For national teams, the end of a FIFA World Cup™ almost inevitably concludes one chapter and begins another. With Brazil 2014 now the dominant feature on the international horizon, coaches new and old are planning for the future and, as last week’s friendlies showed, ‘out with the old, in with the new’ is proving a popular motto.
With competitive action set to resume in the coming months, FIFA.com takes a look at some of the players who, having forced their way into the reckoning, appear on course to make a major impression in the international arena.
In traversing the globe to look at this widespread changing of the guard, Brazil represents a logical starting point. Few coaches, after all, were as bold as Mano Menezes, who named no fewer than 11 uncapped players in his first Seleção squad. With international experience in short supply and a tough trip to the USA to negotiate, such vast changes represented a risk for the new Brazil coach. It was, however, a calculated gamble, and one which paid dividends, with Neymar scoring on his debut and Paulo Henrique Ganso also suggesting that he could be a Seleção standout for years to come.
"What pleased me more was the personality of those young players," Menezes said following his side’s 2-0 win. "They have succeeded in doing what they do for their clubs and transferring it to the Seleçao.”
Another coach currently leading a revolution is Italy’s Cesare Prandelli, and while his debut ended in a 1-0 defeat to Côte d’Ivoire, the combining of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano’s explosive talents hints at exciting times ahead for the Azzurri. Laurent Blanc instigated even more thorough changes for his side's friendly against Norway, although the France coach’s naming of a completely revamped team was enforced by the suspension of Les Bleus' entire FIFA World Cup squad.
Nonetheless, while it was Erik Huseklepp who grabbed the headlines with a match-winning double for the Norwegians, Blance will have been encouraged by the mature display of young defensive midfielder Yann Mvila. The Rennes star was France’s outstanding player on his international debut, while sought-after forward Loic Remy also showed in flashes why so many people believe he has a bright future at international level.
In England, Fabio Capello’s changes have been more subtle, but arguably no less significant. Chief among them has been the promotion of Joe Hart, 23, to the role of first choice keeper, with many tipping the Manchester City No1 to keep hold of the jersey for many years to come. Debutant left-back Kieran Gibbs also impressed in the 2-1 win over Hungary, while Capello suggested that winger Adam Johnson is among a group of players that represent “the future of England”. "He is a really good player," the Italian said of Johnson. "Really, really, really good. He has improved a lot in a really short time."
Another prodigy set to explode on to the international scene is Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar. The Valenciennes striker, 18, made two substitute appearances at South Africa 2010, but is considered all the more likely to be Samuel Eto’o’s starting partner after scoring the Indomitable Lions’ third goal in an impressive 3-0 win over Poland.
Elsewhere in Africa, Udinese’s 19-year-old midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu – another star of Ghana’s FIFA U-20 World Cup-winning side – has also been tipped for a more influential role at senior level after completing 90 minutes in a 1-0 friendly defeat to South Africa. Denmark have proved similarly keen to revitalise their squad with some young blood, with the exciting Christian Eriksen, 18, shining in a 2-2 draw with Germany having earned a long-awaited promotion to Morten Olsen's starting line-up.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld also fielded a clutch of debutants in his side’s 1-0 win over Austria, and it was 22-year-old striker Moreno Costanzo who did most to catch the eye by scoring the winner in his first-ever international appearance. Baptisms of fire, meanwhile, were afforded to LA Galaxy centre-half Omar Gonzalez and Morelia playmaker Elias Hernandez, both of whom made their senior debuts for USA and Mexico against Brazil and Spain respectively.
The world champions themselves have unsurprisingly kept changes to a minimum, with Vicente Del Bosque adhering to the old adage that ‘If it ain’t broke...’ Nonetheless, it is expected that Jesus Navas and Pedro will become increasingly influential figures for La Roja during the 2012 UEFA EURO qualifying campaign, and other sides who performed well in South Africa are also making delicate adjustments.
For the Netherlands, the players to look out for include PSV Eindhoven striker Jeremain Lens, who marked his international debut with the opener in a 1-1 draw with Ukraine. Another goalscoring debutant worth watching is Uruguay’s Abel Hernandez, with the 20-year-old Palermo forward – nicknamed ‘La Joya’ (the jewell) – netting a superb left-footed strike in La Celeste’s 2-0 win over Angola.
Nor have significant changes been restricted to South Africa 2010 participants. Russia, for example, are embarking on a new era with Dick Advocaat at the helm, and it was Zenit St Petersburg’s Roman Shirokov – appearing for the first time since a nightmare performance against Spain at EURO 2008 – who scored the decisive goal as Bulgaria were beaten 1-0. Sweden, meanwhile, look to be enjoying a new lease of life under Erik Hamren, and the exciting offensive duo of Ola Toivonen and Emir Bajrami were both on target in an emphatic 3-0 win over Scotland.
Only time will tell whether these players can enjoy long and illustrious international careers, but all would appear to be well worth keeping an eye on once the competitive action resumes.
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