Pretoria: Germany’s Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller are leading the charge of youngsters who are making a name for themselves at the 2010 World Cup.
But Dutch defender Gregory Van der Weil and Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro also deserve special mention as a new generation of stars playing for the four sides still in contention for the title.
The emergence of Oezil, who is 21, and Mueller, who is 20, has come at a time when there were real concerns about the quality of young players coming through in Germany.
Bayern Munich ace Mueller first gave notice of his huge potentials during last season’s UEFA Champions League as his club made it all the way to the final. It was his first full season in the Bayern Munich first team and he ended up scoring 19 times in 52 appearances.
He has continued on this rich vein of form at the World Cup, netting four goals so far, including a brace against England and the opening goal that paved the way for Germany’s 4-0 demolition of Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Mueller is a fast, composed and technically gifted attacking midfielder or second striker who scores and creates goals.
Such is his rising profile that he will be sorely missed in Wednesday’s semi-final against Spain in Durban due to a suspension.
“Obviously this will be a blow for us given the goal threat that Thomas has been here,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew.
Oezil, who plays for Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, may not have scored as many goals as his Bayern team-mate. But there is no disputing the fact that the young playmaker has been just as influential.
In the much-anticipated quarter-final clash against England, he created one of Mueller’s goals and peppered the defence of the Three Lions again and again.
Oezil’s dribbling skills, ability to pick out his team-mates and vision are assets to this young and promising German side.
Other young players who have impressed in what the great Franz Beckenbauer has described as a ‘perfect’ Germany team are Stuttgart midfielder Sami Khedira and Manchester City-bound defender Jerome Boateng.
Oezil, Boateng and Khedira were all part of the great German Under-21 team that won the European Championships last summer.
Even though neither Van der Wiel and Lodeiro will feature when the Netherlands take on Uruguay in the other semi-final on Tuesday in Cape Town, they have also proved their mettle at the showpiece event of world football.
Van der Wiel will serve out a one-match suspension following his booking in his team’s victory over Brazil, while promising Uruguay midfielder Lodeiro has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament on account of a fractured bone in his right foot.
The 22-year-old Van der Wiel is a more recent product of the renowned Ajax youth system. He is an attacking right back known for his quick dashes down the flank. This year, he was awarded the Johan Cruyff Award for ‘Young Player of the Year’ in the Netherlands.
He has posted a decent shift at South Africa 2010 after he made his full international debut. He is widely regarded as a successor to one of the Dutch greats, Michael Reiziger.
Van der Wiel’s fellow team-mate at Ajax Amsterdam, Lodeiro, on the other hand, is a left-footed young attacking midfielder tipped as the hottest prospect in Uruguay.
Early last year, he emerged as the top star of the South American U-20 Championship, made his senior international in a World Cup play-off against Costa Rica and signed for Dutch giants Ajax.
The 21-year-old Lodeiro will miss his biggest match yet, but on the strength of what he has so far displayed, there will be many more such games to come for the former National star.