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Mar 3, 2014

World Cup's top 25 under 25

Brazil's Neymar, Germany's Muller and Italy's Balotelli are three of the world's top young talents.

The World Cup is the ultimate sporting event for soccer fans, but it is also an important time for players who are hoping to raise their stock in the international game. This is especially true for young players looking to establish themselves as world-class commodities in the game’s fluid landscape.

So who are the best young players who will be competing in Brazil? Below I’ve ranked my top 25 players under age 25, based on their talent level and ability within the current football landscape.

Important: It should be noted that the age-24 cutoff eliminated a number of top-class players who are or will be 25 years old by June 14, including Germany’s Mesut Ozil, Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, Mexico’s Javier Hernandez and Chile’s Alexis Sanchez.

It is also important to keep in mind that those who made the ranks will be tasked with conforming to the structure of their national team, and so despite showing incredible potential, certain players such as Ross Barkley and Thiago Alcantara may be stuck behind established veterans in this high-stakes tournament. Nevertheless, if used properly, all 25 of these players can make a significant impact this summer, and a handful will likely put themselves on another level when everything is said and done.

Here is my ranking of the World Cup’s top 25 players under the age of 25:

1. Neymar, Brazil
Position: midfielder | Age: 22 | Club team: Barcelona

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Neymar ranks second in La Liga with 9.9 take-ons per 90 minutes, or that he also ranks second in the league with 4.1 fouls suffered per 90 minutes. But it may be somewhat surprising to know that the Brazilian star is also tied for fifth in La Liga with eight assists, and ranks second on Barcelona with 2.2 chances created per 90 minutes. The midfielder’s well-rounded game is a bad sign for Brazil’s opponents this summer, as the phenom now has a grasp of when to manufacture chances for others and when to create opportunities for himself.   

2. Eden Hazard, Belgium
Position: midfielder | Age: 23 | Club team: Chelsea

Hazard’s 12 goals and seven assists make him the team leader in both categories for Chelsea, and the Belgian midfielder ranks just behind Liverpool striker Luis Suarez for the most take-ons in the Premier League. A similar dribbling story occurs in appearances with Belgium, where Hazard recorded more than double the amount of take-ons as his closest teammate throughout World Cup qualifying. This implies Hazard will undoubtedly see a lot of the ball in Brazil, and will be counted on to create chances as well as finish in front of goal.

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