Every World Cup there’s a handful of players who thrust themselves into the spotlight. Some are fairly established talents, while others come out of the blue to become international stars.
There is no stage that compares to the World Cup. Play well for the one month that comes around every four years, and you could very well become a national hero, regardless of what you do for the rest of your career.
Here are six players from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL we are tipping for breakthrough success in Brazil next summer.
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
The Chilean midfield maestro has taken his game to a different level since joining Italian giants Juventus in 2011. Although a quality player at Bayer Leverkusen, at age 26, Vidal has truly become one of Serie A’s most complete midfielders. He is constantly involved in the game, offensively and defensively, and has added goal scoring to his repertoire in recent years.
The confident general should bring a calming, intelligent presence to a strong Chile squad, many have dubbed the 'neutral's favorite'. Although they face stiff competition in Group B, the fact that Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said he would rather play Spain or Holland than Chile in the second round speaks volumes about Chile. Expect Vidal to be heavily involved in everything the Chileans do next summer.
Opposition – Group B: Spain, Holland, Australia
After turning heads as a hardworking midfielder at the Confederations Cup last summer, Paulinho was rewarded with a lucrative transfer to Tottenham. Showing his class, the 25-year-old midfielder settled immediately in North London, something that Brazilians have traditionally struggled to do in England.
When he sits back, he is capable of dictating the flow of any match. However, it’s when he marauds forward that he has proven to be a real handful. Able to pick his forward runs to perfection, he is capable of overloading any backline when the opportunity presents itself. Although Neymar may take the goal scoring plaudits, Paulinho will be the catalyst behind Brazil’s attacks.
Opposition – Group A: Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
At 22, James has proven to be a dynamic midfield presence for club and country. He was one of the recent lavish summer acquisitions for Ligue 1 side Monaco who splashed €45 million on the playmaker. To put that into context, only 19 transfers have been more lucrative in the history of European football, according to Transfermarkt.
Renowned for pulling the strings in the Colombian midfield, James matches that with his speed and dribbling skill. Colombia is shaping to be many pundits’ darkhorse for the World Cup, and exciting young players such as Rodriquez are the reason. Expect him to carve out a fair amount of space for Radamel Falcao, Teófilo Gutiérrez and Jackson Martinez to work in, while foraying right wing-back Juan Cuadrado opens up space for the Colombian No. 10.
Oppositions – Group C: Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
It wouldn’t be a real World Cup without a young Brazilian breaking onto the scene. Although Paulinho will be a force, 21-year-old winger Bernard will be the one who'll catch the eye with his quickness and surging runs down the flank en masse. In fact, Bernard’s first goal for the Seleção came via a Paulinho assist when Brazil ripped Honduras apart 5-0 in Miami in November.
Don’t be surprised when pundits rave about his work rate and vision. After a lucrative move to Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer, he’s managed to rack up seven assists in eight matches. Bernard is the leader of a remarkable group of talented young Brazilians (See: Oscar, Lucas Moura, Damiao, er, Neymar) that will turn heads next summer.
Opposition: Group A: Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
When we had a chance to watch Colombia play Brazil at MetLife stadium in New Jersey in 2012, a dread-locked ball of energy had us scrambling for our programs. We wanted to know who Juan Cuadrado was and why we had never heard of him before.
Cuadrado is a Colombian fan favorite and rightly so. He’s a fast and skilled player that loves to get forward. Often deployed as a wing back, he will make it difficult for any team to address Los Cafeteros right side. Currently in stellar form for Italian side Fiorentina, Cuadrado has been linked to Barcelona, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Juventus in recent months. That’s not a terrible list of suitors.
Opposition: Group C: Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Omar Gonzales (USA)
LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez has been honing and improving his all-around game over the last fwe years and has quietly emerged as a potential leader for the U.S. National Team. His abominable 6ft 5in frame is certainly a plus, as is his ability to read a game. With stiff opposition for the United States in Group G, American defenders will have to perform. Obviously, we believe Gonzo will ball hard in Brazil. In fact, if the US is to advance, he'll need to dominate like he did vs Mexico at Azteca. (Watch Omar's beast mode performance vs El Tri here.)
Not only is he a great player, he has a sense of humor and seems capable of dealing with the pressure that comes with the World Cup. That could prove to be an asset for a U.S. backline that is still a big question mark going into the tournament. Oh, he plays a mean Sax, too.
Opposition - Group G: Germany, Ghana, Portugal
Don’t be surprised if Spurs youngster Erik Lamela sets up Argentina’s front line with stellar passes or belts in a rocket of his own. Southhampton's Gaston Ramirez is a similar playmaking force for Uruguay, while Andy Najar could turn heads for a lackluster Honduras team. Costa Rican and Crystal Palace striker Joel Campbell has speed to burn and compatriot Bryan Oviedo has proven to be a top left back with stellar back-to-back displays against Manchester United and Arsenal for Everton. If Costa Rica are too miraculously emerge from Group D (Uruguay, Italy, England), 'national heroes' wouldn't do justice to kinds of plaudits they'd recieve.