From the Brazilian legend to Italy's Baggio and England's Hurst, the World Cup has consistently introduced future greats to global audiences. And the tournament that starts a week from today will be no different, says Euan Megson, who has chosen a team of exceptional young talents he expects to make their mark this year. It happens at every World Cup. Players, unknown to fans beyond their nation's borders light up the tournament and go global.
The whole world watches as stars-in-their-eyes performers emerge - the fate of their respective nation is usually of varying consequence - as household names. Traditionally, big clubs then come calling. The World Cup, more than any other competition, uncovers stars because of its huge audience and the same will be true in South Africa. While the powers of big names will inevitably fade, new ones will take their place and illuminate the game: the World Cup specialises in creating such players.
But in an era when football is the one true global game, when armchair fans in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania watch the same Uefa Champions League matches as their European counterparts, the nova factor is fading. Unheralded players from feeder countries are linked to big clubs every day in gossip columns. World football has few remaining secrets. And yet, a marketable cache of players will still emerge from South Africa with increased visibility and heightened reputations.
The most memorable player to burst on to the scene at the World Cup was perhaps also the greatest. Pele, as a 17-year-old, scored six goals at the 1958 World Cup as Brazil won the trophy. Geoff Hurst, then only five months and eight games into his international career, repeated the trick in the 1966 finals. Despite not being England's first-choice centre forward, Hurst scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final, as England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley.
For players already on the road to stardom, the World Cup is the environment to cement their reputation. In the modern era, the trend is undeniable. Witness Italy's Roberto Baggio and Brazil's Romario in 1994; 1998 brought us Ronaldo, the Brazilian striker, and the English lions Michael Owen and David Beckham, while Ronaldinho's wizardry stole the show in 2002. It always happens. Here is our first XI of players ready to make a splash:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (France) Lloris has played at every international level for Les Bleus. After making his debut as a teenager for home club Nice in 2005, the 23-year old looked set for a move to Italian giants AC Milan in 2008, before opting to join the seven-time French champions Olympique Lyonnais instead. The French Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year, Lloris produced a series of stunning saves in Lyon's run to the Champions League semi-finals, including a man-of-the-match performance at Anfield when they beatLiverpool 2-1.
With stunning reflexes and a penchant for the acrobatic, the number of clean sheets Lloris can keep will determine the fortunes of Raymond Domenech's side. Right-back: Gregory van der Weil (Holland) The modern full-back must defend with distinction and attack with gusto, attributes Van der Weil has in abundance. A product of the famous Ajax youth system, the 22-year-old is a converted centre-half who made international headlines when he attended a rap concert - and duly Twittered the occasion - after concussion had ruled him out of a national team trip to Australia.
Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch manager, perhaps acknowledging the rampaging defender's pedigree in a Holland squad not blessed with world-class defensive options, wisely forgave the player. Van der Weil must now justify Van Marwijk's faith. Centre-back: Neven Subotic (Serbia) Having played at Under 17 and U20 level for the United States, the 6ft 4ins Subotic will partner Nemanja Vidic, the Manchester United defender, at the heart of the east European nation's miserly defence. Subotic, 21, who plies his trade for Borussia Dortmund, the German Bundesliga side, is one to watch from set pieces. In 10 qualifying games, Serbia kept four clean sheets and conceded only eight goals. The agile Subotic even managed to bag one of the 22 Serbia scored, heading home the second in a 2-0 away win over the Faroe Islands.
Centre-back: Simon Kjaer (Denmark) Denmark smashed their way through their qualifying group, eliminating Sweden and forcing Portugal into second place. Morten Olsen's men scored a hardly spectacular 16 goals in eight games. But they conceded only five - three of which came in two clashes against the Portuguese. Kjaer, a rock for Palermo, his Italian side, excelled throughout the campaign. A reported target for a host of Europe's leading clubs, Kjaer suffered a knee injury in the last few minutes of Denmark's pre-World Cup friendly with Senegal last week. The defender, 21, faces a race against time to be fit for Denmark's opening match against Holland.
Left-back: Michel Bastos (Brazil) Equally adept at left-back or on the wing, Brazil's Bastos, 26, has the hardest shot in the French Ligue 1. After a nomadic start to his professional career - Bastos was on the books of five clubs in five years from 2001 to 2006 - the attack-minded flier settled down in France. Three seasons at mid-table Lille yielded 25 goals in 97 games, including one 30-yard free-kick thunderbolt against Olympique Lyonnais. The strike rubber-stamped Bastos's move to Lyon last summer and he became an integral member of the side which reached the semi-finals of last season's Champions League.
Free-kicks are fast becoming Basto's speciality, and a brilliant effort in Wednesday's warm-up game against Zimbabwe furthered the inevitable comparisons with Roberto Carlos, the legendary Brazilian left-back. Right midfield: Aaron Lennon (England) With David Beckham out injured and Theo Walcott not selected by Fabio Capello, the England manager, Tottenham Hotspur's Lennon has the chance to start as the Three Lions' first-choice right winger.
Walcott appeared to be in pole position to claim the starting berth, but Lennon's superior decision-making and delivery won over Capello. Although he is lacking in height, Lennon's lightning pace will trouble any defender in the world. With experienced heads - such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney - around him, Lennon could shine in England's midfield. The Premier League may have already marked Lennon, 23, as a top player, but the tiny winger now has the chance to gain international recognition.
Left-midfield: Milos Krasic (Serbia) Krasic, 25, Serbia's talented winger, has been in devastating form for CSKA Moscow all season. Serbia, in Group D alongside Germany, Australia and Ghana, have a tough draw. Germany, shorn of Michael Ballack, their captain, remain favourites to progress, but Serbia could join them. Krasic's creativity and ability to unlock opposition defences will be key and have seen him compared to Pavel Nedved, the legendary Czech midfielder, who played for of Juventus and Lazio. And not just because of his flowing blonde hair.
Two goals in Serbia's World Cup qualifying run and four in CSKA Moscow's Champions League campaign have already alerted Europe's elite. Centre-midfield: Gary Medel (Chile) Another tenacious tackler, Medel, or the "Chilean Pitbull", will have the task of shackling Spain's carousel midfield in Chile's toughest Group H game. Medel, 22, is on loan at Boca Juniors from Chilean side Universidad Catolica, and scouts from a host of Primera Liga clubs will be watching him closely this summer.
With a defensive game based on intensity and high energy, the hard-working midfielder's powerful shooting, strong heading and smooth passing could help Chile negotiate their very winnable matches against Switzerland and Honduras and secure the South American hopefuls their passage to the tournament's second round. Centre-midfield Marek Hamsik (Slovakia) Slovakia's superlatively-gifted Hamsik is a world star in the making. If Slovakia are to progress from a group which includes Italy, New Zealand and Paraguay, the guile of the attacking midfielder, who has top scored for Serie A side Napoli in the last two seasons, will be key.
Speed, exceptional vision and passing accuracy are Hamsik's chief attributes. He is already on numerous clubs' radars and was highly rated by Jose Mourinho, the new Real Madrid coach, during his time at Inter Milan. With eight goals in 30 international appearances, Hamsik's stock could rise on the back of a successful World Cup showing. Centre-forward Luis Suarez (Uruguay) Having rattled in 35 goals in 47 games last season for Ajax, the Dutch giants, Suarez is in hot demand across Europe. England's top five have long been linked with the striker who will partner Diego Forlan, Athletico Madrid's Europa League hero, in La Celeste's formidable-looking front-line.
Suarez's valuation will soar if he scores the goals that send his Group A contenders into the last 16. And with Argentina poised to be Uruguay's second-round opponents, an all-South American tie against the fiercest of Latino rivals would provide a stunning stage for Suarez to court top-shelf suitors. In the face of protracted interest over his prolific captain, Martin Jol, the Ajax manager, remains realistic. "Luis will only leave us if the opportunity comes up to join one of Europe's best teams," said the Dutchman.
Centre-forward Javier Hernandez (Mexico) Standing in Uruguay's way are Mexico and Hernandez, their prolific young striker. Clinical with either foot and potent in the air, "Chicarito" (or Little Pea) will be keen to show the world why Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, secured his services before a World Cup ball had even been kicked. Hernandez, described by Ferguson as an "exciting young striker in prolific form for his club and his country," was not even born when his father played for Mexico on home soil in the 1986 World Cup.
He is equally adept with both feet, and a fledgling international career has yielded four goals in eight games to date. A few more in South Africa will prove that the former Chivas de Guadalajara striker has Mexico's future - as well as his own destiny - in his grasp. @Email:email@example.com