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Seven players who've impressed

June 26, 2010
Schaerlaeckens By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com
(Archive)

With the tournament now past the halfway point, several first-time participants have made considerable waves. Below are the gentlemen who have impressed the most.

7. Giovani Dos Santos, Mexico

The form of the 21-year-old attacking midfielder at this World Cup made many wonder where all that skill was when he was with Barcelona and Tottenham in recent years. Always thought to be a mega-prospect, he set South Africa and France alight with his thunderous runs and shots from distance before Mexico was bounced in the round of 16.

As perhaps the biggest star among Mexico's superb generation of attacking prospects, Dos Santos will get another crack at this.

6. Michael Bradley, USA

Once considered the beneficiary of nepotism, box-to-box midfielder Michael Bradley has cast aside any doubts about the merits of his starting job. In four games, Bradley was without a doubt the best American midfielder, if not the best American overall. Seldom flashy and never spectacular, Bradley did stick away a crucial goal against Slovenia, putting the U.S. level at two after the team had gone down early.

5. Keisuke Honda, Japan

The lithe attacking midfielder is a longtime under-the-radar prospect, dazzling fans in the Netherlands, where he played for VVV-Venlo, before taking his game to Russia's CSKA Moscow this past winter and catching the eye of people paying close attention to the Champions League.

In this World Cup, he has been a revelation as the focal point of Japan's attack. In the Blue Samurai's opening game, relentlessly dangerous and versatile Honda positioned himself well to get on the end of a cross and slotted home the winner. Against Denmark, the other game Japan won, Honda scored the first on a sharp free kick, perhaps becoming the first man to truly unearth the mysteries of the Jabulani.

4. Mesut Ozil, Germany

At just 21, Ozil has stepped seamlessly into the role star player Michael Ballack vacated because of injury. The Werder Bremen attacking midfielder of Turkish descent has in fact made many forget that Ballack is even gone. As comfortable distributing play from the center of the field as he is drifting off to the flanks and running at defenders, Ozil is the glue that holds this exciting young German team together.

Destructive against Australia and disruptive against England, when he drew enough attention for Thomas Muller to drop into space and served the latter the fourth goal on a silver platter, he also scored the winner against Ghana.

3. Thomas Muller, Germany

Die Mannschaft's superbly mobile and agile 20-year-old striker quickly made good on his "hot prospect" label. After a triumphant season with Bayern Munich this year, which came a game away from a treble after winning the double in Germany and reaching the final of the Champions League, he wasted little time doing the same for his national side. Although he had been with the team for only two games before the tournament started, he already has logged three goals in four games as a lethal striker underneath savvy Miroslav Klose.

2. Luis Suarez, Uruguay

The lesser known of Uruguay's striker combination, his reputation lagging behind Diego Forlan's, the fleet-footed Ajax striker has been very effective in this tournament. Suarez, who also can play out on the wing, hasn't made many friends with his knack for flopping, which has been frustrating opponents in the Dutch league for several years now. But the cold-blooded finisher, who has yet to run into a chance he can't convert, scored two beautiful goals against South Korea to take his team to the quarterfinals and looks only to be getting hotter with three goals already under his belt.

1. Luis Fabiano, Brazil

It's hard to imagine that the Brazilian target man is in his first World Cup, given his ease on the pitch. Ostracized from the Selecao from 2004 through 2007 while struggling in Europe, Fabiano has started his maiden Cup with a splash, proving ever-dangerous in Brazil's first three games and scoring twice against the Ivory Coast (albeit once after twice handling the ball).

He has been in such hot form that his play has masked many of Brazil's flaws early in the tournament and potentially has the Brazilians on the way to a sixth World Cup triumph.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.