We’ve finally had some action then, some goals, some intrigue, some French embarrassment. The World Cup has truly begun. It’s a week late, but, nevertheless, it is here. And now that the tournament is finally coming alive, we can have a genuine glance at the myriad of young talent on show.
First on the scout’s shortlist should be Chile’s young forward Alexis Sanchez. The Udinese youngster has probably put on one of the best individual displays so far in the tournament. The 21-year-old was at the head of a refreshingly offensive and remarkably entertaining Chile team that burst with energy at Honduras on Wednesday.
Sanchez continually belied his youth with a confidence and intelligence in possession that obviously unnerved the South American opposition. His quick feet mesmerized the Honduran defenders and his blistering pace left them helpless on a number of occasions. Moreover, his experience as a winger at club level has clearly made him a deadly crosser of the ball and his determination to impress created havoc amongst the Honduran’s defensive ranks all afternoon. There can be little wonder why the Chilean has been dubbed as ‘the Wonder Boy’.
For all his persistence, however, the youngster, much like the Chilean team, were justifiably labeled as wasteful. Chile had many chances to kill the game off thanks to their inventive and dynamic 3-3-1-3 formation which often granted Chile the ability to get six or seven players in and around the opposition’s area. Sanchez himself had many opportunities. Having scored 11 goals in 28 appearances for his national team and only 8 times in 62 for his club, Udinese – where he does actually play as a winger – the debate is yet to be had about whether Sanchez possesses enough of a goal-threat to warrant a move to a larger team.
Elsewhere, Werder Bremen youngster Mesut Ozil also impressed on his World Cup debut. The 21-year-old was undeniably the driving force behind Germany’s obliteration of Australia. His range of clever passes, his relentless ability to find space, and his snappy instincts made him an absolute pleasure to watch and an infinite nightmare to deal with defensively. The only serious criticism that could be aimed at the youngster was his inability to get on the score-sheet himself, in spite of several decent opportunities.
Of course, the major caveat of his sublime performance would be the aging opposition. The Australian defence allowed him to drift untroubled into dangerous areas too often. Unsurprisingly, the attacking midfielder found it much harder to find space and control the game against a more disciplined Serbian side on Friday.
Unlike Germany, their European rivals the Netherlands made hard work of dispatching their first opposition of the tournament. A fortuitous own goal by Danish defender Simon Poulson tilted the game in the Dutch’s favour. However, after coming on as a substitution for a rather bland Van der Vaart, Elijero Elia gave the Oranje a much needed shot in the arm and the tricky 23-year-old winger certainly impressed.
The Hamburg youngster was quick and assured on the ball, and demonstrated quick feet on a number of occasions by skillfully rounding a hapless Lars Jacobsen. His entrance gave the Netherlands real width to cause the Danes problems, something which they had been lacking with Van der Vaart out on the left who tends to drift inward. So, if Arjen Robben fails to recover in time for the game against Japan, it’s very likely we could get an extended look at what the youngster can do in Durban on Saturday.
The tournament will undoubtedly uncover more exciting young stars in the making as it progresses. For now though, Ozil, Elia and Sanchez have set an extremely high standard that bodes well for the rest of this World Cup.
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