THE World Cup always opens to a fanfare about the big-name players from the biggest clubs - the men expected to dominate proceedings. And this edition has been no different. Players such as Lionel Messi, Robin van Persie, Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Luis Fabiano, David Villa, Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney were widely tipped to win the Golden Boot or the player-of-the-tournament title.
After half the tournament has elapsed, however, several lesser known names - or, in the case of Diego Forlan, one well-known name who had faded a little from the headlines - have emerged as key players for their teams. All will look to play a key role in the knockout stages for their countries.
1. JAVIER HERNANDEZ
Manchester United-bound Hernandez was Mexico's man of the match in the 2-0 win over France when he sealed the North Americans' triumph with a coolly taken goal, springing the offside trap and rounding the goalkeeper before stroking the ball into an unguarded net.
Age 22, forward, Mexico
Quick and skilful, and surprisingly good in the air for a player of his height (1.75m), Hernandez was signed from Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara by Alex Ferguson and will move to United after the World Cup. Is the third generation of his family to have played for the national team, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
2. GIOVANI DOS SANTOS
Despite his youth, dos Santos is a familiar face to watchers of international football. He starred in the Mexican team that won the under-17 World Cup in Peru five years ago, and also in the side that did well in the under-20 world championships in Canada two years later.
Age 21, forward, Mexico
His club career has been patchy - he has been at Barcelona and Tottenham, where he failed to break into the first team - before moving to Galatasaray in January of this year to link up with his old Barca boss Frank Rijkaard. Quick and skilful, dos Santos has been in electrifying form this World Cup, playing a key role for Mexico in the opening-day draw with South Africa and the win over France.
3. DIEGO FORLAN
Forlan is scarcely a newcomer but his performances in this World Cup so far may cause people to re-evaluate him - especially those who remember him as a failure at Manchester United, where he struggled for goals before being moved on to Villareal. His time in Spain has been much more productive, both with the Yellow Submarine, as Villareal are known, and Atletico Madrid.
Age 31, forward, Uruguay
Now very much the leader, along with Diego Lugano, of a tough, strong, ultra-professional Uruguayan side, Forlan is not just a goalscorer - his two against South Africa make him his country's leading marksman in the tournament - but he is also capable of dropping deep and playing a creative role.
4. ANDRE AYEW
Son of a famous footballing father is a job description that is rarely easy to fill. Comparisons are too often made, and it is invariably the son who suffers. Andre Ayew has a long way to go to match the deeds of his father, Abedi Pele, but he has certainly made an impression in his first World Cup with his powerful play in wide areas of Ghana's attacking midfield trio.
Age 20, winger, Ghana
Set up the goal against Australia with a tremendous run which took him past both Brett Emerton and Luke Wilkshire before he crossed for Johnathan Mensah to shoot - the shot which produced Harry Kewell's goal-line block and subsequent red card, which was the pivotal moment of the match.
5. MESUT OZIL
Skilful, svelte, with a delicate touch, Ozil is one of a number of players of Turkish heritage who are starting to break into Germany's international ranks. The Werder Bremen playmaker has emerged in a key creative role for the German side and looks set to be a fixture for years to come.
Age 21, midfielder, Germany
Against Australia his silky touch and clever passing and his ability to link with Lukas Podolski on one wing and Thomas Muller on the other was one of the main reasons why the Germans were able to rip through the Socceroos. Can also play wide on the left and as a ''shadow'' striker if required.
6. THOMAS MULLER
It has been an extraordinary 12 months for Muller, the lanky Bayern Munich youngster who has burst into the Bavarian side and also established himself in the German national team. Tall and quick, Muller can play either in the hole behind the front striker, or out wide, with equal facility.
Age 20, winger/striker, Germany
Australian supporters will have cause to rue his efficiency in the latter area, having watched him run riot against Jason Culina and Scott Chipperfield in the 4-0 loss to Germany that marked Australia's 2010 World Cup debut. Most big men - Muller is 186cm - struggle with the ball at their feet and do not always have the best close control. Muller is an exception.
7. MILOS KRASIC
Krasic's pace and guile on the flanks has been a key factor in Serbia's rise up the international rankings in recent years, and the CSKA Moscow man's pace and skill has seen him attract the interest of some of Europe's larger clubs.
Age 25, midfielder/winger, Serbia
He was the key to Serbia's shock victory over Germany in Port Elizabeth, with his electrifying pace on the flank opening up the favourites. It was his cross to the head of giant striker Nikola Zigic, who nodded down for Milan Jovanovic to beat Manuel Neuer.
8. MARK PASTON
The Wellington Phoenix shot stopper has been one of the surprise heroes of the World Cup, keeping the All Whites in both their games with a number of terrific saves against Slovakia and Italy.
Age 33, goalkeeper, New Zealand
Had spells with Bradford City and Wallsall in the English lower leagues but now well established at home as the No. 1 with the Phoenix. Only playing because regular first choice Glen Moss was suspended from the first two matches of the tourn- ament.
9. RAUL MEIRELES
The Porto midfielder is an ever-present in the Portuguese side and has become an important source of goals, breaking the deadlock against North Korea before the dam burst and his teammates added another six. Played more minutes in qualifying for his country than any other player, and his clever and powerful running from central positions into the forward third makes him a dangerous proposition.
Age 27, midfielder, Portugal
10. JESUS NAVAS
It's hard to stand out in a team in which your own squad mates include Fernando Torres, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa.
Age 24, forward, Spain
But Navas certainly came to the fore in the 2-0 win over Honduras which brought Spain back to life. He teased and tantalised out on the flanks and proved dangerous.
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