Five breakout players at the World Cup
Every World Cup throws up a collection of fresh-faced talents who force themselves into the spotlight, and this year has been no different. The thrilling group stage in Brazil served up a host of memorable moments that will live long in the memory, while some young players have seized the opportunity to make themselves known. Here are five who have impressed enough so far to suggest they have a big future in the game.
Juan Cuadrado (Colombia) Age: 26 Current club: Fiorentina
Fiorentina fans will not be surprised by Cuadrado's impressive contributions to the Colombia cause at the start of this World Cup as he headed to Brazil in fine form. Six goals in his final seven Serie A games of the 2013-14 season confirmed that the winger had found his feet in European football after an indifferent initial spell at Udinese left plenty of questions over his ability to adapt to the Italian top flight.
No such doubts have raised themselves in Group C, however, as his performances at the World Cup have been consistently impressive. His cool penalty in the 4-1 win against Japan was complemented by three assists and, while his teammate James Rodriguez has taken the majority of the plaudits, Cuadrado's exploits have raised his profile considerably.
Indeed his pace, excellent crossing, passing ability and finishing power make him a key man for Colombia and, quite probably, a transfer target for top clubs this summer. After initially taking him on a co-ownership deal, Fiorentina paid a fee to sign him outright from Udinese and that could be a good financial decision from La Viola, with Arsenal and Barcelona reportedly interested. Indeed, Colombia coach Jose Pekerman thinks he would fit in well at the Nou Camp.
Daley Blind (Netherlands) Age: 24 Current club: Ajax
Being the son of a famous ex-international does not always help a young player when he gets his chance to shine for club and country. Blind suffered for his associations with father Danny when he made his breakthrough at Ajax and then with the Dutch national team. His father's presence on the Ajax coaching staff and then his role as assistant to Louis van Gaal with the Dutch squad did little to quash the suspicion that the junior Blind was being given more than a little assistance in his rapid rise up the football ladder.
Indeed, Ajax fans regularly jeered him as he initially struggled to win their affections. However, that perception has changed. Blind has rapidly emerged as one of the most talked-about players of the 2014 World Cup, with his ability to occupy a holding midfield role or shine at full-back ensuring he has silenced his doubters.
Blind's stunning pass for Robin van Persie's looping header against Spain got his World Cup off to a flying start in his first game and he continued to impress in all three games (won) by the Dutch. With Van Gaal in the hot seat at Old Trafford after the summer's exertions, Manchester United is the obvious destination for him this summer, while Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund may try to tempt him to join them instead.
Divock Origi (Belgium) Age: 19 Current club: Lille
Plenty of Belgian players were loaded into the media's hype machine ahead of this World Cup, yet despite playing a secondary role to Romelu Lukaku up front, teenager Origi is emerging as one of the leaders of their pack. While Belgium boast a host of established stars from England's Premier League in their lineup, Origi stole the headlines as he scored the winner in their crucial Group H game against Russia in Rio de Janeiro, with his restrained celebrations suggesting that he has not been daunted by his first appearance at a World Cup.
After making his way through the academy at Genk, the youngster was used as a substitute by Lille for much of last season and still managed to pop up with five Ligue 1 goals as his team secured a spot in next season's Champions League. Origi represented Belgium at a host of junior international levels, and his goal against Russia was his first at senior international level. As his national team coach Marc Wilmots told reporters, he could not have timed his rise to the top better.
"He's in a good space right now; he's 19 years old," said Wilmots after the game. "It was a bit of a surprise since Origi was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is." Such a profile has already got Tottenham and Liverpool reportedly scrambling for his services this summer and, according to the player himself, they stand a better chance of signing him than AS Roma.
John Brooks (USA) Age: 21 Current club: Hertha Berlin
Neutrals couldn't help sharing in Brooks' delight (or was it just pure amazement?) as he scored the late header that gave Jurgen Klinsmann's USA team victory in their opening World Cup match against Ghana. Shock seemed to override the joyous emotions for Brooks as he collapsed on the turf to try to find his composure following his breakthrough World Cup moment, before his towering 6-foot-4 frame was engulfed by his jubilant teammates.
German-born Brooks, who grew up in Berlin as his father served in the U.S. military, admitted the round of applause he received from his own teammates as he returned to the dressing room following his winner against the Ghanaians will live with him forever.
"It was such an emotional moment and I wasn't expecting it," he said, after also admitting that he had dreamed, literally, about scoring the winner. "It shows what a great atmosphere we have in this squad. I can only thank my teammates for this respect."
Brooks has international experience playing for two nations, as he played for Germany in an under-20 game, but the U.S. won the race to secure his talents, and how it paid off in that one glorious World Cup moment. His impact on the rest of the tournament may never live up to it, but a host of Premier League clubs including Newcastle, Aston Villa and Everton are all believed to be tracking his progress.
Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast) Age: 21 Current club: Toulouse
Aurier was being linked with a move to Newcastle and Swansea before this World Cup, but it is Champions League teams Arsenal and Liverpool who have been rumoured to be close to a move for him after some impressive displays in Brazil.
Eye-catching performances against Japan and Colombia -- which were highlighted by his two assists in the first of those matches -- confirmed that the lofty expectations that have been circling around Aurier for some time were not misplaced.
An impressive threat moving forward from his right-back berth, Aurier also seems to boast sound awareness in his defensive duties, with his youthful age suggesting he could be moulded into a top-quality performer sooner rather than later after his impressive season with Toulouse was backed up by a solid campaign at Brazil 2014.
"Serge brought us energy and balance, and he had a fantastic game," Ivory Coast great Didier Drogba told reporters at the World Cup. "He's the best right-back in all of France. I think he'll do well at the next level too, in the Premier League."