The World Cup brings together the cream of the football world but there will always be some surprise figures who announce their arrival among their most illustrious contemporaries. With the advent of the internet, it is harder and harder for anyone to remain a secret for long, but with 32 countries competing there will still be plenty of discoveries to be made. Here,
10 – Samuel Inkoom
The right-back position proving tough to fill at various English clubs, Premier League scouts would be advised to check out Ghana’s Samuel Inkoom. The best player in his position at the African Cup of Nations this year, he was a key part of the Ghanaian side that triumphed at the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Inkoom is an exciting attacking full-back who also knows how to defend and is likely to keep the fit-again John Paintsil out of the team in South Africa. Some good performances could put him in the shop window for a move to a bigger stage than Basel and the Swiss league.
9 – Gerardo Martino
Paraguay have an attractive looking group consisting of an over-the-hill Italian side, an inexperienced Slovakia and potential whipping boys New Zealand. Having led his adoptive nation to their fourth straight World Cup finals, Paraguay’s Argentine coach Martino could make a name for himself outside of South America with a strong showing. He has proved himself to be tactically flexible and masterminded a 2-0 win over Brazil in qualifying by fielding an adventurous front three. His liking for attacking football will do him no harm in winning fans around the globe.
8 – Nicolas Nkoulou
A Cameroonian centre-back who plays his club football for Monaco, Nkoulou has firmly established himself at international level despite his young age. The 20-year-old has ousted national legend Rigobert Song from the Cameroon team and is the pick of an emerging generation of new talent in the West African country. He is just the kind of player that Arsene Wenger will have on his radar and will do his cause a power of good if he plays well against Arsenal strikers Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner in Group E.
7 – Shinji Okazaki
The Japanese striker was the world’s top scorer in international football in 2009, hitting a staggering 15 goals, but he is still playing in the J-League. If Okazaki can continue his form on the biggest stage then he could make himself an attractive proposition for clubs across Europe. The potential to open up marketing opportunities in the lucrative Far East market will only increase Okazaki’s value, and he will be vital to Japan’s World Cup hopes after their poor form in warm-up games.
6 – Carlos Simon
It is hard to predict which referee will be 2010’s Graham Poll but Brazilian whistle-blower Carlos Simon is already attracting his share of headlines. Sweden’s Martin Hansson was all set to be the most scrutinised referee at the World Cup after his Thierry Henry-related blunder last autumn but Simon is already feeling the heat having been appointed for the England vs. United States clash. Simon was suspended by his national federation last season after accusations of bribery and incompetence, with Palmeiras president Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo declaring him “a crook and a scoundrel.”
5 – Park Chu-young
Another Monaco player who could put himself in line for a big move, Park is the poster boy of football in Korea Republic and has settled well in his two years in Ligue Un. The striker could benefit from the examples set in English football by Park Ji-sung at Manchester United and Bolton’s Lee Chung-yong who have demonstrated an attractive blend of application and attacking ability. Now that South Koreans have proved they can cut it in the Premier League, Park could be the next import to make it in England.
4 – Kim Jong-hun
The coach of Korea DPR would make a huge name for himself if he can mastermind any kind of result against the big names in the extremely challenging Group G. Kim Jong-hun must surely rank as the least known coach from the 32 competitors at the World Cup, coming from such a secretive nation about whom relatively little is known. The North Koreans were defensively sound in qualifying, conceding in just four of their 14 matches but they will find the going considerably tougher against the attacking talents of Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. Even a point would be a massive achievement and will put Jong-hun and his team firmly on the football map.
3 – Christian Eriksen
Eriksen is seen in Denmark as the long-overdue successor to the great Michael Laudrup. With a dearth of genuine playmakers at the top level in football, the 18-year-old could be the one player to really emerge at the World Cup. Having only made his Ajax bow in January, he is still largely below the public radar but is reportedly on the wish lists of Europe’s biggest clubs. While likely to be restricted to substitute outings, Eriksen could ignite the tournament in exciting bursts from the bench.
2 – Javier Hernandez
The recent purchase of Hernandez by Manchester United came somewhat out of leftfield and fans will be keen to find out what he is all about. He had a quiet cameo appearance for Mexico against England in the warm-up friendly but his record hitherto for his country has been very impressive. The diminutive striker is surprisingly good in the air and is a quality finisher but he would still be under the radar going into the World Cup if not for Sir Alex Ferguson’s chequebook.
1 – Pedro Rodriguez
Despite a phenomenal breakthrough year with Barcelona, the name Pedro will still elicit confusion among many when he inevitably ends up on the scoresheet. But given he plays alongside some of the biggest names in world football, it is not surprising that he still retains a low profile. If Spain finally go all the way and lift the World Cup trophy, Pedro’s name could finally be on everyone’s lips, especially if he has the same impact for his country as he has had for his club.