With the 2014 World Cup nearly upon us, thoughts have begun to turn to the serious business of tournament football. Beyond the weight of expectation and the dreams of all participating nations, it is easy to forget that there is such a fine line between success and failure in the heat of competition. Often decided by a mistake or a moment of sublime skill, even the most significant of World Cup games hinges on single factors.

The World Cup is therefore a grand and dramatic stage, where reputations are both forged and shattered beneath the gaze of millions. For fearless youngsters with a genuine sense of occasion, it therefore represents a unique opportunity to establish themselves and set out on a path towards sustainable career success.

So although a brief glance at the latest World Cup betting odds will reveal the latest names in relation to top goal scorers, someone new and exciting may yet enjoy a breakthrough in Brazil.

But which young players should spectators watch for in the 2014 installation? Consider the following: -

1. Raheem Sterling, Forward (England and Liverpool)

Ever since Wayne Rooney burst onto the international scene so spectacularly in 2004, England has produced a host of youngsters who have flattered to deceive. There are several precociously talented individuals in the current squad, however, all of whom have rich promise and an unlimited supply of courage.

No single player embodies this meld better than Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, who has matured significantly in the last six months and offers an abundance of skill, pace and tactical awareness. He has excelled both in wide areas and in more central roles under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, while his constantly improving movement and goals return suggests that he can make a genuine impact on international defences this summer.

2. Jackson Martinez, Forward (Colombia and Porto)

In terms of world football, few players have sparked as much excitement in the last year as Jackson Martinez. The 21 year-old forward, who is likely to have spent his final year in Portugal after a string of impressive domestic and European performances, is highly coveted throughout Europe and adored by the Colombian national fans.

Skillful and quick, he is predominantly a play-maker who has genuine quality and presence of mind when in front of goal. He is likely to play a major role in the tournament for Colombia, especially given the absence of injured talisman Radamel Falcao. With Colombia also favoured by the draw, Martinez could play a role deep into the tournament.

3. Raphael Varane, Defender (France and Real Madrid)

Defenders rarely stand out above attackers in the international game, which is why it was such a surprise when Italy’s World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro won the Ballon d'or in 2006. There are some defenders who manage to buck this trend and catch the eye of spectators, however, and Real Madrid’s 21 year old centre back Raphael Varane certainly fits this description.

Tall, quick and comfortable on the ball, this Champions League winner has displaced Pepe at the back and is set to play from the start in the French rear-guard this summer. If he can translate his club form to the international stage, France will have a genuine opportunity to progress through the tournament and justify their status as dark-horses and genuine contenders for the ultimate prize.

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