Top players to watch out for at the finals

The World Cup provides a showcase for the game`s biggest names but also offers a chance for lesser known players to become globally known.

The following lists the `big five` of the tournament who bring lofty reputations to South Africa plus five, perhaps not well known beyond their own fans, who could grab attention.


Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Already being talked of as potentially one of the all-time greats, Messi had a taste of the World Cup four years ago as an 18-year-old and then was the inspiration behind Argentina`s Olympic gold medal in Beijing.

But it has been his stunning displays in big games for Barcelona that has led people to mention in him on the same terms as Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas and his compatriot Diego Maradona.

A brilliant finisher and a genius with the ball at his feet anywhere close to the danger zone, the only question is whether his team mates will provide him with the quality of service he relishes.

Messi`s remarkable four-goal performance in Barca`s Champions League victory over Arsenal in April will long be remembered and he now has the perfect stage to show anyone who has not noticed yet that he is a very special talent and can deliver for country as well as club.

Wayne Rooney (England)

Capable of scoring from any angle and playing any role in the attack, the Manchester United forward is still only 24 years old and this tournament is by no means his last chance at glory on the international stage.

Rooney, who can operate effectively as a lone striker or alongside a bigger target man, has it all -- an ability to run at defenders, lead the line, play as a second striker and track back into deeper roles. But the main reason defenders fear him so much is his clinical finishing.

He may suffer from not having a threatening strike partner in the England set-up but if anyone is capable of shouldering all the responsibility for scoring and creating goals it is Rooney.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Ronaldo`s billboard presence has certainly helped the Real Madrid winger`s marketability but it his deft touch, pace and imagination that makes the 25-year-old such a handful.

In many ways a throwback to the days of wingers who hugged the touchline and made fools of fullbacks with clever trickery, Ronaldo will aim to enjoy the World Cup more than four years ago when he was criticised for his role in the controversial dismissal of his then Manchester United team mate Rooney.

The question is whether he plays in a good enough team to truly shine to the best of his ability.

Kaka (Brazil)

Every World Cup needs a brilliant Brazilian and with the premature decline of Ronaldinho and Adriano, it falls on the elegant midfielder Kaka to deliver that special something the team in gold are expected to provide every four years.

Injury disrupted Kaka`s season at Real Madrid last term but, after the disappointment of losing in the quarter-finals four years ago, a fit Kaka in a more balanced Brazil lineup will have the perfect chance to show his class. He is light-footed on the ball, a superb passer and has a striker`s instinct for goal.

Samuel Eto`o (Cameroon)

Three-times African Footballer of the Year and a three time Champions League winner, Eto`o has been stung by criticism from former Cameroon forward Roger Milla that he had not truly delivered for his country.

Two African Cup of Nations titles and important goals in qualification for these finals suggest Eto`o, has some justification in considering the comments unfair. The finals present a great chance for him to cement his reputation as one of the finest forwards produced by the continent.


Teko Modise (South Africa)

Largely because he plays in domestic South African football with Orlando Pirates, midfield playmaker Modise has mostly escaped attention outside his home continent but the 27-year-old now has the chance to show his quality on a global stage.

Modise is the ideal central midfielder for the quick-passing style of Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. As well as having the right vision and imagination he possesses impressive pace. If he performs at his best a nice contract from abroad should bring him just reward from this tournament.

Ri Myong-guk (North Korea)

There will be few busier goalies at the World Cup than Ri Myong-guk but North Korea`s `Gatekeeper of the Iron Wall` thrives under pressure.

Ri gave up his dreams of becoming a striker to answer his country`s goalkeeping call and will face some of the world`s deadliest forwards when North Korea face Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast in Group G.

Ri is an inspirational figure for his team mates and has been known to sing North Korea`s rousing national anthem when the going gets tough.

Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)

The 22-year-old playmaker with spiky dark hair was Napoli`s top scorer in his first two seasons after joining the Serie A club in 2007. Effective on the left and in the middle, he played a key part in sending Slovakia to their first World Cup.

His idol is former Czech creative midfielder Pavel Nedved, who also plied his trade in Italy with Lazio and Juventus after making a name for himself at Euro 96.

With his pace and keen eye for goal Hamsik could follow in the footsteps of his hero in catching the eye of some bigger clubs while on international duty in South Africa.

Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico)

An exciting talent who has yet to live up to his promise in European club football -- where he has struggled for opportunities with Barcelona and current club Tottenham Hotspur -- the half-Brazilian forward has shone at international level.

He was voted Player of the Tournament in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup and delivered a sublime performance in World Cup qualifying against Costa Rica where he scored with a 20 metre strike and then created the other two goals.

Light-footed and imaginative, he has drawn comparisons with Ronaldinho and if Mexico can get their flowing passing game going expect Dos Santos to be at the heart of it.

Samir Handanovic (Slovenia)

Slovenia`s surprise qualification had much to do with the superb performances of goalkeeper Handanovic. He kept clean sheets in seven of 12 games and was the hero of the playoff win over Russia after a series of fine saves in the dying minutes.

A superb shot-stopper but also a good organiser, Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek has named him the best goalkeeper in the world and if he lives up to his billing Handanovic could well find himself with one of the world`s big clubs after the finals.

Bureau Report

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