World Cup talent: North America, Africa & Asia
We bring our starlet-searching world tour to an end by visiting three continents – North America, Africa and Asia.
The USA enjoyed a very successful Confederations Cup in the summer, reaching the final despite losing their opening two games of the tournament.
They defeated current European champions Spain 2-0 in the semi-final and almost pulled off another shock victory to take the cup home against Brazil in the final – only for Brazil to comeback from a 2-0 half-time deficit.
The Americans’ success was based on taking the game to their opponents – not just sitting back hoping to nick a goal in the closing stages – and 22-year-old Michael Bradley was the driving force behind their attacks.
The tough-tackling midfielder plays from box-to-box and surges forward at every opportunity, a player very much in the mould of Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard, and was sorely missed in the Confederations final through suspension.
The youngster, also the son of the USA coach, currently plies his trade in German football with Borussia Monchengladbach, and hit five goals in 28 appearances last term. He has been capped 34 times by his country and already bagged six goals.
Expect the dynamic midfielder to impress during next summer’s World Cup, should the USA gain qualification, and earn a move to one of Europe’s bigger clubs as a result.
The talent doesn’t end there for the USA – watch out for both 19-year-old Jozy Altidore and his fellow striker Freddy Adu, 20.
Villarreal paid around $10 million – the largest fee ever for an MLS player – for Altidore at the tender age of 18. His opportunities have been limited at the Spanish club and will spend the rest of the season on loan to Premier League side, Hull City.
Freddy Adu was the youngest American athlete in over 100 years to sign a professional contract at just 14 years of age.
Following an unsuccessful trial at Manchester United in 2006, Adu has struggled to live up to the US media hype. He signed for Benfica in 2007, spent a season on loan at AS Monaco in 2008 and has since joined Belenenses for another loan spell back in Portuguese football.
Next stop: Africa
The Confederation Africaine de Football is the largest of the six continental confederations of FIFA, and boasts several teams capable of challenging at World Cup 2010.
However, in this continent our search will find players set to shine in the African Cup of Nations hosted by Angola in January, as well as in next summer’s elite competition.
Nigeria have recovered from a period of under-achievement in recent times and possess some exciting prospects.
John Obi Mikel, despite being an established member of the Chelsea squad, is still only 22 years of age and next year will offer the youngster his first opportunity of World Cup football.
He has already been capped 24 times by the Super Eagles – scoring twice – since his debut at just 18, and is prominent for Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti.
This season should see Mikel push on to the next level that his potential merits and become a force to be reckoned with in Nigeria’s engine room.
Another young talent that could be starting alongside him next summer is Dele Adeleye.
The imposing 6 ft 3 in defender, now 20, has been on the books with Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam since the age of 16 and has revealed his wish to play in England, having caught the eye of several Premier League clubs including West Ham and Everton.
Inter Milans’ 22-year-old striker Victor Obinha is also one to watch.
The Nigerian is on loan to Malaga this season in an attempt to gain regular first-team action and will be determined to impress in what is set to be a huge year of competitions for the revitalised Super Eagles.
The Ivory Coast have proved a very strong outfit in recent tournaments and will be looking to follow up that form in both Angola and South Africa.
The most recent ‘Les Elephants’ prodigy to catch the eye is a player known simply as Gervinho.
He began his career in his homeland at the famed ASEC Abidjan academy, and has been linked in the past with a move to Arsenal.
Gervinho, 22, captained the Ivory Coast Olympic side – starring in a 4-2 victory over Serbia – and played in the 2008 Cup of Nations where he was handed the senior team’s number 10 jersey.
Next Stop: Asia
The starlet shining in the world’s largest and most populous continent has recently completed a move to Premier League side Bolton Wanderers – South Korea’s Lee Chong-yong.
It may not be the most glamorous of destinations for a player deemed as one of the best in Asia, but the move will provide the 21-year-old winger with much-needed experience of football in Europe.
A good showing in next summer’s World Cup finals may provide him with the illustrious transfer he was hoping for.
If you have spotted any bright young prospects around the globe, please let us know and comment below.