There aren't many things I like better than prospect lists and I'm a huge sucker for 'the next big thing', spending countless hours watching high school football prospects, soccer phenoms from Brazil and college baseball. When I can combine some crystal ball gazing with the World Cup, well, it just doesn't get any better. Here then is my list of prospects to look our for this World Cup. The only rule is that you can't have been in your country's squad in the World Cup before, so a couple of these guys are household names while a couple will hopefully give you someone new to look for (depending on how much you play Football Manager or scour the internet and YouTube)
GK Hugo Lloris
Lloris has been on the world scene for several years, often tipped as the long term replacement for Edwin van der Sar or the answer to Arsene Wenger's goalkeeper woes. It's incredible to think that Fabian Barthez (yeh, remember him?!) was Les Bleus number one in 2006, preferred to the in form Gregory Coupet and young gun Mickael Landreau. Both of these have been surpassed by Lloris who has shone for Lyon and once again earned goalkeeper of the year this past season. Fantasy wise, Lloris should also be a decent pickup as a younger French back line faces good but not great opposition in Group A.
DF Raul Albiol
Not a true sleeper in that I'm sure everyone is familiar with Albiol's work but I felt he warranted inclusion here to reflect his meteoric rise to prominence. Albiol was named in ESPN's La Liga team of the year, and they sum him up well as "low profile, competitive and continuously improving". Spain have one of the better defenses around and Albiol would make a sound and cheaper option than the higher profile Carlos Puyol.
DF Giorgio Chiellini
Cannavaro might have the glory and the newly signed megadeal to play in UAE but it is Chiellini who is Italy's best defender these days. The Juventus - at least for now - defender is back in training and should be good to go for Italy's first game against Paraguay to play alongside the aforementioned Cannavaro. Over the past 6 seasons at Juventus, Chiellini has grown into one of the most consistent defenders in world football, averaging over 30 games a season and looks ready to take his place as the next great Italian defender.
DF Neven Subotic
Already heralded as the next Nemanja Vidic - even to the point where rumours suggest he will replace his fellow countryman at Old Trafford - Subotic could launch himself onto the world stage playing for an underrated Serbian team. Subotic may be familiar to any America readers given that he played at USF as well as the US U-17 National team back in 2005. He instead chose to represent his native Serbia and will partner Vidic in one of the best CB pairings in the competition.
MD Marek Hamsik
To be honest I thought I had a gem to announce here but it turns out that every one is already on the Hamsik bandwagon with multiple sources citing him as a future star and the inevitable transfers rumours already having begun. The hype is genuine from what I've seen, and this video shows the incredible versatility he brings to both his game and his goal scoring. I have not seen such goalscoring instincts in such a young player for a while and I can see him being perhaps the rising star of the tournament. Unless he is surprisingly priced I would put him as one the biggest bargains available when FIFA announce their fantasy prices tomorrow.
MD Angel Di Maria
Possibly the most exciting prospect in world football, I already rate Di Maria alongside the likes of Ribery or Robben and would consider picking him over that pair and many others, regardless of their respective value in the fantasy game. Consider therefore that Di Maria will likely be cheaper than his more famous counterparts and you have yourself bargain and probably a differentiator (at least over Joe Sixpack anyway).
MD Matias Fernandez
I've been hearing about Fernandez for some time, and I was thrilled when he got his move to Villarreal. Things didn't really pan out though and he moved to Sporting before this season. He is supremely talented though and is playing for a good Chile side who should enjoy success against Honduras and Switzerland and are my pick to progress through Group H.
MD Yoann Gourcuff
I absolutely love Gourcuff and I hope beyond pretty much all players in the world that he makes his way to England this summer, ideally to play for Arsenal (even if that does mean losing my beloved Cesc to Barcelona). Touted as another "next Zidane" I think that Gourcuff might actually live up to some of the hype this summer and could lead a fantasy team to glory as I think France as a whole are better than some are giving them credit for.
MD Mesut Ozil
Losing Ballack is a blow for the World Cup but he isn't the talent he once was and his absence might pave the way for Ozil to shine. Ozil is as talented as any other young player in the world and enjoyed a great season for Werder notching 9 goals in 31 league appearances to help guide them to a 3rd place finish. His sole international goal came against South Africa and I think he will enjoy further success playing there this summer.
FW Alexis Sanchez
El Nino Maravilla (the Wonder Boy) still reminds me a bit of a 2005 rather 2008 Cristiano Ronaldo in that his tricks seem to outweigh his end product, but nevertheless his natural talent is unquestionable. Already one of the best dribblers in the world, he will cause any defense problems and should form an exciting trio with the aforementioned Matias Fernandez and Humberto Suazo, who enjoyed some success in the second half of the season with Zaragoza. Sanchez will probably be a bit frustrating to watch and the end might not always equals the means, but boy will you have fun rooting for him along the way.
FW Luis Suarez
Granted there have been a few players from the Eredivisie who have brought great goalscoring records to one of the bigger clubs in Europe and failed to hit the big time (Kuyt, Kezman, Alves) but nor did those players have the kind of natural ability and flare that Suarez enjoys. He can score from anywhere while showing a gift for scoring the easy ones too on the way to his insane 74 in 97 record for Ajax. Uruguay have a tough group and if history is anything to go by will likely fall at the first hurdle (no home nation has ever failed to escape their group) but Suarez is still a good pick for the first three games as none of his opponents have an elite defensive unit. He should be a level below the cost of Europe's top strikers allowing you to bring in a couple of premium players by saving some cash here if FIFA haven't caught onto the hype yet.
Simon Kjaer - almost made the starting XI but injury brings into question his place at the tournament.
Ramires - a better player in real life than fantasy, he would have cracked the XI had this been a real team. His endurance and tackling are a microcosm as what is good about the new look Brazil.
Juan Mata - I love this guy's talent but I fear he won't play enough to generate fantasy consideration. I felt he warranted mention though.
Thomas Muller - Muller exploded this year playing in all 34 Bundesliga matches to help Bayern secure their domestic double. Like Mata I feel he won't generate enough minutes to be a superstar but worth looking out for nonetheless.
Pedro - enjoyed an astonishing season for star studded Barcelona becoming the first player to score in six competitions in a single season. Again, likely won't get enough minutes to be a star but might have an impact off the bench for tournament favorites Spain.
Do you think I've missed anyone? Are there any stars you think are ready to explode? Please post your thoughts below or @plfantasy and we'll discuss.