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Who will strike gold in South Africa?

By Guest Writer Tony Appleton.

As one of the most thrilling, eventful and unpredictable Premiership seasons in recent memory edges towards its climax, the playing staff of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool alike will now surely be setting their sights to a potential four weeks of intense international competition; World Cup 2010. South Africa.

Although Chelsea and Manchester United will battle for the title and Liverpool can still snatch 4th place in early May, privately the players involved in this season-long titanic tussle will be hoping to avoid injury and feel as fresh and fit as possible for the tournament, which kicks off in Johannesburg on the 11th June as hosts South Africa play Mexico in the first of 64 hotly anticipated games.

Who though, will prevail? Who will provide the goals, the glory and general quality forward play that could ultimately lead to worldwide accolade and national euphoria? What is interesting to note is that the big four from the Premiership each have their own world class striker capable of making the tournament their playground; their platform to showcase their individual brilliance to an audience of hundreds of millions.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

wayne+rooney_8Wayne Rooney of Manchester United is the first of four top strikers that will undoubtedly have the media spotlight thrust upon them during the World Cup. The former Everton player has had his best season to date; completely fulfilling the potential that was so apparent when he curled home a magnificent strike in the final minute of a league game against Arsenal in his first appearance for the Goodison Park club. He is the Premiership’s top scorer with 26 goals, with a further 8 in other club competitions. He has been voted the PFA Player of the Year. His work rate, positioning and ability to score goals with his head have all become dramatically enhanced this season, and an angry temperament that hindered his younger days has now been seemingly curtailed so that his passion for winning and success doesn’t boil over to cause unwanted incidents. Rooney has become more selfish, and a change in tactics allowing him to be the fulcrum of United’s attack, the role he craves, has been instrumental in him taking the mantle from the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and allowed him to score more goals. England fans may fear about the burnout or over-reliance of the 24 year old, and recent niggling ankle and groin injuries certainly haven’t allayed the nationwide worry. That said, Rooney is still in prime position to take the World Cup by storm.

Didier Drogba (Chelsea)

drogba_4_1024x768One goal behind Rooney in the Premiership top scorer race is Chelsea’s Ivorian hitman Didier Drogba. Like Rooney, he was also nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award, and he has also had his best Premiership season in front of goal; currently one shy of his best combined total with 32 goals. Drogba is a matchwinner. From the turnaround on the opening day of the season against Hull, to powerhouse performances home and away against Arsenal, to the ‘offside’ potential title decider at Old Trafford, Drogba scores the important goals at the right times. What is interesting to note is that within the 3 well documented occasions that Chelsea have scored 7 at Stamford Bridge, Drogba didn’t score any of the 21 (he was on African Cup of Nations Duty against Sunderland). The point is stressed; his goals are important goals at the right times. Add to that his strength and his unnerving accuracy from dead ball situations, and Drogba will be a threat. Although many will argue that at 32 years of age he is past his best at international level, and that his coolness under pressure and theatrics when fouled will leave him wanting, the lower half of the draw will beware of the Drog.

Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)

Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie will undoubtedly have been talked about in the same breath as Rooney and Drogba had his season not been somewhat derailed by a serious ankle injury obtained on international duty with Holland. He missed 33 games in all competitions, yet current stats show that he still has a goal ratio of one every other game, highlighting his blistering form before his spell on the sidelines. Although he has come back too late to help an Arsenal team in their pursuit of a first title since 2004, his performances, most notably his energetic cameo in the defeat at Spurs, will give the Dutch encouragement. Van Persie will probably play up front on his own, ably assisted by the attacking force of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Klass Jan-Huntelaar and Liverpool’s Dirt Kuyt. The similarities between the free-flowing Netherlands and North Londoners will suit Van Persie, and his creative flair, lightning pace and hammer of a left foot undoubtedly make him one to watch. Questions regarding that ankle will undoubtedly arise, and he isn’t known for his strength, yet the aforementioned players mean that the Arsenal starlet could be spared for games and allowed to roam freely should they progress to the business end of the tournament.

Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

3 seismic attacking threats, yet arguably the greatest striker in the world has not been mentioned. Fernando Torres of Liverpool, currently sidelined after knee surgery, faces a race against time to make Vincent Del Bosque’s Spanish squad and showcase his undoubted talent on the world stage. Since coming to Liverpool, 26 year old Torres has scored a monumental 56 goals in 79 league games. His individual skill is probably underrated, but his finishing certainly isn’t. Torres can and will score both the tap ins and the wonder efforts all day long, most with what looks like consummate ease, and on the international stage he has struck up a feared partnership with another world class striker, David Villa. Torres got the only goal against Germany to secure Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph; if fit, what price him to do it again this summer? That though is the $64,000 question with ‘El Nino’; if he’s fit. To see such a talent shackled by injury will without doubt leave the World Cup shy of one of the game’s most suitable protagonists, yet unfortunately it does remain a distinct possibility as the 1st June deadline draws ever closer. Fans of Liverpool, Spain, and football, will hope he makes it.

Throw into the mix the likes of Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Luis Fabiano, and fans of the beautiful game are sure to be treated. On a personal level, I believe that Chelsea’s Drogba has the ability to take the Elephants from the Ivory Coast through a difficult path (playing Brazil and Portugal in the group stage and possibly finding themselves in a second round meeting with Spain) and be the surprise package of the tournament. After all, to find success in the world’s greatest sporting competition, you have to beat the best.

Which of the featured strikers do you think will perform best in the World Cup? Please leave your comments below.

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