World Cup hot shots
From the top stars to the top scorer, the Soccer Saturday panel tell us who to look out for in South Africa.
Last Updated: 09/06/10 12:06pm
It's just a few days until the World Cup kicks off - and our panel of experts are here to tell you exactly what you can expect in South Africa.
Here on skysports.com, we've brought together the studio stars of Soccer Saturday - Jeff Stelling, Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas - to share their thoughts on football's showpiece tournament.
For the last fortnight, the gang have been debating some of the big World Cup talking points and giving you a flavour of what you can expect when the action kicks off.
And now we've asked them about the players to look out for. Who will prove to be the stars of the show? Who is in the running for the Golden Boot?
Our boys give you their tips....
skysports.com: The World Cup brings together the world's greatest footballers, but which players are you most looking forward to watching in South Africa?
MERSE: Someone will come out of nowhere and do something extraordinary. That's what I like about the World Cup. We see players in the Premier League or La Liga and we describe them as world class, but that's a phrase used very loosely. This is where you prove you're world class.
JEFF: Inevitably it's going to be the strikers who everyone is looking forward to seeing, so Fernando Torres, David Villa and Luis Fabiano are just some of the names.
MERSE: I hope Steven Gerrard turns up because for me he's one of the best players in world football. He hasn't played well this season - and that has been reflected in Liverpool's league position - so I just hope he peaks at the World Cup. If he does then England won't be a million miles away. He's top, top drawer.
CHARLIE: There's also Nilmar, a little striker from Brazil who I'm excited about and of course there's the usual suspects like Lionel Messi.
JEFF: Yes, I'd also like to see if Messi can do it at international level. It sounds ridiculous but his record for Argentina is nothing like his record at club level. I think everyone is excited to see if he can reproduce his form with Barcelona for his country.
MATT: It's got to be Messi. He's had such a phenomenal season at Barcelona and I'm hoping for the kid's sake that he can produce the same form for his country that he has for his club. He's not really that popular in Argentina, which is strange when you see him smashing in 40 goals for Barcelona. He took a decision to leave Argentina as a young player - and you can't look back and say that was the wrong decision - but the fans seem to hold that against him. Maybe if he has a good World Cup they'll take him to their hearts. A few goals will quickly change their minds.
MERSE: I like David Villa too. He's gone to Barcelona for £34million and I think that's a bargain. He's a £70million player because he doesn't stop scoring goals. And he scores any kind of goal too, not just ones inside the six-yard box. Maybe someone like Wesley Sneijder will come out and prove Real Madrid were wrong to get rid of him. I think him and Robin van Persie could absolutely rip it up.
CHARLIE: I'm also really looking forward to how Van Persie is going to get on. I really do think he's a star that has been constantly held back by bad injuries and I think he'll be a big star at the World Cup.
THOMMO: Merse and Charlie have picked van Persie? Can I go for Dirk Kuyt then? No, just kidding. I'm really looking forward to seeing Wayne Rooney. I think he's meant for the big stage and you've seen him do it in the big Champions League games as well. He's so hungry and has so much desire and at times he just plays like he's kid in the school yard. I know Messi does to a certain extent as well, but Rooney is different animal. He's only 24 but already has so much experience behind him and I'm really looking forward to seeing how he does.
JEFF: A fully fit Wayne Rooney on the world stage? From an England point of view that's something I'm really looking forward to seeing.
CHARLIE: I actually don't think this will be Rooney's World Cup. He's a great player and he's had a great season, but there's something about Fabio Capello's set-up that I don't think quite suits Rooney. I think England's stand-out player in terms of goals might turn out to be Frank Lampard.
skysports.com: So who are you tipping for the World Cup Golden Boot?
MATT: Sorry Charlie, but I'm going to go for Wayne Rooney. If you only look at his last eight internationals then he's only scored one goal, but let's not forget he scored nine in the eight games before that. The injury he got at the back end of the season meant he didn't quite play as many games as everybody else and that might make him a little bit fresher. Now he's had time to get over his injuries, he'll be fit and raring to go and I fancy him to be top goalscorer.
CHARLIE: Forget about Rooney. Frank Lampard is a cracking price to finish as top goalscorer for the competition and I'll certainly be having a look at him. Everybody's going for strikers like David Villa, Fernando Torres or Robin van Persie and they're all capable of goals. But you always tend to find - especially with England or Scotland - that the strikers are stifled and the midfield players will produce. I think Steven Gerrard and Lampard will step up to the mark, but Lampard's the type of guy who gets on the end of things when people are tired and make mistakes. I think Lampard is an absolutely bargain bet (66/1 on Sky Bet) - as he'll probably take all of England's penalties.
MERSE: Lampard? Rooney? I don't see that. I don't see us scoring four or five goals in a game - and you need a game like that if you're going to win the Golden Boot. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we'll get the top scorer with the way we play. I think Lampard's a good shout for top England goalscorer though.
THOMMO: Before his injury I fancied Didier Drogba, but Fernando Torres is another one who could do it if he is fully fit.
JEFF: For me it has to be David Villa. If you compare his and Fernando Torres' records at international level, Torres scores one goal in every three games approximately, while Villa scores two in three. He was also the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2008 and I think he's a class act.
MERSE: Get on Robin van Persie at 25/1 - and Charlie was right when he said he could be one of the players of the tournament. So many players are coming here after a long season and Van Persie's freshness could make such a difference. He'll have Wesley Sneijder playing behind him, who'll find him wherever he runs. He's used to having Cesc Fabregas supplying the bullets at Arsenal and Sneijder will do the same job for Holland. Plus Holland have it in them to bash someone 5-0.