FIFA World Cup 2014: 50 Players with 20 Caps or Fewer Who Could Star in Brazil
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is a little under two months away, and most of the column inches over the coming weeks will likely be devoted to those established star names who could have a big say in how far their nation goes in the tournament.
With the likes of Gigi Buffon, Steven Gerrard, Xavi Hernandez and Bastian Schweinsteiger all having more than a century of caps for their respective countries, there's a reason they receive more attention than most: they're very, very good and have been for a long time.
But what of those supporting acts, the players who have only recently established themselves on the international scene?
There are always a few who manage to find a place in the squad despite not having a wealth of international experience behind them, and it's those players who—perhaps less prepared for by the opposition or simply coming into form at the right time—can sometimes be the ones who make the biggest difference.
Here are 50 such players who could easily make a huge impact at the finals in Brazil.
Criteria and Honourable Mentions
Players with 20 caps or fewer at the international level are eligible for selection.
Fewer, and we run the risk of minimising the talent pool. Any more and we begin to see those who have been squad players for an extended period of time and made plenty of appearances in friendlies, but make little impact beyond offering versatility or "solidity" in the games that actually matter.
Other than that, any player is open to consideration as long as their nation has qualified for Brazil 2014.
Players are not ranked. Instead, the list is ordered by World Cup groups.
Julian Draxler, Germany
Miguel Layun, Mexico
Marco Verratti, Italy
El Arbi Hillel Soudani, Algeria
Jordan Henderson, England
Note: Christian Benteke of Belgium was originally on the list of 50 but will now miss the World Cup through injury.
Thanks to Sam Tighe, Gianni Verschueren, Maher Mazahi, John Halloran and Chris Atkins for their input.
Kicking off in Group A, hosts Brazil have a settled squad by and large, with much of their starting XI also known.
A double pivot in midfield has seen the likes of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho feature frequently, but Fernandinho has been in superlative form this season and is almost without doubt the best of the four likely to be in the squad.
He has a great chance to be a regular starter right from the opening game and can provide both the defensive shield and the thrusting runs from deep to help his nation win matches. He has six caps to date.
Mateo Kovacic, Croatia
Mateo Kovacic isn't a finished product—he's not even an immovable part of the Croatia side yet—but there's no doubt he has the ability to make a big impact on the world stage.
His eight caps so far include a start in the all-important second leg of the World Cup play-off, while this season at Inter Milan has seen him operate in both deep and advanced central midfield playmaking roles.
Kovacic has great technique on the ball and is capable of finding men in space in the final third. How good the Croatian forwards are, in the absence of Mario Mandzukic, might be key to getting the best out of the 19-year-old.
Luis Montes, Mexico
Mexico next, and their midfielder Luis Montes.
A versatile player who can play across the middle of the pitch, he was involved in the intercontinental play-off matches that saw Mexico through to Brazil, and helped to take him to 11 caps in total so far.
Tidy in possession from the centre of midfield, he is efficient on the ball, likes to play it simple and stitches the play together very well. Montes is capable of looking to release the strikers and find them in space with his accurate passing.
Joel Matip, Cameroon
Joel Matip is an aggressive and athletic player with 18 caps to his name to date, who operates in both a holding midfield role and at centre-back, where he usually features for his club side, Schalke 04.
The tall defender already featured at the 2010 World Cup, when he travelled as an 18-year-old with just one cap to his name at the time.
Calm in possession and improving in his reading of the game, he can still be impetuous and rash at times, but he's also commanding and quick to cover the ground.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Spain
Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta has made a late run to break into the squad and stands a good chance of actually being the starting right-back after Alvaro Arbeloa's injury.
Dani Carvajal will be his competition, but providing cover on the left side as well and being more solid defensively might get Azpilicueta the nod.
He has just five caps to his name thus far, but is dependable, composed in possession and difficult to beat in a ground duel. He's been a stand-out player at Chelsea this season and would add plenty of quality to Spain's back line.
Diego Costa, Spain
Diego Costa is one of the most in-form forwards in Europe this season, but he will travel to the World Cup utterly inexperienced on the international stage.
After a protracted switch, he has changed national sides from Brazil to Spain and only recently made his first appearance for the country.
Strong, aggressive and very direct, Costa offers a somewhat different approach to many of the other options in the side, though he also has good link up skills and, of course, a great goalscoring record this season.
Koke is still facing a bit of a battle to make the plane, but his versatility and consistency could well swing a place for him in the super-competitive Spanish national squad.
A wonderfully creative and talented footballer, Koke can play in central midfield in any role, wider in midfield as an influential yet hard-working playmaker or even at right-back as he roves forward with confidence.
The Atletico Madrid man has seven caps to date. Should he add to that in the World Cup, don't be surprised to see a big fuss made over him. He has all the tools in his locker.
Stefan De Vrij, Netherlands
Netherlands will head to the World Cup with something of a contrasting side: a defensive half of the side mostly in transition with inexperienced players, and a top-quality, established attacking half of the field with immense proven talent.
A key part of that new back line over the coming seasons will be Stefan de Vrij, a talented central defender with Feyenoord. At 22 years of age, he has so far won nine senior international caps but played a big part in the qualifiers and could conceivably start as a first choice in the World Cup.
Jeremain Lens, Netherlands
Jeremain Lens has 20 caps already, and despite the plethora of talent available to Netherlands in the final third of the field he looks capable of cementing his place in the starting lineup.
A great turn of pace, good close control and dribbling skills and a real ability to find the back of the net all make him the ideal wide forward.
Lens has seven goals in his 20 appearances. He is 26 years old.
Jordy Clasie, Netherlands
Feyenoord midfielder Jordy Clasie probably would have gone to the World Cup as a squad player, but the injury to Kevin Strootman might open up the chance for him to start.
Playing as a central midfielder, Clasie can boast a bit of everything in his repertoire: good use of the ball, a combative style to win back possession, the vision and technique to have an impact going forward and—when tactics allow—the ability to break further forward himself.
He has seven caps so far for the Netherlands.
Charles Aranguiz, Chile
Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz has an interesting club situation: he was 50 per cent owned by Udinese, played for Universidad de Chile until January, saw Udinese purchase the remaining 50 per cent so that he would join up with the Italians after the World Cup, before he was then loaned to Brazilian side Internacional for six months.
The Brazilians also have an option to buy him permanently.
A versatile and energetic midfielder, he can control the game from a central position or operate from the right wing. Capable of scoring goals, too, he has already found the net for Internacional in their Gaucho Campeonato matches.
Aranguiz can be a good option for Chile. He may not start, but he is a potential game changer for them with his direct running and penetration.
Mitchell Langerak, Australia
Australia's goalkeeper position is entirely up for grabs, with Mark Schwarzer having retired.
The two favourites are 21-year-old Mathew Ryan and 25-year-old Mitch Langerak. They have a combined tally of eight caps between them, with Langerak managing only three thus far.
We'll go for him to get the nod, though, as he has experience in bigger tournaments as Borussia Dortmund's second-choice stopper.
He'll certainly be busy in a group containing the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Robin van Persie and Alvaro Negredo preparing to fire shots at him, and he'll need to come up trumps if Australia are to have any hopes of progressing.
Edwin Valencia, Colombia
Colombian defensive midfielder Edwin Valencia is likely to be one of those tasked with protecting the back line in the World Cup, while the line ahead provide the direct and pacy support to the strikers.
The Fluminense player has won 15 caps to date and has been involved in recent games, suggesting he may be one of the starters for his nation once the tournament kicks off.
However, his involvement may depend on the shape that Colombia boss Jose Pekerman opts to start with in midfield. But, in a double pivot, his strengths could prove important to his team's style of play.
Carlos Bacca, Colombia
With Falcao struggling to make the finals due to his injury, a striker space has opened up for Colombia. The likes of Adrian Ramos and Luis Muriel might be hoping to get it, but Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca has been in fine form all season and could easily find himself starting up front.
Compact and strong, with good initial acceleration, Bacca knows how to position himself well behind defenders and is composed enough in the finish to take his chances.
He has earned nine caps so far.
Kostas Manolas, Greece
Kostas Manolas is more or less the third-choice centre-back for Greece at present, but the 22-year-old still started three matches in qualifying and Greece kept a clean sheet in each.
He played a supporting role in the play-offs, too, coming off the bench in the second leg. With just six caps to his name, he is still inexperienced, but Champions League football with Olympiacos and a series of commanding performances make him a big candidate to lead the defence very soon.
Any injury or tactical switch from the coach could see him installed as the leader in a notoriously defensive-minded side.
Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast
Toulouse right-back Serge Aurier is generating plenty of interest from impartial viewers and scouts alike for his performances in Ligue 1.
The Ivory Coast defender has six caps so far and can be confident of playing a big role in the tournament. An ability to break forward from deep and composure on the ball are features of his game.
A very attack-minded right-back, he could even feature on the wing for his nation at some point.
Yoichiro Kakitani, Japan
Japan have given so many forwards a chance in recent squads that their front line is not that easy to predict, but the ability and goalscoring record of Yoichiro Kakitani makes him a standout figure.
Four goals in his nine senior appearances for Japan is not a bad start for the 24-year-old, while his last appearance against the Netherlands in November 2013 was an excellent display of both technique and movement.
Gotoku Sakai, Japan
Gotoku Sakai is another Japanese international who has impressed this term. The Stuttgart defender is a sure bet for the squad, though he'll have his work cut out to start at right-back ahead of Atsuto Uchida.
Versatility and perhaps more ability on the ball going forward are traits in Sakai's favour, though, with the American-born full-back capable of making driving runs and linking play with style down the flank.
He has 12 caps so far.
Raheem Sterling, England
England would almost certainly have looked to Theo Walcott to play on the right side of midfield or attack this summer, but his long-term injury has opened up a place in the team.
The best bet at present has to be Raheem Sterling, who has enjoyed four blistering months of form for Liverpool since Walcott suffered his injury in January.
Pace, dribbling ability and huge strength on the ball are his best assets, but he has consistently delivered in the final third, too, from a range of positions.
Sterling has just two caps to his name, but could conceivably be a first-choice starter when the World Cup kicks off.
Daniel Sturridge, England
Liverpool and England team-mate Daniel Sturridge is another who, like Sterling, has enjoyed a fantastic campaign. He's scored an average of a goal every 96 minutes in league play this season, but his game is far from all about finishing.
Good link-up play, great pace and power, vision in dropping deep and an ability to hold the ball up and allow onrushing attackers to join in are all in his repertoire.
Sturridge has 10 caps for England so far, with three goals.
Adam Lallana, England
Adam Lallana is something of a fan favourite for the English national team at present, with his great footwork and regular contribution to Southampton's impressive season among the merits for his inclusion in the England squad.
If he gets the nod to start or is turned to from the bench, Lallana has the confidence and form to beat defenders, create chances from just outside the penalty area and even get himself on the scoresheet.
His time on the pitch will be in part decided by the tactics the team employs, but he can certainly play a big part if he's given the chance.
Antonio Candreva, Italy
With 19 caps, Antonio Candreva has had a struggle to establish himself as a regular at club level in his career, but since joining Lazio he has gone from strength to strength and can now be considered a big positive for the Italian squad.
Playing mainly on the wing, his powerful driving runs and ability to cross or beat a man make him a tough opponent, while his stamina and hard work also offer Italy tactical flexibility.
At 27 years of age, this could certainly be his only World Cup, and he'll want to make a big impression. He has the form and capability to do so.
Mattia De Sciglio, Italy
Mattia De Sciglio has had a season interrupted by injury, but when fit he's been one of the better performers in a poor AC Milan team.
Presuming he recovers full fitness and consistency by the end of the campaign, he should be in place to add to his nine Italy caps. He is a technical and aggressive right-back with the ability to bring the ball out of defence.
Thiago Motta, Italy
That Thiago Motta only has 19 caps for Italy is partly an outrage against his talent and partly a nod of appreciation to those he battles to play alongside.
Playing mainly as a holding midfielder, of course, he sees the deepest midfield slot taken by the altogether other-worldly talents of Andrea Pirlo, but Motta can nonetheless play an important protective role if he operates just ahead in the centre of midfield.
His participation might depend on whether Italy play 3-5-2 or 4-3-3, but he'll certainly bring an awful lot of control and force to the side when he features.
Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland
One of the most frequent and consistent performers for Switzerland during another successful qualifying campaign was left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.
Now with 19 caps to his name, Rodriguez is an attack-minded 21-year-old who delivers in the final third while also posting solid defensive performances.
The Wolfsburg wing-back will no doubt have plenty of admirers watching this summer.
Mario Gavranovic, Switzerland
Up front, Switzerland still have something of a dilemma to solve: they don't really have a recognised first choice striker, and certainly not one who guarantees goals.
During qualification, they only had two matches in which forwards scored, and on both occasions that was Mario Gavranovic. The Zurich attacker will likely get the chance to lead the line, and he'll have to deliver to help see Switzerland through a tough group.
He has four goals in 10 caps so far.
Paul Pogba, France
We start with the first of four members of the French squad now: Paul Pogba.
The Juventus midfielder has shot to even further prominence this season after a great campaign full of telling, powerful displays in a variety of roles.
He has eight caps for the national side so far and could get in the starting line-up either in a holding or a box-to-box capacity. Either way, he'll be looking to make a huge impact on the tournament.
Antoine Griezmann, France
Next up is Antoine Griezmann, who may not even make the squad—but if he does, he can be a match-winner for France.
Just one cap to his name so far is due in part to an international suspension he received at under-21 level, which meant he couldn't feature for the seniors either.
The left-footed attacking midfielder is a great player, though. Fast, able to beat a man and ever-improving in his final-third productivity, Griezmann has the ability to make the World Cup his breakthrough tournament on the global stage.
Laurent Koscielny, France
Laurent Koscielny has 15 French caps to his name at this point and will be a likely starter at centre-back for his nation.
Koscielny is prone to lapses in concentration or dawdling on the ball at times, but he's also a great reader of play and is proactive in his defending, often snuffing out danger before forwards have a chance to react and get a shot away.
France will really benefit from this and his subsequent distribution into midfield, especially if he is partnered with...
Mamadou Sakho, France
...Mamadou Sakho, a similarly aggressive and technical defender.
Sakho has had injury issues this season, but is now back to fitness and will presumably take his place in the squad if he features at club level in the remaining weeks of the season.
Strong and with good pace, Sakho breaks out of the defensive line, and his distribution is rarely off the mark. He has 16 caps for France.
Andy Najar, Honduras
Something of a wild-card option for Honduras, Andy Najar has impressed in Belgium this season with Anderlecht. He's a tricky wide player who can be a game changer for his country off the bench.
Najar has 15 caps to his name so far and is aged just 21, with plenty of time to improve and add consistency to his game.
He can also play as an attack-minded right-back.
Ezequiel Garay, Argentina
Argentina seem to have more or less settled on a back four now, with Ezequiel Garay finally looking like a consistent version of the centre-back everybody thought he would be half-a-dozen years ago.
Aged 27, Garay is enjoying a good campaign with Benfica and will add to his 18-cap haul as a first-choice defender for his nation this summer.
Strong in the challenge and good at picking up the second ball, Garay will be a key if Argentina are to lift the trophy.
Sead Kolasinac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia's rise and qualification for the World Cup has been achieved with a relatively compact and settled squad, but one of the few to have recently broken through is Sead Kolasinac.
The Schalke left-back played for Germany's youth teams before switching over, and he is likely to go into the tournament as the country's first pick on that side of defence.
A regular at club level, the 20-year-old has made just two appearances for Bosnia and Herzegovina so far, but he looks set to have a long international career ahead of him.
Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria
Young Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo is one of several Chelsea players learning his trade out on loan at present, but he looks like one of those who could actually return to his parent side and make the grade.
Comfortable playing either centrally or at right-back, he's already racked up 11 caps for his country at just 20 years of age.
He could play a big part in their World Cup campaign, and he has the confidence and the aura about him to be a leader of the side, despite his young age.
Victor Moses, Nigeria
Just as importantly, if Nigeria are to have any kind of impact at the finals they will need their attacking players to fire.
Victor Moses has had a frustrating season at club level but has already performed well for Nigeria on the big stage, scoring five goals in 14 matches so far at international level.
The wide forward brings pace and strength to the attack, but also an eye for goal and plenty of confidence on the ball. Nigeria can get out of their group if they pick up a good result against Bosnia in particular, so goals are a must.
Marco Reus, Germany
Into Group G and the top-seeded Germany, who have a whole host of players who might be chosen.
Marco Reus is a prime candidate, though, currently on 19 caps and already with seven goals to his name.
Most often playing from a left-sided attacking role, Reus is ending the season in good form domestically and will be a real danger for Germany, whether used from the start or as an impact substitute.
Lars Bender, Germany
Lars Bender will possibly only initially be in the squad as back-up for the likes of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but he has plenty of talents which could see him utilised off the bench against sides who will rely on power and energy to compete in the group.
An excellent box-to-box or ball-winning midfielder sitting in the centre, Bender distributes the ball well and is also versatile enough to play from the flank of the pitch, both defensively and in midfield.
He has 17 caps for Germany, with four goals.
William Carvalho, Portugal
In case you hadn't noticed, there's been a lot of talk about William Carvalho of late—what with potential big-money transfers and all.
The thing is, he's not yet even a regular at the international level. He's made just two appearances for Portugal so far, aged 22, with his only start coming in a friendly.
Despite that, he clearly has an abundance of talent. Carvalho is a regularly impressive performer for Sporting and offers plenty of athleticism and power that is perhaps lacking in a Portugal midfield that's big on experience but low on particularly agile and aggressive legs.
Let's tip Carvalho to have a big impact, even though he might not be a starter straight off.
Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ghana
Kevin-Prince Boateng has had spells without international football, which means that he still only has 10 caps for Ghana at the age of 27.
The attacking midfielder is more than capable of having a game-changing impact, though, with great power and confidence to his game, even if he doesn't always affect it for 90 minutes at a time.
He'll be one of the big names to whom Ghana look to push them through the group stage.
Wakaso Mubarak, Ghana
Another big talent Ghana will look to get the best out of is Russia-based wide midfielder Wakaso Mubarak.
A left-sided attacker, he can also play on the opposite side of the pitch or as part of a fluid front line.
Wakaso has plenty of pace and dribbling ability to his game, and though eccentric and unpredictable with his final ball, he has the skill to open up a defence and create chances for his team-mates.
He may be used as an impact sub—but impact is definitely something he can make upon a game.
Aron Johannsson, United States
The United States side has seen plenty of changes in personnel over the past year, leaving one or two gaps that can be filled by newer players.
Dutch-based forward Aron Johannsson looks to be one who could benefit after impressing in his seven caps to date and performing well domestically with AZ.
With other forwards struggling for goals and consistency, the former Icelandic under-21 forward could find himself in the spotlight this summer.
Omar Gonzalez, United States
Another United States player who has come into the side and had a good impact is central defender Omar Gonzalez.
With 18 caps to his name to this point, he has improved the defensive aspect of the team recently and looks a good bet to be a starter for Jurgen Klinsmann's this summer.
The L.A. Galaxy man will have competition, but his calmness at the back and aerial ability are big pluses.
Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
Belgium have a squad full of impressive younger players keen to make their mark on the World Cup stage.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is a good place to start. He has won 14 caps so far, but is already one of the highest-rated stoppers in the game.
He's been on loan at Atletico Madrid for three seasons, and there he has matured, improved and proved his consistency year after year.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
Kevin De Bruyne is a direct and pacey winger who has been a big success in the Bundesliga.
His wing play is imperative in the Belgian side, and he offers a different kind of threat to Eden Hazard's tendency to cut infield and dribble at the centre-backs.
De Bruyne has 19 caps so far.
Nacer Chadli, Belgium
Nacer Chadli might not be a guaranteed starter for Belgium, but he's another who could have a real impact as a squad option or off the bench, especially now with Benteke absent.
He can play behind the forward—his best role—or from the flank, and he brings a direct running threat alongside the central striker, rather than merely holding in the attacking midfield position.
Chadli will be looking to add significantly to the 18 caps he has earned so far.
Aissa Mandi, Algeria
Algerian Aissa Mandi has just one cap but looks set to go to the World Cup as the nation's first-choice right-back after an impressive season in Ligue 1 with his club, Reims.
A versatile 22-year-old, he can also cover on the opposite side of defence, and his tall, imposing frame makes him a valuable asset in the air.
Mandi looks to be quick and strong in the challenge, but also seeks to play in those ahead of him in dangerous areas of the field.
Islam Slimani, Algeria
A likely starter at the centre of the Algerian attack, Islam Slimani has an impressive record of nine goals in his first 18 caps at international level, with the 25-year-old also finding the target nine times domestically this season.
Slimani holds the ball up well and can bring others into play from the wider areas, but his real value is in his aerial ability and threat on goal from such situations.
Algeria will need him to be firing to escape a tricky but surmountable Group H.
Aleksandr Kokorin, Russia
Another starting striker in Group H will probably be Aleksandr Kokorin, who after a summer of strange transfers—Dinamo to Anzhi and back again—hasn't quite hit the heights of previous years but still has enough to be Russia's best offensive weapon.
The 23-year-old has 19 caps so far and will expect to add plenty more to the five goals he has so far managed, especially if he starts as the No. 1 striker ahead of the more-experienced Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
Good movement and composed finishing are usually part of the package Kokorin brings.
Viktor Fayzulin, Russia
Viktor Fayzulin is a Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder who fulfils a range of roles in midfield—from holding player, to knitting moves together in the centre or even as a more advanced option breaking into the attack from the second line.
That he has just 16 caps is partly because of the presence in the squad of long-time immovable regulars, but Fayzulin brings his own reliability and mobility to the table and should offer a good alternative for Russia.
He's another who could be a game changer—or, more aptly, a game controller—for his nation and make a big impact.
Kim Young-Gwon, Korea Republic
Korea Republic will look for Kim Young-Gwon to be riding the crest of a wave when he hits the World Cup finals, for its he who'll have to lead their defence to success against the likes of Russia and Belgium.
The Guangzhou Evergrande centre-back has matured and improved immeasurably over the past 18 months or so, playing a big part in the team's Asian Champions League success. With 19 caps, he is now on his way to being established as one of the top players in the national team squad.