der Wiel, has his sights firmly set on World Cup success. The 21-year-old possesses Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpace to burn’ and has already drawn comparisons to Barcelona and Brazil star Dani Alves for his forward surges.
The right-back position has proved problematic in the recent past and van der Wiel looks certain to make it his own.
Also worthy of a mention is forgotten-man, Ryan Babel. The Liverpool attacker, who was once hailed by van Basten as the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnew Henry’, has failed spectacularly to live up to his promise thus far.
Babel, 22, represents the Dutch national team on a regular basis, but often proves ineffective. This season the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœflying Dutchman’ will need to show his worth consistently for the Merseyside club if he is to be given any hope of starting for the oranje in next year’s finals.