With the World Cup approaching, it’s time to select an XI of Under-23 players who will be playing a part in Brazil.
GK- Thibaut Courtois- Belgium
Arguably the world’s best goalkeeper at just 21, Courtois’s rise to prominence since the last World Cup has been phenomenal. What is perhaps more amazing is the fact he started as left-back when he was youth footballer, it was only when he joined Racing Genk in 1999 that he became he goalkeeper.
Belgian hopes will be resting on the youngster in Brazil and if he can produce the performances he did for Atletico last season. There is no reason why Belgium can’t do what everyone is tipping them to do.
RB- Serge Aurier- Ivory Coast
Expected to go to Arsenal, Serge Aurier was one of the best right-backs in Ligue 1 last season. The 21-year-old proved to be so impressive for Tolouse that he ousted Emmanuel Eboue as Ivory Coast’s number one right-back.
Writing for the Guardian website, Ivorian sports writer François Kouakou said: “His performances this season have shown what a boon his blossoming is. Ivory Coast had long been seeking a reliable alternative to Emmanuel Eboué and Aurier looks like he could become a better player than the former Arsenal defender ever was.”
CB- Raphael Varane- France
He may not be the finished product yet, but Varane has certainly shown signs he has the capability to be the best centre back in world football. At just 21 the way he reads the game is admirable for a player of his age. This World Cup could see him come of age in France team that has the ability to go all the way.
CB- Bruno Martins Indi- Netherlands
A target of Manchester United, Martins Indi is one of the best defenders Netherlands have produced since the last World Cup. The 22-year-old has been a regular at Feyenoord since 2011 and he has been a part of the Dutch squad since 2012. He does the versatility that is so common with defenders in modern football as he can also operate adequately as a full back.
LB- Sead Kolasinac- Bosnia and Herzegovina
While much of the focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina will be on the likes of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. It will the lung bursting runs of left-back Sead Kolasinac which will be one of the more exciting features of the Bosnian team. The German-born youngster has been one of the most exciting prospects in the Bundesliga over the past year whilst playing for Schalke.
Bosnia journalist, Sasa Ibrulji spoke highly of him in his Guardian piece: “Kolasinac is just what Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately needed; a young, modern defender who will be in the team for the next 10 years.”
RM- Raheem Sterling- England
Since making his England debut in late 2012 Raheem Sterling has blossomed into one of the Premier League’s brightest talents. Last season he proved to be an important cog in the Liverpool side with his performances from the wing. When he first burst onto the scene, his only real trick was to run at defenders. And while he still does have that in an abundance, his intelligence in the final third is an essential feature to his game now. He may not start in Brazil, but he may be one of the most exciting impact players at the tournament.
CM- Koke- Spain
The 22-year-old has all the attributes to be the successor to Xavi in the way that he plays. His ability to play anywhere across central midfield and his passing range is commendable for a young footballer. While many discuss Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois when discussing Atletico Madrid’s impressive season, it has been Koke, who was perhaps most impressive. The youngster proved what an essential part he was to Diego Simeone’s side, particularly in Atletico’s run to the Champions League Final. If Spain want to progress as winning side, Koke over Xavi at the World Cup would be good option.
CM- James Rodriguez- Colombia
The Monaco midfielder should be one of the most creative forces at the World Cup if he can replicate his club form at the tournament. The former Porto player was the hub of everything good about Monaco last season as they secured Champions League football for next season. While many will be fretting about the loss of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez may prove to be the man that puts their worries to rest.
LM- Eden Hazard- Belgium
Just like his teammate Thibaut Courtois, Belgian hopes will be resting on the shoulders of Eden Hazard. The Chelsea winger had a mixed season in the Premier League as he showed only glimpses of the genius he harbours. His explosive speed, close ball control and quality finishing make him an ideal contender for the golden ball. If Belgium progress to the latter rounds, he will surely be considered.
ST- Neymar- Brazil
This World Cup is set to be Neymar’s World Cup. After a frustrating first season at Barcelona, Neymar will be allowed to play with freedom as he looks to bring the cup to Brazil. He has a point to prove to expel the doubters, who still believe he is not the talent some say he is. The Confederations Cup last year did partially prove he has the talent, but it was not conclusive on whether he is within the top ten footballers in the world. A good World Cup may help his cause if he wants to be regarded in the same bracket as the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
ST- Son Heung-Min- South Korea
The whole of South Korea will be looking towards the Bayer Leverkusen forward to deliver at the tournament. The 21-year-old had an impressive first season with Bayer. He is a versatile forward who can play at number ten, a central striker and a winger. If South Korea get out of the group, it will be down to his influence on the team.