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May 9, 2014

World Cup's top player at every age

Brazil's Neymar (age 22), Portugal's Ronaldo (29) and Italy's Pirlo (35) are three of the world's top talents.

The World Cup cycle is always a good measure of how individual players have changed the landscape of the game over the previous four years. Within every tournament, there are exciting young prospects set to become household names, world-class players looking to thrive in the prime of their careers and established veterans who enter the tournament knowing this will likely be their last chance at World Cup glory.

Here is my list of the top players at every age from 18 to 35 years old who, by all accounts, will be competing at the World Cup in Brazil. Selections were made based on current form as well as performance for both club and country over the past year, with extra points given to players who provide versatility for their countries. These players are categorized by how old they will be when the tournament starts on June 12, and given that only one player is chosen for each age, there are quite a few difficult decisions (i.e. Yaya Toure versus Franck Ribery at age 31, etc.).

Here's a look at the best player at each age heading to Brazil, along with honorable mentions.

18 years old

Luke Shaw, England (Southampton)

Shaw has made it fairly clear that he is a future mainstay at left-back for England, and it seems inevitable that he will eventually be lured to one of Europe's biggest clubs. The defender ranks third in total minutes played for Southampton, and by staying on the field Shaw has amassed 58 total tackles (second most on team) while also ranking third on Southampton with 149 total clearances.

Honorable mention: Simone Scuffet, Italy (Udinese); Max Meyer, Germany (Schalke)


19 years old

Raheem Sterling, England (Liverpool)

Sterling ranks third on the Liverpool with 24 attacking-third touches per 90 minutes, and as a result he also ranks third on the team with 5.8 take-ons per 90 minutes. Plus, Sterling's nine goals rank fourth on a Liverpool team that has been strong in the attack all season, and the potential absences of Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend could make Sterling even more valuable throughout England's World Cup campaign.

Honorable mention: Leon Goretzka, Germany (Schalke)


20 years old

Ross Barkley, England (Everton)

Barkley remains a bubble player for England's World Cup team, but England manager Roy Hodgson is right to give Barkley strong consideration given the balance that he can bring to England's attack.

#INSERT type:image caption:Heat map of England's take-ons in 2014 World Cup qualifying matches, left, and...