WORLD CUP: Players to watch

Rodrigo Palacio (Argentina)

From playing in front of a handful of supporters in a wooden stand, Rodrigo Palacio now has his name chanted by 57,000 fans in the Bombonera. From wearing the colours of a humble provincial side in the lower divisions, he now dons his country’s famous albiceleste. Palacio’s rise to fame has been as sudden as it has been unexpected. As a youngster, he cut a dash on the playing fields of his native Bahia Blanca, where people first began to predict a bright future for him. In 2003-04, he found the net 11 times with Boca Juniors, a tally that had some labelling him a natural goalscorer. It’s an accolade that Palacio finds flattering, though a little wide of the mark.

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Lionel Messi became the toast of Argentina when, just days after his 18th birthday, he inspired his country’s U-20 side to a fifth world title with a series of masterful displays at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. Such was the impression made by the prodigious midfielder that in addition to taking home a gold medal he also picked up the adidas Golden Shoe award as top scorer, and the adidas Golden Ball as best player.

‘Messimania’ has also broken out back in Argentina with many supporters and analysts already comparing him to the young Diego Maradona.