Keisuke Honda – Japan
Born: 13/6/1986, Caps 56
Keisuke Honda was one of Japan’s leading lights in South Africa four years ago – his two goals helped Japan reach the last 16 – and will again be central to his nation’s hopes in Brazil. Honda, 27, endured a disappointing campaign with AC Milan having joined the Italian giants from CSKA Moscow in January but is aiming to put those struggles behind him on the grand stage. Deployed primarily out on the right at club level, Honda is the hub of the national side and is hoping a return to a more central role will allow him to flourish under coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s more attack-minded approach.
Yaya Touré – Ivory Coast
Born: 13/5/1983, Caps 94
Yaya Toure, the reigning three-time African Footballer of the Year will be crucial to Ivorian hopes in Brazil. Toure, 31, was the Elephants’ second-leading scorer behind Salomon Kalou in qualifying for the finals and terrorised Premier League defences this past season to the tune of 20 goals to help Manchester City regain the English title. A colossus in the middle of the park, Toure’s marauding runs from deep and blistering strike, not to mention his imposing physique, will present quite a headache for opposing sides seeking to shackle the driving force of the Ivorian team. With Ivory Coast’s golden generation turning decidely grey Brazil seemingly represents one final chance for the midfielder to leave his mark on the world stage.
James Rodriguez – Colombia
Born: 12/7/1991, Caps 22
In the absence of Radamel Falcao, the spotlight turns to midfield maestro James Rodriguez to lead the Colombian challenge in Brazil. After a slow start to life at Monaco, Rodriguez shone in his first season in France, where he was named to the Ligue 1 team of the season following his tally of nine goals and 12 assists that helped the principality club to a second-place finish. Nicknamed ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ (the new kid), a nod to the original ‘El Pibe’ Carlos Valderrama, there are in truth few similarities between the two, neither in playing style nor appearance, but the more direct and forward-thinking Rodriguez will be Colombia’s creator-in-chief this summer.
Kostas Mitroglou – Greece
Born: 12/3/1988, Caps 32
The firepower of Kostas Mitroglou propelled Greece into a second straight finals appearance but since netting three times over the two-legged play-off with Romania the striker’s fallen on hard times. A move from Olympiacos, where he had set the Greek league alight, to Premier League side Fulham resulted in relegation as he failed to find the net after making just one start following persistent knee troubles. The most expensive Greek player in history at reportedly £12.5m ($20.6 million, 15.3 million euros), ‘Mitrogoal’ poses a threat with both feet and is strong aerially, which are crucial strengths in a goal-shy Greek attack.
Eiji Kawashima – Japan
Born: 20/03/1983, Caps – 56
It’s not often a goalkeeper is singled out as a key player but Japan’s Eiji Kawashima has the ability to be a star at the World Cup. Kawashima is one of only two Japanese goalkeepers ever to ply their trade in Europe and although he may be earning his keep in the relatively modest surrounds of the Belgian League, he has been mighty impressive there. The 31-year-old headed to Belgian after an impressive last World Cup, where he conceded only two goals in four matches. Twice named Most Valuable Player at Lierse, Kawashima’s goalkeeping could be the difference between progression and an early exit in a group that is widely expected to be tight.
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