London - From Pele in 1958 to Michael Owen 40 years later, the World Cup has launched the careers of some of the most famous footballers ever to grace the sport.
Here are five young players hoping to catapult themselves to stardom at the 2014 tournament, which starts in just 16 days in Brazil:
Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast)
Born: December 24, 1992
A quick and powerful right-sided wing back, Toulouse defender Aurier was one of the breakthrough stars of the 2013-14 Ligue 1 season.
The 21-year-old, who made his top-flight debut for Lens aged just 16, scored six goals and contributed six assists during the league campaign, earning him a place in the Ligue 1 team of the year.
“In terms of right backs, he’s one of the best - if not the best in Ligue 1,” says Toulouse coach Alain Casanova.
“He’s still got a lot to improve, but his potential is huge.”
William Carvalho (Portugal)
Born: April 7, 1992
Carvalho is the latest promising graduate from Sporting Lisbon’s famed youth academy, following in the footsteps of such Portuguese greats as Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.
An imposing holding midfielder, the 22-year-old made his international debut in the second leg of Portugal’s qualifying playoff victory over Sweden in November, and has been linked with some of Europe’s most glamorous clubs.
“There’s no limit for him,” says Sporting teammate Diego Capel. “People will talk about him a lot in the future.”
Adnan Januzaj (Belgium)
Born: February 5, 1995
After a stunning breakthrough campaign with Manchester United, 19-year-old winger Januzaj was awarded a surprise World Cup call-up by Belgium coach Marc Wilmots.
The slight, left-footed player, who hit the headlines with a fine brace of goals in a 2-1 win at Sunderland last October, chose to play for Belgium despite also being eligible to represent Albania, Turkey, Serbia and non-Fifa-affiliated Kosovo.
“Adnan is the kind of player who could light up a World Cup, whether that is starting games or off the bench,” said one-time United teammate Ryan Giggs, who has just retired.
“He floats with the ball effortlessly. He is just one of those players you love watching.”
Paul Pogba (France)
Born: March 15, 1993
Pogba, 21, joined Juventus in 2012 after becoming frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Manchester United, and the move proved an immediate success as he won the Scudetto in his first two seasons in Serie A.
A rangy central midfielder, Pogba is blessed with exceptional technique and has earned a reputation in Italy for scoring spectacular goals from long range.
“He manages to ally athletic presence with power and beautiful technique,” says France manager Didier Deschamps, himself a former Juventus midfielder. “He has everything you need.”
Raheem Sterling (England)
Born: December 8, 1994
A dazzling wide player, Sterling emerged as one of the stars of the season after scoring a number of crucial goals in Liverpool’s ultimately futile title bid.
Occasionally used in a central role by club manager Brendan Rodgers, 19-year-old Sterling will be looking to capitalise on an injury to rival Theo Walcott by making England’s right-wing berth his own. “He has balance, pace and can go past players,” says England manager Roy Hodgson. “And you can’t bully him.”
Opening World Cup fixtures (SA times)
Thursday June 12: Brazil v Croatia, 10pm.
Friday June 13: Mexico v Cameroon, 6pm. Spain v Netherlands, 9pm. Chile v Australia, midnight.
Saturday June 14: Colombia v Greece, 6pm. Uruguay v Costa Rica, 9pm. England v Italy, midnight. Ivory Coast v Japan 3am.
Sunday June 15: Switzerland v Ecuador, 6pm. France v Honduras, 9pm. Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina midnight.