Top 10 Breakthrough Players of the 2014 World Cup

Every four years we as fans prepare excuses to miss work, family events or any other activities that could possibly take us away from the television during the months of June and July. We construct our knockout brackets, make bets with friends and organize parties all around one of the world’s biggest sporting events. Of course, I’m talking about the World Cup. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what a World Cup is then you best walk away right now and crawl back into the hole you’ve been living in for the past few weeks. If you have a backlog of work to do because your production has mysteriously dropped over the past few weeks or you find that your significant other is less than impressed with your television-watching habits, chances are this article is for you.

Every World Cup tournament has its favorites, whether they be teams or individual players. This year is no exception. Driven by their star-studded lineups, the powerhouses of Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands are often favored to advance far into the tournament. As we fill in our knockout brackets, a host of names influence our decision-making process when it comes to who will advance and who will end their tournament early. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin Van Persie and Neymar are all well-known superstars who we know can influence a match. These are players who have risen to world-wide fame over the years because of their skill with a ball.

What about those players most haven’t heard of? The World Cup provides a stage for many players who do not have the fame possessed by a Messi or Ronaldo. Every year, several of these ‘lesser-known’ players rise up and make fans take notice. By having a good tournament, these players make a name for themselves in world football and catch the eye of prominent agents and football managers. The result is that many of these ‘new’ names become linked with transfers to bigger European and South American clubs. This list looks at 10 players who have made a name for themselves during the 2014 World Cup. Hardcore football fanatics will know almost all of them. Before this World Cup, however, many of the names on this list were known only to fans of those players’ clubs or football federations.

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10 Joel Campbell -- Costa Rica

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Before the 2014 World Cup, only the fans of Costa Rica and a few professional clubs in Europe knew who Joel Campbell was. It’s a good bet that a lot more people are familiar with the forward following his displays over the past few weeks. Campbell is currently a member of Arsenal in the EPL. That said, the 22-year-old has spent much of his career on loan, most recently with Greek side Olympiacos. While Costa Rica may have been knocked out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals, Campbell used the five matches to make a name for himself with especially strong performances against Uruguay and Greece. It is no surprise that his name is now showing up in transfer speculation, often linked as a make-weight in possible Arsenal transfers this summer.

9 Jackson Martinez -- Colombia

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Jackson Martinez was one of the better-known players heading into this World Cup. Over the past two seasons, while with Portuguese side FC Porto, the Colombian has appeared 60 times and scored 46 goals. The former Chiapas striker added to his reputation with some good performances at this year’s tournament, highlighted by a brace against Japan which included the winning goal. Featuring in three of Colombia’s five World Cup matches, the 27-year-old definitely played a part in getting his side to the quarter-finals.  Linked with a move to Arsenal in the past, if the rumors are to be believed, Porto now look at fending off interest in Martinez from Manchester United and Liverpool.

8 Matt Besler -- United States

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Little was known about this defender outside of the MLS before this World Cup tournament. Currently playing for Sporting Kansas City, Matt Besler demonstrated in Brazil that he was probably the best center back on the US men’s team. With Tim Howard in net, Besler was an integral part of the US defense which helped beat Ghana and draw with Portugal. Impressively, the 27-year-old was integral to limiting Germany (the team who destroyed Brazil 7-1) to just one goal and forcing Belgium into extra time in the Group of 16 matchup. With such performances catching the attention of football fans everywhere, it should come as no shock that Besler has recently been linked with moves to a host of Premier League and Bundesliga teams.

7 Memphis Depay -- Netherlands

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There is an excellent chance that not a lot of people outside of Holland had heard about Memphis Depay before this summer. That all changed when the 20-year-old winger stepped onto the pitch with the Dutch national team this June. Depay made four appearances for the Dutch team, scoring two goals with one being the winner against Australia. A strong contender for the Hyundai Young-Player Award, Depay’s performance has garnered much attention and he is now rumored to be a transfer target of both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Of course, with Dutch team manager Louis van Gaal appointed as manager of Manchester United, there is every chance the PSV Eindhoven youngster could be on his way to Old Trafford.

6 James Rodriguez -- Columbia

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When you score six goals in five matches during a World Cup, everyone takes notice. That’s not to say that James Rodriguez was an unknown before this tournament. Like his teammate, Jackson Martinez, Rodriguez was known in UEFA thanks to time at FC Porto and current club AS Monaco. The performance he had at this year’s World Cup ensured that everyone now knows the name of this Columbian attacking midfielder. Although Columbia were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Brazil, Rodriguez stood out thanks to scoring in every match Columbia had – including two against a Suarez-less Uruguay in the Group of 16. Recent rumors in the papers have the 22-year-old Columbian targeted by Manchester United. If Monaco are willing to let Rodriguez leave this summer, thanks to this World Cup, you can guarantee it will be for a hefty transfer fee.

5 Guillermo Ochoa -- Mexico

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Every now and then a goal keeper produces an amazing display in a major tournament which gets everyone’s attention. Yes, the authorities should be testing Tim Howard’s urine after that jaw-dropping display against Belgium, however, Howard is fairly well known around the world. Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, a lesser known figure, garnered much praise after a string of good performances. It was the performance against Brazil, where he shut out Neymar and co., that propelled the 28-year-old into the headlines. Ochoa, who currently plays for French club Ajaccio, made four spectacular saves against Brazil which helped the Mexican team snatch an unlikely point from the encounter. Named Man-of-the-Match twice in the tournament, it is understandable that Ochoa is rumored to be a transfer target of basically any team you can think of.

4 Enner Valencia -- Ecuador

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Everyone knows who Antonio Valencia is – the pacey winger who plays for Manchester United. However, this World Cup has shown that Ecuador has another talented player, Antonio’s brother Enner Valencia. Ecuador failed to get out of the group stage, yet, Valencia made the most of his time by scoring three goals in two matches, including a brace against Honduras. The 24-year-old currently plays for Mexican club CF Pachuca, although this could be changing very soon. As of writing this article, Premier League side West Ham United reportedly placed a bid of £12 million for the Columbian. Other teams interested are rumored to include Valencia, Stoke City and Manchester City.

3 DeAndre Yedlin -- United States

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DeAndre Yedlin is another MLS player who currently takes to the pitch with the Seattle Sounders. Not many people outside of the MLS had heard of the 21-year-old American defender until the 2014 World Cup. Subbed on in the match against Portugal, Yedlin helped to set up a Clint Dempsey’s goal. Against Germany and Belgium he displayed the ability to deliver high quality crosses. One such cross found the head of Dempsey who failed to put it on the German net. His defending skills may be questionable but no one can dispute the attacking abilities displayed these past few weeks. Yedlin’s performance has caught the eye of many and rumors now have the likes of Napoli, Roma and Liverpool interested in his services.

2 Giancarlo Gonzalez -- Costa Rica

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The second Costa Rican on this list, Giancarlo Gonzalez put in an excellent performance at center back during his team’s run in this World Cup. The stats don’t lie as Costa Rica only conceded a single goal in a group which contained the likes of England, Italy and Uruguay. During two knockout rounds, Gonzalez played a large part in holding off Greece and the Netherlands while conceding only one goal before losing on penalties to the Dutch in the quarter-finals. The 26-year-old defender currently plays for the Columbus Crew of the MLS. As with most players on this list, new employment opportunities are likely to arise in the coming weeks, especially from teams looking for a defender.

1 Divock Origi -- Belgium

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With the fantastic performance of the Belgian national team at this World Cup it is understandable that new Belgian footballing talent should be grabbing its share of the headlines and transfer rumor ‘news.’ Divock Origi is one such player who has come out of nowhere to make a name for himself. Origi currently plays for Lille in the French Ligue 1. The 19-year-old striker is just beginning his career but this World Cup may have given him a huge boost. Perhaps Origi’s standout moment came with a last-gasp winner against Russia in the group stage. The goal ensured three points and meant Belgium were given a place in the Round of 16. The pacey and strong teenager has attracted the attention of many, including Liverpool, who are reportedly very close to securing his services.

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