The World Cup in Brazil takes centre stage in the summer of next year, but which young stars will make the biggest impression?
Favourites such as Spain, Brazil and Germany all claim to have the best young talent in the world today meaning that next year's tournament could be largely influential in shaping the careers of the next generation of world class stars.
Marco Reus | Germany
The 23-year-old Borussia Dortmund winger won his first cap for Germany in 2011. Ever since he has gone on to impress on a regular basis, notably helping his former club Borussia Monchengladbach earn a Champions League qualifying last season which saw the youngster earn move to the yellow and black of Borussia Dortmund.
Reus scored his first goal for his country in a 5-3 defeat to Switzerland, a warm up match for the Euro 2012 tournament. In a team full of young up and coming talent, the flamboyant winger arguably made the biggest impression in the side, despite being used mainly as a substitute, his talent was undeniable and Reus scored his first competitive goal for Germany in a 4-2 win over Greece in the quarter final, a glimpse of what was and is still to come from this highly skillful player.
Reus has helped his club side Borussia Dortmund a place in the Champions League semi final, scoring four goals in ten appearances. His record in all competitions this season speaks for itself with 18 goals and 13 assists in 45 appearances for last years' Bundesliga champions. It is little wonder why Reus is now one of the first names on the team-sheet for Germany as well. He has scored four goals in qualifying matches for the World Cup including two against the Republic of Ireland and another brace against Kazakhstan.
The winger will be one of Germany's main goal threats at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and with seven goals in 15 games for his country thus far, few would bet against Reus adding to his tally before and during the tournament next year.
Isco | Spain
Current world champions Spain still remain the favourites to emerge from the tournament next year still the number one national team in the world. However with legendary midfielder Xavi entering the twilight of his career, his successor could well and truly be 21-year-old Malaga playmaker, Isco. Since breaking into the first team at club level, Isco has since gone on to become one of the world's finest young talents. Most notably the youngster won La Liga breakthrough player of the year in 2012 having helped his side earn a Champions League spot the following season.
Isco won his first cap for Spain in February earlier this year in a 3-1 win over Uruguay. During Malaga's Champions League campaign this season, the midfielder scored three goals in six matches including a goal against Porto which helped Malaga progress to the quarter finals of the competition for the first time in the club's history. Isco also played his part as the Spanish side were narrowly defeated by Borussia Dortmund 3-2 on aggregate.
While it's fair to say that Isco is still paying his dues before he can become a world star, he does possess many of the same attributes as the man he could potentially replace, Xavi.
He offers Malaga some much needed attacking flair making well-timed runs, finesse passing and the ability to grab a goal at vital times much like the Barcelona talisman.
Isco still has a long way to go to reach the heights of the famed Barcelona midfielder however it is likely that the current Malaga star will end up at one of the world's elite clubs. Wherever that may be he'll improve the team greatly. Should he be a first team figure for Spain heading into the World Cup, he could be instrumental in helping his country remain world champions for a further four years.
Neymar | Brazil
With the hosts facing more pressure to deliver than any other nation, much is expected for 21-year-old star man, Neymar. The Santos forward is Brazil's key man in a tournament which will see the country relying on essentially very young players. Neymar has been touted as the most gifted player of the Selecao's new generation having scored 135 goals in all competitions at club level.
It's not often that a player as young as Neymar has won more than 30 caps for his country, however having scored 20 goals for Brazil albeit the majority have been in friendly matches, the young striker is set to take the world by storm at the World Cup next year as the nation will watch and prey that Neymar and co. are able to return the trophy that has eluded that five time world champions for 12 years.
Neymar received the FIFA Puskas Award in 2011 for best goal of the year. He was also won numerous awards for his contribution to Santos since he burst on the seen following the previous World Cup in 2010. Should Neymar still be with his current club when the World Cup takes place, a good performance at his first major finals will see a move to one of Europe's elite clubs seem more and more like a formality.
Mario Gotze | Germany
The German national team are full of attacking flair that it is a question of how will the country find a space for each of these talented players? One name for me who should certainly be on the list is Bayern Munich bound attacking midfielder, Mario Gotze. Currently at Borussia Dortmund, the 20-year-old is set to join the Bavarian giant's this summer for a fee in the region of £32 million, making the youngster the most expensive German player of all time.
Despite paying such a large fee for a player still progressing, it seems like money well spent as Gotze has some dazzling displays since he made his debut in 2009 and already has five goals for his country in 22 appearances.
Gotze was part of the German youth side that won the UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship in 2009, playing in the same team with highly rated Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper, Marc ter Stegen. Gotze made his debut for the national side in late 2010 in a friendly match against Sweden at the age of 18.
The attacking midfielder is considered to be an up and coming, potential world class player with his ability to beat defenders with pace and skill. Gotze will be part of the German side next year with current Dortmund team-mate Marco Reus, as well as the experienced captain Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, both of whom the 20 year old will link up with when he joins Bayern this summer.
The nation's current generation of players have been on the brink of success in the last two major tournaments, however with the likes of Gotze and Reus adding more flair to the country's hopes, it could be Germany who will be crowned world champions for the first time in 24 years when the tournament ends in July of next year.
Stephan El Shaarawy | Italy
Nicknamed ''The Pharaoh'' for his Egyptian heritage, El Shaarawy is considered one of the best up and coming talents in world football. Despite being eligible to play for Egypt, the 20-year-old declared to play for Italy an has played for The Azzurri's under 16 team and up before making his debut for the senior squad in the summer of 2012.
El Shaarawy joined Serie A giants A.C. Milan in 2011 and was seen as ''one for the future'' with Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the attack. However in his first season, El Shaarawy made more than 25 appearances in his season with The Rossoneri and it wasn't long before the Serie A side realised the youngster's potential and his versatility. He normally plays as a winger but can also be used as an attacking midfielder or a centre-forward.
El Shaarawy scored his first goal for Italy on his third cap in a 2-1 win over France. He has since played three more times for his country with plenty more to follow in the future. Alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Danielle De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini for the national side, the young forward could be crucial in Italy's bid to regain the World Cup in Brazil next year. El Shaarawy has averaged almost a goal a game for AC Milan this season, scoring 19 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions.
Raphael Varane | France
A regular at the young age of 19 at the famous Real Madrid is certainly no mean feat. Varane joined the Spanish champions from French side Lens for a fee in the range of €10 million in the summer of 2011. He was signed initially as an understudy to first choice centre backs, Sergio Ramos and Pepe. However in his first season with Los Blancos he played 15 times in all competitions scoring two goals in the process making him the youngest player to score a competitive goal for Real. He helped the club win La Liga that season capping off a very good start to his career in Spain.
Injury to Portuguese defender Pepe gave Varane a glorious chance to cement his place as first choice centre back alongside Ramos. The young Frenchman seized upon the opportunity with a number of dazzling displays both domestically and in Europe for the Spanish side this season. His technique and postioning has seen Varane compared to Real Madrid legend and former captain, Fernando Hierro.
Varane earned his first cap for France earlier this year in a World Cup qualifier against Georgia in which he helped Les Bleus win 3-1. The Frenchman has earned praise from pundits around the world and has the potential to be the greatest defender in the world. At such a young age, Varane will only further develop the skills he already possesses which will certainly be vital for club and country in the future.
Christian Eriksen | Denmark
A graduate from the famous Ajax academy that has produced the likes of Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Marco Van Basten, Wesley Sneijder and many other top class talents. Eriksen is the latest in a long line and has been compared to compatriot and current Swansea manager Michael Laudrup for his reading of the game in the traditional ''No.10'' spot for both club and country.
The 21-year-old made his debut for Denmark prior to the World Cup finals in 2010 in a friendly against Austria. He played two matches in the tournament for the national side and also played in the European Championships last year, meaning he had been a part of two major tournaments by the age of 20.
Eriksen has already earned 34 caps for Denmark since 2010 and with plenty more to come big things are expected from the young attacking midfielder.
Eriksen made his senior debut for club side Ajax a month before his 18th birthday. In his first season he played more than 20 appearances in all competitions and showed real promise.
A year later the comparisons with Laudrup started to echo around the world and some of Europe's biggest clubs came calling. Eriksen was named the Danish talent of the Year in 2010 and the following year he was named the Dutch Talent of the Year and the Danish Player of the Year. The youngster has also aided Ajax in winning the Eredivisie in the last two seasons. One thing is for certain Denmark will be looking for a similar return next summer.
Erik Lamela | Argentina
Yet another potential Argentine midfield superstar, Lamela is known for his dribbling ability and his quick pace. The 21-year-old began his career with hometown club, River Plate. He made his debut for the club in 2009 at the age of 17.
He became a regular starter for the side the following year playing 34 games and scoring four goals during the 2010/11 season. However due to the league format in the Argentine Primera Division, River Plate were relegated on account of the club's performances over the last three seasons.
In the summer of 2011, Lamela joined Italian side Roma for a fee in the region of €12 million following River Plate's relegation. The attacking midfielder quickly established himself as a first team member of the squad making over 30 appearances in league and cup for Roma, scoring six goals and providing six assists in his first campaign for the Serie A side. Lamela also took part in the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup for Argentina national under 20 team he scored three goals in four matches before Argentina were defeated by Portugal on penalties in the quarter final.
Lamela won his first cap for Argentina in May 2011 in a friendly match against Paraguay. While it's fair to say the 21-year-old is still on the fringes of the national team, another impressive season with Roma could see the attacking midfielder burst on the scene just in time for the World Cup where if included he'll play alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Lucas Moura | Brazil
Claimed to be one of the best products of Brazil's current generation alongside Neymar, Lucas Moura followed the likes of Brazil team-mate Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the affluent French side Paris St. Germain earlier this year. The 20-year-old midfielder began his career Sao Paulo and made 25 appearances for the Brazilian club in his first season. The promising young talent was part of the under 20 Selecao squad that took part in the 2011 South American Youth Championship in which the country were successful in winning the tournament thanks in no small part to Lucas who scored four goals en route to the final.
He made his debut for the national side the same year, a friendly match against Scotland before scoring his first international goal against rivals Argentina later that year. Lucas was a member of the Brazil squad for the 2011 Copa America tournament. He appeared in two matches before Brazil were eliminated by Paraguay at the quarter-final stage.
So far the youngster has been capped 23 times for Brazil, scoring three goals. His influence for both club and country is growing and playing with world class talent such as Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Silva at PSG will help him mature as the World Cup approaches. One thing is for certain, with the pressure on Brazil to deliver the trophy on home soil, Lucas will have to be in the best form of his career if the hosts are to go all the way and become world champions for a sixth time.
Javier Pastore | Argentina
Another big money signing made by Paris St. Germain, Pastore joined the French side for a reported fee of around €42 million. The 23-year-old had previously played for Serie A side Palermo and it was their he made his name as one of the top young talents in world football. Pastore was named Serie A young player of the year in 2010 before being called up to the Argentina national squad by Diego Maradona for the World Cup in South Africa. He made three substitute appearances for his country before Argentina were humiliated by Germany following a 4-0 loss at the quarter final stage.
In his two seasons with Palermo, Pastore scored 17 goals and created 12 more in a little under 80 appearances in all competitions. His impressive displays caught the eye of many top clubs around Europe including Manchester United, A.C. Milan and Chelsea. However he became one of PSG's first big money signings following the French side's new financial backing and has continued to show what a talent he is since joining the team currently top of Ligue 1.
Since his international career began, Pastore has won 13 caps for Argentina including two in the country's World Cup qualifying campaign. The attacking midfielder could be the South American's key playmaker in Brazil next year supplying the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and PSG team-mate Ezequiel Lavezzi. Should he become a first team member next summer, the attacking midfielder could be the catalyst to his country's success on enemy territory as Argentina look to become world champions for a third time.
Which young star will shine brightest at the World Cup in Brazil next year? Have your say below.
Write for GiveMeSport! Sign-up to the GMS Writing Academy here: http://bit.ly/12nAsNY
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeFootball Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeFootball.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeFootball.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.