Josmer Volmy Altidore (USA)
Better known as Jozy, he heads up the United States’ strike force. The 20-year-old son of Haitian immigrants has had an up and down career so far. He languished on the bench two years ago in Spain for Villarreal, and while he got more playing time this season at Hull City in the English Premier League, he didn’t exactly light it up, scoring one goal in 28 appearances. Yet, with his size, 6-foot-1, and speed, he is a constant threat.
Captions by Nick Charles
Tim Howard (USA)
Howard, 31, who plays for Everton in the English Premier League, is the latest in a long line of exceptional American goalkeepers. While the outfield play of the U.S. team is ambivalent at times, with Howard minding the net, the team is never out of a game.
Steven Pienaar (South Africa)
Not many give the host nation a good shot at making the knockout stage of the World cup. But midfielder Pienaar, 28, thinks the Bafana Bafana, as the team is called, can do well. ”I rate our chances of doing well in the tournament very high. In fact, I am very confident that we will go further than the second round,” he told FIFA.com from Johannesburg last month. ”We are definitely ready to go because the confidence is there, the spirit is there and I believe we will do well.” Good luck, Steven.
Didier Drogba (Cote d’Ivorie)
The world is still holding its collective breath as the health of Drogba, 32, captain of the Ivory Coast team and ambassador for African football, is still in doubt after sustaining a broken arm in a recent friendly game versus Japan. (Latest reports indicate that he had successful surgery and may yet play.) The fact that he was named to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and graces the cover of Vanity Fair‘s World Cup preview issue attests to his reputation beyond the football pitch.
Yaya Toure (Cote d'Ivorie)
Toure, 27, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at F.C. Barcelona, because he is a hardman in a team full of ballerinas. There is Lionel Messi, the best player in the world; Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the midfield maestros; and slick passing right fullback Dani Alves. But make no mistake that it’s Toure’s physical presence that accounts for a lot of pretty Barca football. He joins his older brother, Kolo, on Cote d’Ivorie’s Les Elephants.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
Eto’o is the most decorated African player of all time. He has won an Olympic Gold medal, and this is his third World Cup. But the 29-year-old, who plays for Inter Milan in Italy, has his detractors. Roger Milla, the hero of Cameroon’s 1990 run to the knockout stage, doesn’t think Eto’o gives his all for the national team and said as much recently. Eto’o, stung by the criticism, said he was considering withdrawing from the team. But he decided to stay and was named captain. Without him, the Indomitable Lions would be washouts; with him, they have a fighting chance.
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
How hyped is Gyan to begin play in the World Cup? Two weeks ago in a charity match in Paris to address bio-diversity in Africa, he blew by opposing players, all moving at quarter speed, to score the game’s first goal. When asked the next day why, he replied laughing, ”That’s what the people came to see.” That’s also why people come to see Gyan. Since 2003 in 32 games for Ghana’s Black Stars, he has scored 20. With their captain Michael Essien out, Gyan will need to score early and often.
Obafemi Martins (Nigeria)
If Nigeria’s Super Eagles are to do well against their first-round opponents Argentina, Greece and South Korea, Martins, 25, the most gifted of their forwards, must become a consistent scorer. Martins does score goals, not so much in bunches, but in spectacular fashion. He has considerable pace and is tricky with the ball. He told FIFA.com that he sees no reason why Nigeria couldn’t go far in the tournament. ”The advantage for us is that we can play a blend of African and European football … I see no weaknesses.”
Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico)
At 21, Dos Santos is already a football journeyman, having played in Spain, England (twice) and Turkey. His skill is unquestioned, but his petulance has not allowed him to blossom into the player many think he can become. A few weeks ago, he said he was thinking of quitting the team because his younger brother was cut from the squad.
David Suazo (Honduras)
This is only the second time Honduras has been featured in the World Cup. (The first time was in 1982.) And if they are to make it to the second round, the mercurial Suazo, 31, must come up big. It was at Cagliari where he made his name, scoring 95 goals in 255 appearances in eight years. His cousin, Hendry Thomas, who plays for Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League, joins Suazo on the team.
Douglas Maicon Sisenando (Brazil)
Maicon, as he is universally known, is simply the best right fullback in the world. The second-best right fullback in the world is his teammate Dani Alves, who is competing for the left fullback job on the Brazilian squad. Maicon, 28, who helped Inter Milan to the treble–league, league cup and Champions League titles–is an attacking force who makes marauding runs down flank, but is rarely out of position on defense.
Emile Heskey (England)
Before Rio Ferdinand’s knee injury, sustained in a training ground clash with Heskey, 32, the question was who was going to start upfront alongside the team’s best player, Wayne Rooney. Now the question is: Will the English fans, some who are now blaming Heskey for Ferdinand’s departure, boo him every time he touches the ball? Big and burly, but with a reputation as being a bit soft for his size, Heskey can turn boos to cheers if he goes on a scoring spree.
Thierry Henry (France)
Yes, it was ludicrous that his ”Hand of God” goal in the qualifying rounds condemned Ireland to spectator status, but you can’t hate the player, just the game. One of the most recognizable footballers in the world, Henry, 32, is captain of France’s Les Bleus. But he has to prove that he still has something left in the tank in what is easily a hall-of-fame career. Rumor has it that he may move to the United States and play for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, now that he is out of contract at F.C. Barcelona. If he and France don’t do well at the World Cup, he may well have to emigrate.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Holland)
At 35, with over 100 caps for his country, van Bronckhorst or Gio, as he is called, is the grand old man of Dutch football. Speedy and skilled, he roams the left flank, playing fullback, mid-fielder and winger in the Dutch strategy of ”Total Football.” Gio has announced that he will retire from international football after the 2010 World Cup.
There is a common train of thought that the team with the most Brazilians wins. Several teams have naturalized Brazilians on their team, and Germany’s is Cacau, 29, who plays for VFB Stuttgart of the German Bundesliga and decided to play for Germany after never been called up for his birth nation. Last week, he scored two goals in a tune-up against tiny Malta. Yeah, it was Malta. But he did score.
Gelson Fernandes (Switzerland)
Born in Praia, Cape Verde, the 23-year-old mid-fielder was the captain of the Swiss Under-21 team. Known as a cerebral player–he speaks at least six languages–Fernandes will have the opportunity to hone his Spanish since the Swiss are in Group H with Spain, Chile and Honduras.