By Jack Williams
This series first appeared in the World Cup Issue of 8by8mag, available now.
United States: Michael Bradley
Bradley's midseason switch to Toronto from the Italian club A.S. Roma came as a surprise to some ... but not to Michael Bradley. The central midfielder, returning to the MLS, says he is motivated by a U.S. soccer system that is ever strengthening, and if the national team is to match his ambitions, one has to think that Bradley will play an integral role in making Jürgen Klinsmann's men tick.
Ghana: Asamoah Gyan
One of the stars of the last World Cup, Gyan netted three times before missing a crucial last-minute penalty in Ghana's defeat to Uruguay in the quarterfinals. Currently scoring for fun in the UAE (more than 75 goals in less than 65 games), the striker will be leading the line in a group that includes Germany and Portugal. Oh, and there's the little matter of a so-called "grudge match" with the U.S. too.
Germany: Manuel Neuer
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Kahn and Lehmann (Neuer's idol), the imposing keeper offers a presence between the sticks like perhaps no other in the world. Voted into the FIFA World 11, in 2013, the Champions League winner's size is accompanied by an incredible shot-stopping ability and great distribution. Germany, one of the tournament's favorites, may also be thankful of Neuer should a match come to penalties: He has saved more than three out of every 10.
Portugal: Fabio Coentrao
An explosive, old-school wing back, Coentrão has enjoyed mixed fortunes since his $40 million move to Real Madrid from Benfica. The lack of appearances by the Portuguese player, reportedly a target of Manchester United, has not put off potential suitors. This summer's tournament could earn Coentrão the title of one of the world's most exciting defenders once more--an honor he earned after shining in South Africa in 2010.
Download a free preview of the 8by8 mag World Cup issue here.