“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” – Robert Kennedy.
Change makers, a fearless breed and people of impact are the beautiful display that greeted our television screens at the world’s most watched sports festival, the Brazil 2014 world cup. We have compiled a list of the greatest footballers on the soccer scene who made indelible footprints at the just concluded Brazil 2014 World Cup despite being under 22 years of age. Enjoy!
Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria, 20
Chelsea fans will have been smiling to themselves as they watched Nigeria breach Group F and hit the knockout stages, as their young prospect Kenneth Omeruo was the Super Eagles’ best defender throughout the tournament.
His ability to step out, physically, and aggressively quell danger and pursue the ball is Mamadou Sakho-esque. He’s just as powerful, though not as awkward on the ball.
Raphael Varane, France, 21
Raphael Varane was France’s best central defender present at the world cup by a distance, with his immaculate timing, clean tackling and great anticipation on show in spades.
He and Mamadou Sakho were a fantastic partnership due to their nice blend of pragmatism and aggression, but it’s obvious who the superior of the two is—even at age 21. He was awarded the 2nd best youngest player of the tournament.
PAUL POGBA, FRANCE, 21
He won the tournament’s best young player award. The midfielder was a big reason France were able to get into the quarter-finals, doing a great job of holding possession throughout the tournament while also making key passes in every match.
Although Pogba only scored once in Brazil, it came in a big moment against Nigeria to help the team advance in the round of 16.
Despite this success, Pogba is incredibly humble. According to Eurosport (via Yahoo Sports), the midfielder explained his thought process at the club level with Juventus:
“I’m still a nobody; what have I achieved in my career. I look around at Juve and I’m learning from true champions. I try and take on Claudio [Marchisio]’s technique, or Arturo [Vidal]’s aggression, or the brilliant passing abilities of Andrea [Pirlo].”
If he keeps improving, other players will be looking up to him before too long.
Neymar, Brazil, 22
He needs no introductions. The Brazilian star boy won the bronze boot of the tournament, scoring four goals in 5 matches and was divinely whisked out of the humiliation of host country, Brazil in the semi-final and third place matches. Speculations have it that the games would have changed if only Neymar who went out of the competition due to injury had been present.
James Rodriguez, Columbia, 22
The young lad won the golden boot of the tournament while equalling football legend, Pele’s record to be the second youngest player to score 6 goals at the world cup. Those who had written off Colombia due to Radamel Falcao’s injury-enforced absence had not banked on a coming-of-age showing from James Rodriguez. Falcao’s Monaco colleague proved to be one of the players of the tournament, netting six goals, and his stunning chest-and-volley strike against Uruguay in the second round will be remembered among the all-time great World Cup goals.
Mario Gotze, Germany, 22
The 22 year old scored the winning goal for his German side seven minutes into the end of extra time. His inscribed his name in gold as a hero and game changer for his country and in the history of world soccer.
Oscar, Brazil, 22
Oscar stood as one of Brazil’s few remaining quality performers by the end of a shaming tournament, with his Man of the Match performance against Croatia in the opening night a clear highlight.
He was combative, pliable, played anywhere Luiz Felipe Scolari asked and carried a portion of the goal scoring load usually held by Fred.
Joel Campbell, Costa Rica, 22
The cogs in Arsene Wenger’s mind will be ticking after Joel Campbell’s illustrious performances at the finals. Scouting his performances at Olympiakos tells you only so much, but shouldering a team (offensively) in a World Cup at 22 years of age? Impressive.
He grabbed a work permit this time last year so he’s eligible to play in the Premier League, but will Arsenal take the plunge?