PRETTY much every real football fan already knew about Michael Owen even before he scored that goal against Argentina in France 1998 as an 18-year-old player.
Of course, after that tournament, everyone else started to know about him too. And by everyone else, I mean girls who have a weakness for puppies and kittens and a sudden, fleeting interest in football whenever the World Cup rolls along.
My point is, with boyish good looks, one moment of brilliance in the World Cup can turn you from a footballing prospect into a worldwide household name.
But if you’re like me you’ll be keeping your eyes peeled to the television come June 11, hoping for some glorious football and not just to see who’s the latest pretty boy in international football.
So, here’s a list of some of the players you should be looking out for. In other words, these players are mostly quite, er, fug.
Angel di Maria, 22, Argentina and Benfica
He’s one of football’s hottest properties at the moment, but the young winger might have to bide his time thanks to Diego Maradona’s embarrassment of riches in attack. There have been rumours that he’s valued at £30mil (RM147mil), though Jose Mourinho has already publicly said that he’s not worth that much. Nevertheless, he’s a very determined and skillful player.
Edin Dzeko, 24, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Wolfsburg
The big Bosnian has cemented his reputation as one of the best strikers in the Bundesliga. He’s very strong, deadly in the air and has really tidy feet for a guy his size, but his national team’s shortcomings might prevent him from really shining.
Alexis Sanchez, 21, Chile and Udinese
He’s got a lot of tricks in his locker, and a thunderous shot, inevitably leading to comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo. Another one of those youngsters that’s been linked with pretty much every big club.
Jesus Navas, 23, Spain and Sevilla
Navas has always been seen as one of Spain’s most talented youngsters, even among their current crop of stars. But the crippling anxiety attacks he gets whenever he’s away from his hometown of Seville are so severe that he’s even walked out of national team training camps because they were too far from home. He rejected a move to Chelsea in 2006 for the same reasons.
Fortunately, he’s managed to overcome some of those problems, and will be travelling to South Africa. The fact that the national team is willing to accommodate him considering his condition is an indication of just how good this guy is.
Per Mertesacker, 25, Germany and Werder Bremen
Though he stands at a towering 198cm, just an inch shy of Peter Crouch, Mertesacker is one of the Bundesliga’s tidiest defenders. He was a revelation in the last World Cup, and a similar showing might seal him a move to one of the big guns. There have been rumours that Arsene Wenger is trying to get him in.
Mesut Ozil, 21, Germany and Werder Bremen
One of the things Germany has lacked in recent years is flair, but playmaker Ozil can definitely bring them some of that. Still not an automatic starter, but he’ll be sure to get a few chances to show his talent. He’s a creative attacking midfielder who can score spectacular goals.
Luis Suarez, 23, Uruguay and Ajax
He’s the only player to have scored more than Lionel Messi this season, and he’s done it in fewer games. Suarez’s stats in the past season is astounding – 35 goals in 33 league games, and 49 goals in 48 games in all competitions. His greatest asset is his shooting ability. This guy can blast, curl and guide the ball home from anywhere in and around the penalty area.
Hugo Lloris, 23, France and Lyon
It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t include a goalkeeper in the list now, would it? Hugo Lloris has some amazing reflexes, but he still needs to work on his command of the penalty area.
When it comes to shot-stopping though, he’s the real deal. You can count on him coming up with a couple of wonder saves during the tournament, especially with how awful France have become under Raymond Domenech.
Javier Hernandez, 21, Mexico and Manchester United
Not much was known about “Chicharito” before he signed for United, but he’s already scored three goals in Mexico’s last two friendlies. Pretty sure United fans will be watching a lot of Mexico matches with great interest this time around.