Seven players in contention for the Hyundai Best Young Player Award were afforded minutes as Groups E and F reached their conclusions. FIFA.com reflects upon their performances.
Miroslav Stoch: While his end product was often disappointing on his first start, the Slovakia winger was a relentless source of torment to Italy with his purposeful dribbles. The 20-year-old cut inside Fabio Cannvaro to work himself into a shooting position in the second half, but blazed his effort high and wide. Stoch’s distribution was also wasteful, with 17 of his 46 attempted passes going astray, but overall he made a positive impression at Ellis Park, keeping opponents on their toes en route to a 3-2 victory.
Tommy Smith: Although he was penalised for handball in the opening minute in Polokwane, the New Zealand defender delivered a display that belied his inexperience thereafter. Indeed, as Paraguay probed for a deadlock-breaking goal, they were frustrated by the Ipswich Town player. He won 50-50 tackles and headers, and put enough pressure on Lucas Barrios to force him to mis-hit a good opportunity in the 76th minute. Smith may have been disappointed that, despite going unbeaten, the All Whites are heading home, but he can be proud of stifling forwards of the calibre of Roque Santa Cruz, Nelson Haedo and Barrios in a goalless draw.
Christian Eriksen: The Denmark midfielder was summoned from the bench just after the hour mark, with his team trailing 2-0 to Japan. The Ajax promise went close to halving the deficit, firing just over from the edge of the box. He was largely anonymous thereafter, however, as Morten Olsen’s charges abandoned the pass-and-move style in which Eriksen revels in order to pump long balls into the box.
Nicolas N’Koulou: The Cameroon defender looked good on the ball, completing 40 of 50 attempted passes. His problem against the Netherlands was when Robin van Persie was in possession, with the Arsenal forward gliding past him too easily. N’Koulou was withdrawn from the action – and the competition - in the 73rd minute.
Eric Choupo-Moting: The Hamburg-born forward occasionally showcased his ability to trick his way past Dutch defenders, but those moments were few and far between. Overall, the Cameroon No13 looked disinterested and was substituted with 18 minutes remaining.
Vincent Aboubakar: The 18-year-old Cameroonian made a real impact following his 56th-minute entrance. Physical and quick, he looked a genuine goal threat, while one delightful through-ball should have been dispatched by Jean Makoun. A lively, exciting cameo from the Valenciennes prospect.