James Rodríguez (Colombia/AS Monaco FC)
Somewhat overshadowed by countryman Radamel Falcao when he arrived at Monaco last season, the midfielder made a positive start with nine goals in 34 games and, crucially, 12 assists – the most of any Ligue 1 player. However, with Falcao injured, the 22-year-old took centre stage in Brazil, powering Colombia's flamboyant thrust to the World Cup quarter-finals with two assists and six goals. His Brazilian team-mate at Monaco, Fabinho, knows just how important Rodríguez's runs and set pieces can be. "James is the kind of player who can turn a game," he said.
Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria/SSC Napoli)
"The first time I went to a supermarket, everybody recognised me already and wanted to get a photo with me," smiled 23-year-old left-back Ghoulam as he remembered joining Napoli in January. "I was a bit shy when I first went into a dressing room packed full of great players, but they made me feel welcome from the very first day." The former AS Saint-Étienne man made 15 Serie A appearances and won the Coppa Italia last season, and will get another positive reception as he returns to Naples, having shone in Algeria's voyage to the round of 16.
Ahmed Musa (Nigeria/PFC CSKA Moskva)
In his 40th international appearance, the 21-year-old matched Lionel Messi goal for goal in Nigeria's 3-2 defeat against Argentina, and will hope to use his pace and stamina to similarly devastating effect as he returns to the UEFA Champions League with the Army Men. Musa's occasionally wayward finishing has niggled CSKA fans, but coach Leonid Slutski is excited to have discovered a new string to the striker's bow. "When Musa started taking set pieces, I nearly lost my mind," he smiled. "But I was obviously happy for him when he scored that double."
Islam Slimani (Algeria/Sporting Clube de Portugal)
Man of the match in Algeria's World Cup games against South Korea and Russia, Slimani's two goals at the finals helped his side to make it to the round of 16, and augured well for his second season in European football, once he returns to Sporting. The 26-year-old forward was not an instant hit in Lisbon, but goals in four consecutive league games in the spring augured well. "This season, I discovered European football," he explained ahead of the finals, having ended the Liga campaign with eight strikes." My job is to score goals."
Juan Quintero (Colombia/FC Porto)
James Rodríguez may have been the stand-out performer for Colombia in Brazil, but 21-year-old Quintero – who joined FC Porto to replace Monaco-bound Rodríguez – remains on his compatriot and childhood friend's tail. Quintero came off the bench three times in Brazil, with the little attacking midfielder scoring once and playing a significant cameo role in his side's progress to the last eight. Now, his aim is to become as crucial to the Dragons as Rodríguez once was. "The first season was a learning one," he said. "The next, I hope, is when I will prove myself."
Ivan Rakitić (Croatia/FC Barcelona)
Rakitić's soaring reputation in Spain reached new heights when he lifted the UEFA Europa League trophy as Sevilla FC captain in May, and he further enhanced his standing as he formed an eye-catching midfield partnership with Luka Modrić in Brazil – even though Niko Kovač's side fell at the tournament's first hurdle. The 26-year-old – whose now-famous Andalusian accent is testament to his three-and-a-half years in Seville – completed a €20m switch to Barcelona while still at the finals. "I want to make history at Barça," the former FC Basel 1893 and FC Schalke 04 midfielder stated confidently.
Claudio Bravo (Chile/FC Barcelona)
Bravo explained that contemplating his long-term future while competing at the recent FIFA World Cup "was not easy". The Chile captain nonetheless performed admirably as his country reached the tournament's second round, where they were eliminated by hosts Brazil on penalties. The 31-year-old has since left Real Sociedad de Fútbol after eight seasons and 229 league appearances, sealing a reported €12m move to Barcelona. "I'm hungry to make a name for myself here," Barça’s new No13 explained of the challenge he faces in competing with fellow goalkeeping arrival Marc-André ter Stegen to replace Víctor Valdés.
Bruno Martins Indi (Netherlands/Feyenoord)
Born in Portugal, Martins Indi moved to Rotterdam when he was three months old, and is now well established as Feyenoord left-back, having made his first-team debut in a UEFA Europa League play-off on 19 August 2010. However, it was as a central defender that he made an impact in Brazil. Touted in some quarters as the new Jaap Stam, he has enjoyed playing regularly for the Oranje. "It is a sign on how much faith Louis van Gaal has in me," said Martins Indi. "Sometimes I take a little risk in my playing style, but I read the game, and know when and how to pass the ball, and Van Gaal sees that."
Divock Origi (Belgium/LOSC Lille)
At 19 years and 78 days, forward Origi became the youngest player to start a World Cup quarter-final since Pelé in 1958. The tall, powerful player showed his explosive ability and dribbling skills to considerable effect in Brazil. "Divock has so many qualities, I am almost jealous," said Belgium team-mate Jan Vertonghen. The son of former Kenya striker Mike Origi, though, knows better is yet to come: "I am not easily satisfied, but I have made a lot of progress. Still I want to improve more. A forward is there to score, and I need to become more efficient in that regard."
Julian Green (United States/FC Bayern München)
A regular scorer for Bayern's second team, the 19-year-old made his professional debut against PFC CSKA Moskva in last season's UEFA Champions League and signed a long-term contract with the club at the end of 2013. Yet to feature in the Bundesliga, United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann took him to Brazil regardless, the striker finding the net two minutes after coming on in the round of 16 loss against Belgium. "When I resume training at Bayern, that goal counts for nothing," said Green, born to an American serviceman father and a German mother. "I will try to impress Pep Guardiola and wait for my chance."
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