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Jun 8, 2014

Ten World Cup players you need to know

The Men in Blazers stopped by Sports Center to give their countdown of the top five youngsters going to Brazil.

World Cups were traditionally about discovering players and unearthing talent but it's not quite like that anymore. The global football village has shrunk thanks to the Web and multi-channel TV. Most clubs don't even bother scouting at the World Cup because, frankly, if you plan on identifying talent on the world's biggest stage, odds are you've already missed out (and will end up paying over the odds).

Fortunately, for fans it's different. You can still enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a young stud develop into a superstar. We asked Tor-Kristian Karlsen, former Monaco director of football with more than 15 years of scouting experience for clubs such as Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover, for help in identifying 10 lesser-known players with a big upside. In turn, Tor assembled a jury of scouts (speaking on condition of anonymity) to help sift through the 736 Brazil-bound players.

The criteria? We tried to focus on younger guys who had yet to play for bigger clubs and who had not yet had too much global exposure.

With that in mind, here is your clip-and-save list, so you can follow along and decide for yourself if these guys are worth their salt.

Vincent Aboubakar, FW, Lorient/Cameroon
Born: Jan. 22, 1992
Player he's channeling: Samuel Eto'o

A product of Cameroon's vaunted Coton Sport, he joined Valenciennes in 2010 at the age of 18. His skills were obvious, but he developed slowly and Lorient were able to snap him up on a free transfer last summer. He repaid their faith with a monster season, scoring 16 goals in 35 Ligue 1 appearances.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He was hyped as the next Samuel Eto'o when he came over to Europe, which was a bit much. Valenciennes weren't patient enough with him, playing him in different positions and so it took a while for him to reach his peak."

Vincent Aboubakar's pace and power is a real asset for Cameroon.
Vincent Aboubakar's pace and power is a real asset for Cameroon.

"He's extremely quick and strong -- and he's steadily improving. At Valenciennes he used to react to the ball; now he anticipates. His movement has improved tremendously."

"He's more or less two-footed, though he's better with his right and has a strong upper body. Loves playing on the shoulder of the last defender and use the space behind."

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "I find it difficult to assess how good he is, because his improvement has been so sudden and so steep."

"He's not great with his back to goal; when he lays it off he can be a bit sloppy."

"In terms of technique, he's not brilliant, just solid."

Serge Aurier, DF, Toulouse/Ivory Coast
Born: Dec. 24, 1992
Channeling: Dani Alves

A precocious talent, he made his debut for Lens in the French top-flight two days before his 17th birthday. Operates down the right flank as a very attacking fullback. Toulouse paid $2 million for him when he was a teenager.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He's a powerhouse who just goes up and down that flank ceaselessly."

"Superb athlete, but also very good on the ball. Reminds me a little of a young Dani Alves."

"It's his work rate and effort that truly make him stand out. Not many players around with his engine."

"Scored six goals this year as a right-back, all of them from open play. And most of them were from inside the box. He has a knack for getting into dangerous positions."

"I love his mentality. He's a leader, even when his team is down, he never stops fighting. He even captained Toulouse at times, which, given his age, is remarkable."

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "He lacks subtlety at times."

"He attacks so much that he'll inevitably leave himself somewhat exposed defensively, though he has the speed and the strength to recover."

"He relies on his athleticism a little too much to get himself out of problems defensively. Then again, he's still just 21."

Hiroshi Kiyotake, FW, Nurnberg/Japan
Born: Nov. 12, 1989
Channeling: Theo Walcott

A forward-winger hybrid who can operate anywhere along the offensive front, Kiyotake made his professional debut in the J-League at 16 and moved to the Bundesliga five years later.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He plays on fast-forward -- when he gets the ball, the game speeds up."

"Does everything at pace. He's relentless in his running and a very good dribbler of the ball."

"He's versatile and has a very good right foot."

Kiyotake is versatile but inconsistent for club and country.
Kiyotake is versatile but inconsistent for club and country.

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "He's inconsistent. Sure, he's all-action with the ball but when he loses it, he sometimes takes little breaks."

"He does play in bursts. He's not an 'effort guy' off the ball, but I'm not sure it's such a bad thing if those breathers allow him to then be so effective when they win the ball back."

Keylor Navas, GK, Levante/Costa Rica
Born: Dec. 15, 1986
Channeling: Jose Luis Chilavert

Made his debut for Deportivo Saprissa before gambling on a move to Albacete in Spain's second division. A year later he was at Levante, initially on loan and then, for just $200,000, on a permanent basis. This past season, his first as a starter in the Spanish top-flight, was his coming out party.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He reminds of a certain type of goalkeeper from that part of the world ... not too big, stocky, but incredibly intense."

"He seems to thrive against quality opposition. The tougher the opponent, the better he does; it elevates the whole team."

"Very brave, goes for every 50-50 ball and seemingly wins all of them."

"His reactions are second-to-none. Lightning quick."

Keylor Navas is an up-and-coming goalkeeper sure to dazzle for Costa Rica this summer.
Keylor Navas is an up-and-coming goalkeeper sure to dazzle for Costa Rica this summer.

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "He's temperamental. Yes, he'll win you games when he's hot, but he'll also drift. Most clubs want greater consistency."

"He's on the small side."

"Doesn't always make the right decisions."

Fabian Schar, DF, Basel/Switzerland
Born: Dec. 20, 1991
Channeling: Mats Hummels

Overlooked by everyone, two years ago he was still playing for Wil in the Swiss second-flight. Basel picked him up for $800,000 and he quickly established himself as a starting central defender and leader at the back.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He developed so quickly, it's incredible. His positioning and ability to read the game are outstanding."

"He's a big guy, dominant in the air who'll also chip in with goals."

"Really composed on the ball, never panics, always keeps it simple."

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "I'm not sure about his mobility and pace, though his intelligence and positioning help cover up whatever weakness he may have."

"The question is whether he can step up against better opposition. He did in the Champions' League, but that's easier to do because Basel play on the counter and he can sit deep with no space behind to cover. Could he do it when keeping a high line against quicker opponents? Tough to tell."

William Carvalho, MF, Sporting Lisbon/Portugal
Born: April 7, 1992
Channeling: Nemanja Matic

Born in Angola, he joined Sporting's youth set-up at 13. A big, strong defensive midfielder, he developed slowly, spending 18 months on loan in Belgium at Cercle Bruges before exploding on to the scene this past season.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "Physically, he's a beast, strong and imposing, but he's also very intelligent on the ball."

"His time in Belgium transformed him. Before that you could see his talent, but he also looked lumbering and slow. Now he's a different player."

"He doesn't tackle much because he doesn't need to -- his positioning is that good. Always seems to be where the ball ends up."

"Great vision and an excellent long-range passer, though he often keeps it simple and leaves the play-making to others."

Carvalho's explosive season in Portugal has put him on various clubs' transfer radars.
Carvalho's explosive season in Portugal has put him on various clubs' transfer radars.

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "For a guy that big, he probably could be a bigger threat in the air on set pieces. It's lacking from his game."

"He has no change of pace and can look a bit sluggish, but that's inevitable given his build."

"He looks slow, probably slower than he really is."

Josip Drmic, FW, Nurnberg/Switzerland (joins Bayer Leverkusen this summer)
Born: Aug. 8, 1992
Channeling: Ivica Olic

Came through the ranks at FC Zurich, then moved to Nurnberg for $3 million, where he scored 17 goals for a relegated side. The drop into the second-flight means he was put up for sale, and Bayer Leverkusen paid close to $9 million for his services.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He's quick for his size and build and good in the air, though he's more of a 'flick' header than a power guy."

"Solid finisher with both feet who runs well with the ball."

"Excellent shooter from outside the box ... very confident, maybe a quarter of his shots come from distance."

Josip Drmic is a solid finisher who is set to anchor Bayer Leverkusen's forward line next season.
Josip Drmic is a solid finisher who is set to anchor Bayer Leverkusen's forward line next season.

SCOUTS KNOCK: "He's not a classic number 9, needs a second striker alongside him."

"Not good with his back to the goal, doesn't hold the ball up well."

"His vision and link-up play could be better."

Heung Min Son, FW, Bayer Leverkusen/South Korea
Born: July 8, 1992
Channeling: Arjen Robben

Dropped out of his Seoul high school at 16 to join Hamburg -- that's how highly regarded he was. Made his debut at 18 and was a solid contributor until the summer of 2013 when Leverkusen bought him for $13 million, a club record.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "An exceptional athlete, great coordination and balance, naturally right-footed but confident enough to finish well with his left."

"I love his movement off the ball. He's so, so smart. You have no idea where he's going to turn up next, he simply pops up all over the place."

"Plenty of acceleration, plus you can't really force him on to his weak foot, because, while he's better with his right, he genuinely doesn't favor either."

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "His one-on-one play is entirely based on quickness, which is fine, but if he comes up against someone as quick -- and admittedly there aren't many -- he won't beat them."

"His vision isn't good, too often fails to spot teammates in better positions. If he could do a better job at that, he'd be devastating because he could draw opponents in and lay it off. Instead, defenders figure out that he's not going to pass."

"He's a bit selfish sometimes. To some degree you need to be, and maybe he just doesn't see teammates. But there are times when you just want him to pass the ball and he doesn't."

Ricardo Rodriguez, DF, Wolfsburg/Switzerland
Born: Aug. 25, 1992
Channeling: tough call, he's that unique but maybe Fabio Grosso on a really good day

Another Zurich youth product, he joined Wolfsburg at 19 for a whopping $10 million. A rugged, strong and durable left-back, he played every minute of the Bundesliga season during which he chipped in with five goals and plenty of assists.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He's strong and aggressive, very rarely loses a one-on-one duel, whether attacking or defending."

"His left foot is exceptional ... an outstanding crosser who is also wonderful on set pieces."

"Physically he's unusual. He's a left-back with a big upper body and wide shoulders, [making him] look more like a centre-back. Against most of the players he faces out wide, it's a physical mismatch."

"Hugely competitive, loves the physical side of the game but has genuine quality in his left foot."

Ricardo Rodriguez is developing nicely into a strong left-back equally comfortable in attack or defence.
Ricardo Rodriguez is developing nicely into a strong left-back equally comfortable in attack or defence.

SCOUTS' KNOCK: "His running style is unorthodox and because he's so big, he's slow off the mark. He usually recovers over distance, but his first step isn't great."

"I love his aggression, but he's too rash in the tackle sometimes."

Oleg Shatov, MF, Zenit St. Petersburg/Russia
Born: July 29, 1992
Channeling: Frank Lampard

Something of a late bloomer, Shatov played in the second division until he was 21. A newcomer to the national team, Russian national team manager Fabio Capello has shown faith in him in recent outings. Zenit bought him for $7 million last summer.

SCOUTS' RAVE: "He's potentially the Russian Frank Lampard."

"Works hard defensively, pressing the opposing deep-lying playmaker and sacrificing himself for the team."

"Has a knack for timing his runs into the box perfectly and shoots on goal very well."

SCOUTS KNOCK: "In that position, he could be a bit more subtle and creative, instead of being just up and down."

"He's a bit conservative. I like it when guys play simple, but he can be predictable."