World Cup 2014: Ten potential breakout stars

Posted by Christopher Atkins

Son Heung-Min, Juan Fernando Quintero and Kenneth Omeruono_source / AP Images and Getty Images

It is now just one year until the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and as the Confederations Cup curtain-raiser gets the countdown underway, excitement as to what the competition may bring begins to step up a notch.

For all of the UEFA Champions League's brilliance, no competition captures the essence of football quite like the World Cup -- there is a romantic feel to the competition that has been formed over generations of supporters. The World Cup simply creates legends like no other tournament. It can define the perception of a player's career, irrespective of their performances at club level.

For younger players, it can be a competition that will change the remainder of their professional career. A good showing on the World Cup stage can open doors at major clubs, bringing both fame and fortune, as well as identifying them as a potential superstar. Just a few good games can be the difference between being handed an opportunity or not.

At every tournament, a couple of these rising talents write their names into footballing history, and the tournament next summer in Brazil will be no different. Whether they are already members of the national side, or they are set to burst onto the scene over the next year, there are names to be made -- and plenty of young players hoping that it will be them who succeeds.

Let's, then, take a look at 10 young talents who could be ready to make a substantial impression on next summer's World Cup.

Son Heung-Min (South Korea)
It is already three years since 20-year-old Son Heung-Min made his senior international debut, and much has changed in his career since then. Son's breakthrough came in the 2010-11 season, when he began to make an indent on the Hamburg first team. His impact would continue to grow the following year, but it has been this past 2012-13 season in which he has begun to play a starring role for the side. A pacey, two-footed forward, Son can play a number of attacking positions, and has consistently shown that he is a lethal finisher in front of goal. Assuming South Korea qualifies as expected, he will undoubtedly be one to watch.

Christian Atsu (Ghana)
Ghanaian left winger Christian Atsu has long been heralded as his country's brightest emerging star, and while he may not have fully made his mark at Porto yet, his talent is undoubted. Atsu's main problem has been poor advice, focusing on his next step before making himself a regular at his club. However, should he earn his move this summer, he will have plenty of time to ensure he arrives at the World Cup off the back of regular first-team action. Quick and technically impressive, Atsu has the potential to form a fine partnership on the wing with Marseille's Andre Ayew for the Black Stars.

Paul Pogba of Juventus and France
GettyImagesPaul Pogba of Juventus and France.

Paul Pogba (France)
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has already begun taking his first strides at international level, and has not looked out of place. He will return, though, to Under-20 action for this summer's World Cup, before seeking to cement his position at senior level over the next 12 months. Despite his inexperience, Pogba has the potential to be a standout player of next year's tournament. Even on his international debut against Spain, he had been Les Bleus' brightest performer prior to his late dismissal. With another season at Juventus under his belt, the powerful central midfielder will almost certainly have a role to play next summer.

Diego Reyes (Mexico)
Bound for Porto this summer, 20-year-old Mexico defender Diego Reyes is already well en route to cementing his place at the heart of the El Tri defence. At a reported transfer fee of €7 million, it would appear as though the Portuguese side may once more have found great value in the Latin American market. Intelligent in his positioning, comfortable in possession and strong in the air, Reyes has all the attributes required to make it to the very top of the world game. Despite his age and inexperience, there is a strong case to be made that Reyes is already Mexico's most important defender.

Angelo Henriquez (Chile)
It has not been an easy first year in England for 19-year-old Angelo Henriquez, but performances for his country suggest he has not lost any ground. The Manchester United forward will drop to Under-20 level for the upcoming World Cup, and will hope to do enough to persuade club boss David Moyes to include him at first-team level next season. With games under his belt, even if it requires a loan move, Henriquez will almost certainly make the World Cup. Once there, he will have a fine platform upon which to continue his fine goal-scoring record at all levels he has played at thus far in his career.

Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
Another player owned by a Premier League side without having played for the club is Chelsea center back Kenneth Omeruo. For just 19 years old, Omeruo already has plenty of experience from his 18 months playing on loan for Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag, and starred for his country in January's Africa Cup of Nations. It is now looking fairly likely that Omeruo will return to Stamford Bridge this summer, and, providing he gets enough games at club level, will almost certainly line up for Nigeria at the World Cup next summer (assuming the Super Eagles qualify). He should be one of the best young defenders on show at the competition.

Tonny Vilhena of Feyenoord and Netherlands
GettyImagesTonny Vilhena of Feyenoord and Netherlands.

Tonny Vilhena (Netherlands)
Dutch youngster Tonny Vilhena has enjoyed a stunning rise to prominence this season, making himself a first-team regular at Feyenoord and earning a preliminary call to the senior national team. It will not be easy for the 18-year-old to make manager Louis van Gaal's squad for next summer, with the competition for places intense, but he is on the right track to do so. Vilhena will spend the next few weeks at the European Under-21 Championship, where his country is expected to be among the best sides on show. Impress there and the lively creative midfielder may just catapult himself ahead of some rivals for a place at the World Cup.

Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
Wonderfully talented Colombian playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero is another player on the fringes of his national team, and will hope to use this summer's Under-20 World Cup to push his case for further inclusion. Heavily left-footed, Quintero floats around the center of the pitch looking to conduct his team's attacking play in the manner of a typical South American No. 10. He will likely move on from relegated Serie A side Pescara this summer, and has been linked to several of Europe's biggest sides. He may not start for his nation next summer, but will almost certainly be involved and should not be underestimated.

Wilfried Zaha (England)
Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha has yet to play for his new owners, and has played only once for his country, yet there is a real feeling that he could be an important player for England at the World Cup next summer. The Three Lions are not yet assured of qualification and have struggled to find a consistent attacking unit since the arrival of Roy Hodgson as manager last year. With Zaha's obvious talent, and big-game mentality, there is therefore every chance he could play his way into the side ahead of the World Cup. There is a long way to go, and he must first prove himself in the Premier League, but it is not particularly hard to envisage the England Under-21 star quickly climbing the ranks.

Bernard (Brazil)
Another player whose future looks set to be up in the air this summer is Atletico Mineiro forward Bernard, who has found himself heavily linked to both Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham in recent weeks. An electric presence on the left of midfield, he has shot to prominence over the past 18 months having been an integral part of a resurgent Atletico side who are among the favourites for this year's Copa Libertadores. For the moment, Bernard is on the edge of the Brazil squad, but will have the chance to impress with some cameo appearances at the upcoming Confederations Cup. His pace and energy could be a real asset for Felipao's side late in tight games.

ESPN Conversations