Steven Gerrard — England
Born: 30/05/1980 — 111 caps
The 34-year-old England captain has been rejuvenated since being moved into a deep-lying midfield holding role by Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers and is expected to operate in a similar position in Brazil. Gathering the ball from his centre-backs and spraying passes forward in the manner of Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, Gerrard will be the man who sets the tempo for England. Liverpool had a momentous 2013-14 season, but Gerard’s untimely slip in a game against Chelsea gifted Manchester City the momentum in the title race. He also has unfinished business at the World Cup, after disappointments in 2006 and 2010, and is likely to be appearing at the tournament for the last time.
Luis Suarez — Uruguay
Born: 24/01/1987 - 76 Caps
Suarez, 27, should be heading to Brazil as one of the most feared strikers in world football after an astonishing season with Liverpool. But a knee operation after pulling up in training with Uruguay has put his tournament in doubt. With 31 goals in only 33 games, he inspired Liverpool’s charge to a surprising second-place finish in the Premier League and was elected Player of the Year by both his peers and the Football Writers’ Association. The former Ajax player earned international notoriety at the last World Cup after using his hand to block a header by Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah in the quarterfinals and then celebrating exuberantly when Asamoah Gyan squandered the subsequent penalty. He played a starring role in Uruguay’s 2011 Copa America success.
Mario Balotelli — Italy
Born: 12/08/1990 - 30 caps
The World Cup will provide Balotelli with a welcome distraction after a season to forget with AC Milan. The 23-year-old striker lost his 100 percent record from the penalty spot during the campaign and was unable to prevent his side from finishing a disappointing eighth in Serie A. The former Manchester City striker also endured turbulence in his private life, having been obliged to undergo a DNA test to prove that he was the father of a girl born to a former girlfriend. His displays at the 2012 European Championship, where he scored four goals, confirmed his status as Italy’s number-one striker. He continues to be known as much for his controversial character as for his footballing prowess.
Joel Campbell — Costa Rica
Born: 26/06/1992 - 32 caps
If Costa Rica are to pull off an upset in Group D, inspiration is likely to come from the feet of Arsenal forward Campbell. The livewire 21-year-old joined the London club in 2011 but is still awaiting his competitive debut, having been successively loaned out to Lorient, Real Betis and Olympiakos. He enjoyed an impressive 2013-14 campaign with Olympiakos, notably scoring a fine individual goal in a shock 2-0 win at home to Manchester United in the Champions League. A skilful, left-footed player, Campbell typically plays on the right for Olympiakos, but may be used as a central striker at the World Cup.
Wayne Rooney — England
Born: 24/10/1985 - 92 caps
Like teammate Steven Gerrard, Rooney has experi-enced only heartbreak at his two previous World Cups. In 2006 he broke his foot shortly before the tournament and was then sent off for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho, while four years later he again failed to score as England went out in the last 16. He will be one of the most high-profile players in Brazil, but since bursting onto the scene as a teenager at Euro 2004, he has been to three major tournaments without leaving a mark. Now 28, he should be at the peak of his powers, but the pressure to prove his worth at international level has never been greater.
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