The World Cup not only provides a showcase for the game's biggest names, but also a chance for lesser-known players to become globally known.
If there are some established stars who make an impact on football's biggest stage, there are others who gain fame with their impressive performances at the event.
While it is not practically possible to mention every star and the impact they can have on their side's fortunes, it is very much possible to discuss a few who are the more obvious choices in every such list.
On the eve of the World Cup, rediff.com takes a look at a few players who could light up the month-long extravaganza in South Africa.
Will help Brazil in its goal
Julio Cesar (Brazil)
Let's face it.
There won't be many good goalkeepers in action at South Africa.
Julio Cesar is by far the best of the lot.
Rock solid at the Inter goal, the Brazilian was an integral part of the Jose Mourinho squad that won a historic treble.
The 30-year-old's run of 26 consecutive starts for Brazil came to an end this Monday after he missed the friendly against Tanzania due to a back injury.
But with him at the goal, the Selecao can concentrate on what they do best: attack.
Spain's undisputed first choice
Iker Casillas (Spain)
The undisputed first choice, captain Casillas is one of the world's best goalkeepers.
A brilliant shot stopper, but occasionally suspect under high balls, he has had some uncharacteristic lapses at club level this season.
One of the stars of Spain's Euro 2008 success, Iker Casillas hasn't been part of any triumph since.
On 29 June, 2008 Casillas became the first goalkeeper-captain to lift the European Championship trophy when Spain beat Germany 1 0 in the final
But with Real Madrid finishing second best to Barcelona in the past two seasons, and exiting early in the Champions League, Casillas hasn't tasted much success.
There is no doubting the 29-year-old's pedigree though.
And with Spain going into the World Cup as favourites, this captain will have more responsibility than ever before.
Buffon is a phenomenon
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Considered by many as one of the most successful goalkeepers in the history of the game.
Gianluigi Buffon is a phenomenon.
The legendary Pele included him as one of the 125 greatest living footballers in the world,
And he was one of the stars of Italy's 2006 World Cup winning campaign, conceding just two goals and keeping five clean sheets, in addition to a 453-minute scoreless streak.
His form has dipped since but there's no doubting his class.
Lucio dreams of emulating coach Dunga
A move to Inter Milan (from Bayern Munich) at the start of the season ensured Lucio had a terrific season that culminated with the Italian club winning the Champions League - against his former club.
In national colours, he has been part of the Brazilian squad that triumphed in the 2002 World Cup and the 2005 and 2009 Confederations Cup.
The 32-year-old has been the Selecao skipper since August 2006.
And the centre back has declared that he dreams of emulating his coach Dunga by lifting a record sixth World Cup for Brazil.
July 11 beckons.
Seeking the lone trophy missing
Along with compatriots Lucio and Julio Cesar, Maicon is the pivot around which coach Jose Mourinho created an impenetrable defense that ensured Inter Milan a historic treble.
In Brazilian colours, the 28-year-old has been part of the squad that won the Copa Am rica (in 2004 and 2007) and the FIFA Confederations Cup (in 2005 and 2009),
However, he was surprisingly not called up for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, with Cicinho chosen as the primary back-up to Cafu.
South Africa might just provide the right-back an opportunity to ensure the only trophy missing from his impressive cabinet.
'In Mexico, I am not recognised'
Rafael Marquez (Mexico)
Rafael Marquez, the first Mexican signed by Barcelona thanks to distinguished performances for the national team and AS Monaco, will bow out of international soccer at the World Cup.
"The moment has come to give way to young Mexicans so I'll be giving my all in South Africa," Marquez told a news conference in March.
The 31-year-old is one of the European-based players certain to appear in coach Javier Aguirre's squad to contest the tournament opener against hosts South Africa on June 11, and the remaining Group A games against Uruguay and France.
Marquez, who started out at Mexican club Atlas aged 17, made his bow for the Tricolor in February 1997 when Serbian coach Bora Milutinovich chose him for a friendly against Ecuador.
Marquez got into the squad by chance when Milutinovich, who had called up another Atlas player, Cesar Marquez, saw Rafael train and asked him to stay.
Since that debut, Marquez has been a key element in the national team, playing 95 times and wearing the captain's armband at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Luck was also a factor for his move to Europe in 1999 to play at AS Monaco, where he won the French Ligue 1 title in 2000.
At the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay, a Monaco scout went to the game between Mexico and Chile to give a contract to a Chilean player but Marquez's performance convinced him to choose the Mexican.
After eye-catching performances at Monaco and then with Mexico at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, he moved to Barcelona where his star continued to rise and he became one of the best central defenders in the world.
With Barcelona, Marquez has won three La Liga titles, three Spanish Super Cups, two Champions Leagues and the Spanish King's Cup.
Despite his achievements, the defender does not feel widely acknowledged at home.
"Unfortunately, in Mexico I am not recognised for what I have achieved and what I am doing for the country but this doesn't worry me. I always try to be the same person," Marquez said in an interview with Televisa.
The good news is Mexico's versatile defender is fit and trained with the squad on Monday for the first time since they arrived at the World Cup.
Marquez, who has recovered from a right leg injury, trained without difficulties as they prepared for the opening match against hosts South Africa on Friday.
Kaka will be playing at his third World Cup
Every World Cup needs a brilliant Brazilian and with the premature decline of Ronaldinho and Adriano, it falls on the elegant midfielder Kaka to deliver that special something the team in gold are expected to provide every four years.
Injury disrupted Kaka's season at Real Madrid last term but, after the disappointment of losing in the quarter-finals four years ago, a fit Kaka in a more balanced Brazil line-up will have the perfect chance to show his class. He is light-footed on the ball, a superb passer and has a striker's instinct for goal.
Kaka has become almost a forgotten man in the World Cup, with the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup centred around Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres and David Villa.
Yet, lurking in the shadows and without the huge weight of expectation, there is every reason to believe that the former World Player of the Year could finally shine on the world's biggest stage.
Kaka suffered from niggling injury problems during a disappointing first season with Real Madrid, but that could easily work in his favour.
Having made only 33 appearances for his club, Kaka is likely to be fresher than his rivals, many of whom have played upwards of 50 games this season.
He is also freed of the weight of expectation which proved such a burden to Brazil's players four years ago.
As if to prove that he is peaking at the right time, Kaka scored his first international goal in a year in Monday's 5-1 friendly win away to Tanzania in their last match before the tournament in South Africa.
He also produced some of his characteristic bursts from midfield, a nightmare for defenders as he picks up speed and runs directly at the centre of the defence.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," he told Brazilian reporters after the game in Dar es Salaam.
"I felt really good, although still a little bit inhibited. I just need to let myself go."
Kaka will be playing at his third World Cup. In 2002, he made just one substitute appearance on his way to picking up a winner's medal.
Four years ago, he floundered along with the rest of a disappointing Brazilian team, and later revealed that he was injured when he played in the 1-0 quarter-final defeat by France.
A threat around the box
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
A quick passer, a commanding presence on the ball and a threat from anywhere around the box, it seems incredible that
Cesc is not an automatic starter.
Like compatriots Xavi and Iniesta a product of the Barca youth set-up, he joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old and has thrived after winning a fast-track promotion into the first team.
Fabregas, who returned to action with Spain in a friendly against South Korea last Thursday after two months out injured, signed an eight-year deal with Arsenal in 2006.
The 23-year-old told manager Arsene Wenger he wanted to return to Barca, the club he left for Arsenal aged 16, before joining up with the Spain squad for the World Cup finals.
Arsenal, however, rejected a formal offer from the Spanish champions earlier last week, which club president Joan Laporta said was for 35 million euros ($42.65 million).
Xabi's presence gives Xavi the space to perform
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
The 28-year-old has so far had 68 international caps.
His presence in the side gives teammate Xavi the space to perform.
Having swapped clubs at the start of the season, the hard-tackling Xabi Alonso had a decent first season at Real Madrid following his move from Liverpool without really stamping his authority on the side.
But his departure from Liverpool seriously unbalanced the side from Anfield.
Captaincy came as an unexpected birthday gift
Steven Gerrard (England)
Although he had a patchy season in a below-par Liverpool side, he is still a towering presence on his day.
Still an enigma for England, although Fabio Capello appears to have got more out of him than previous managers by starting him on the left, even though he prefers a more central role.
His loyalty to his home-town club has so far cost him the chance of a League title.
The exit of Rio Ferdinand, with a left knee ligament injury suffered during England's first serious training session, meant Capello had to reshuffle his defence, call up uncapped reserve Michael Dawson to join the squad and appoint a new captain in Gerrard.
For Gerrard, it was a late and unexpected gift to mark his 30th birthday, but hardly the way he wanted to realise a lifelong dream.
The 30-year-old has so far secured 80 international caps and scored 16 goals for England.
A remarkable eye for goal
Frank Lampard (England)
Brilliant all-rounder who combines great short and long passing with a remarkable eye for goal for both club and country. Although he will be 32 during the World Cup, he has had an outstanding season with Chelsea, winning the Double and there are no signs that his star is on the wane.
Missed a penalty in a warm-up game against Japan on May 30.
Lampard returned to the question which has vexed him -- and many England supporters -- for years and predicted he could finally make a partnership with Steven Gerrard work in the World Cup.
Gerrard and Lampard are individually two of the most talented midfielders in world football but every time they have been paired up at international level the result has invariably been ineffectual.
"We can make it work," said Lampard in answer to suggestions that, with Gareth Barry injured, he would be combined with the new England captain in a central partnership.
Will celebrate his 32nd birthday during the tournament.
Had one objective, to shoot at the goal
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Attacking, easy-scoring midfielder who made his debut for Ajax and the national team aged 18.
Played only 58 minutes during the 2004 Euro finals but became a regular under Van Basten.
Scored 18 league goals during the 2006/2007 season and earned a transfer to Real Madrid, who paid 27 million euro. Became redundant at Real Madrid last year and joined Inter.
The diminutive Dutch playmaker, 25, returned to the Bernabeu a year after being discarded to help pay for their multi-million euro rebuilding programme, and ended up lifting the European Cup with the Italians after a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich.
Sneijder is typical of the type of player Jose Mourinho has cultivated in his Inter team, snapping him up for 15 million euros ($18.76 million), after Real paid 67 million for Brazilian playmaker Kaka.
The hard-working midfielder was the creative outlet behind their quick-breaking forwards, and laid on the opening goal for Diego Milito in the first half, exchanging a quick one-two with the Argentine who is also heading tor South Africa.
Sneijder took nearly all Inter's freekicks and only ever had one objective -- to shoot at goal no matter the distance.
Has set new standards for a central playmaker
Midfield orchestrator Xavi has set new standards for a central playmaker over the past three seasons, leading Spain to victory at Euro 2008 and Barca to an unprecedented six trophies in 2009.
Spain's hopes of a first World Cup will rest squarely on the peerless playmaker's broad shoulders.
An his club has provided him an incentive ahead of the tournament by giving him options to his extend until 2016.
Xavi, 30, has an agreement until 2014 but has the chance to extend the deal a further two more years if he plays at least 50 percent of the games in each of the preceding two seasons.
The playmaker joined Barca as an 11-year-old and has made 527 appearances, second only to record holder Migueli, who played 26 games more.
In Spanish colours, he has thus far earned 85 caps and scored eight goals.
An impressive comeback
Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands)
Debuted for Ajax aged 17 and a year later he won his first cap for the national team.
Was in a rut after six seasons in Amsterdam and moved to Hamburg where his career revived.
Joined Real Madrid in 2008.
Had a disappointing Euro 2004 tournament, playing little and looking overweight, but played at the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euro finals.
He was out of action for three weeks after damaging a thigh muscle against Real Zaragoza in April but has made an impressive comeback.
A hugely-gifted ball player
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
A hugely-gifted ball player, Iniesta epitomises Barca's swift, counter-attacking style.
After his stunning winner against Chelsea in last season's Champions League semi-final, has had a relatively quiet season, suffering several niggling injuries and scoring only one goal.
The midfielder asked to be substituted with a thigh muscle problem during Spain's World Cup warm-up match against Poland on Tuesday.
The Barcelona playmaker, who has suffered from a string of thigh muscle injuries over the last year, had been in sparkling form and helped set up the opening two goals for the European champions.
One of the world's most dynamic midfielders
Daniele De Rossi (Italy)
Daniele De Rossi has come of age since 2006 and after AS Roma's stunning season the dynamic midfielder will be on a high with tackles and outrageous long shots bound to be flying in.
One of the world's most dynamic midfielders, he can tackle, shoot and pass well.
His temperament has calmed down from four years ago and he will be confident following Roma's successful season.
The 26-year-old has thus far earned 53 caps and scored eight goals.
De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo look secure in midfield and, despite injuries, Juve pair Mauro Camoranesi and Claudio Marchisio seem to be the best bet for the flanks even if Marchisio is not left-footed.
Messi's skills are reminiscent of Maradona
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Already being talked of as potentially one of the all-time greats, Messi had a taste of the World Cup four years ago as an 18-year-old and then was the inspiration behind Argentina's Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
But it is his stunning displays in big games for Barcelona that has led people to mention in him on the same terms as Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas and his compatriot Diego Maradona.
A brilliant finisher and a genius with the ball at his feet anywhere close to the danger zone, the only question is whether his team mates will provide him the quality of service he relishes.
Messi's remarkable four-goal performance in Barca's Champions League victory over Arsenal in April will long be remembered and he now has the perfect stage to show anyone who has not noticed yet that he is a very special talent and can deliver for country as well as club.
A multiple title-winner with his club, he is nicknamed The Flea.
With exceptional ball control at speed, some of his skills are reminiscent of Maradona the player but he will have to work out with the coach how they both get the best out of him for his country after some indifferent performances in the qualifiers.
His deft touch and pace makes him a handful
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo's billboard presence has certainly helped the Real Madrid winger's marketability but it his deft touch, pace and imagination that makes the 25-year-old such a handful.
In many ways a throwback to the days of wingers who hugged the touchline and made fools of fullbacks with clever trickery, Ronaldo will aim to enjoy the World Cup more than four years ago when he was criticised for his role in the controversial dismissal of his then Manchester United team mate Rooney.
The question is whether he plays in a good enough team to truly shine to the best of his ability.
He averages more than a goal a game
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
The good news first: Didier Drogba will rejoin the Ivory Coast World Cup squad after surgery on a fractured arm.
However, it is still not clear whether the African Footballer of the Year will be fit to play in the opening Group G match against Portugal in Port Elizabeth next week.
Drogba fractured the ulna, or inner bone, of his right forearm in a warm-up match against Japan in Switzerland.
The striker had surgery in Berne on Saturday, an operation Swiss doctors described as successful.
Drogba averages more than a goal a game for the Ivory Coast and is seen as pivotal to their chances of getting past the first round.
They also face Brazil and North Korea in a tough group but are more than capable of producing upsets.
Has an impressive list of honours
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
The bad news first in this case: the Dutch winger sustained a hairline crack in his left hamstring on Saturday and coach Bert van Marwijk said he is not expected to feature in their opening World Cup match against Denmark on June 14.
Van Marwijk was earlier quoted as saying he is taking a gamble by keeping injured Dutch winger in his squad.
The Bayern Munich player is to remain part of the squad despite hurting his left hamstring in Saturday's 6-1 rout of Hungary in a friendly in Amsterdam.
"We had an ideal (World Cup) warm up until the injury," Van Marwijk said. "But ... I'm willing to take the risk of keeping Robben in my squad.
"In the past such an injury would take four to six weeks (to clear) but the methods nowadays have developed."
However, till recently Robben seemed to have overcome his tendency to suffer muscle injuries.
Has an impressive list of honours including championships in the Netherlands, England, Spain and Germany.
Joined Chelsea in 2004 after two-year spells at Groningen and PSV Eindhoven.
Because of injuries Robben made little impression in England and after three years he was sold for some 36 million euros to Real Madrid, where he stayed two years before joining coach Louis van Gaal at Bayern Munich.
In Germany, Robben has had a sensational first season, helping Bayern to the Bundesliga and German Cup titles and the runners-up spot in the Champions League.
Will need to be at full fitness
Fernando Torres (Spain)
Scorer of the goal against Germany that fired Spain to Euro 2008 glory, Torres is racing to recover from knee surgery in time for the finals.
Will need to be at full fitness as his game thrives on raw power and acceleration.
Torres returned from injury as a substitute and scored a goal as Spain hammered Poland 6-0 in their final World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday
"I haven't played for almost two months and was very keen to return, but I wasn't as ready as I thought and had to ease off a little (last week)," Torres told Spanish state television.
"The coach and the doctors held me back a while, but in the end they gave me a run out, and I managed to score."
With him in the team England have realistic hope
Wayne Rooney (England)
Capable of scoring from any angle and playing any role in the attack, the Manchester United forward is still only 24 years old and this tournament is by no means his last chance at glory on the international stage.
Rooney, who can operate effectively as a lone striker or alongside a bigger target man, has it all -- an ability to run at defenders, lead the line, play as a second striker and track back into deeper roles.
But the main reason defenders fear him so much is his clinical finishing.
He may suffer from not having a threatening strike partner in the England set-up but if anyone is capable of shouldering all the responsibility for scoring and creating goals it is Rooney.
The state of Rooney's health always makes headlines and the recent worry was a groin strain.
With him in the team England have a realistic hope of making the later stages; without him, their chances diminish greatly.
Scored a season-best total of 34 goals for United and was named both the PFA and Football Writers' Player of the Year.
An asset coming off the bench
Diego Milito (Argentina)
Another of the Argentine goal machines who have prowled the European leagues this season, scoring both goals when Inter won the Champions League final 2-0 against Bayern Munich, having netted the goals that handed them the Italian Cup and Serie A title.
Has scored four times for Argentina but should prove an asset coming off the bench.
Diego Milito will have the same chance as Argentina's other in-form strikers to earn a place in their World Cup side, coach Diego Maradona said on Sunday.
"I'm not surprised by Milito. He's had a spectacular season, but then so have the others, Lio (Messi), (Carlos) Tevez, 'Kun' (Sergio Aguero)," Maradona told a news conference.
"Milito has proved me right for picking him. Whoever is in the best form will play," said Maradona, whose first-choice pair appear to be Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
He heads for South Africa on good form
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
The team's talismanic player, twice top scorer in Spain's La Liga and twice winner of Europe's Golden Boot, he is going to his second World Cup after 2002, where he played and scored in the second half of Uruguay's last group game before they were eliminated.
A cool-headed finisher who scores from close in or outside the box.
The 30-year-old, going through one of the better periods of his career after twice winning the European Golden Boot award, is the grandson of Uruguay's 1962 World Cup coach Juan Carlos Corazo and the son of Pablo Forlan, who played in defence for La Celeste in the 1966 and 1974 tournaments.
He has flourished since his move to Spanish football in 2004. At Villarreal, he topped the league goalscorers' list and won the Golden Boot in 2004-2005, as well as helping the team to a Champions League spot. He joined Atletico Madrid in 2007, replacing the Liverpool-bound Fernando Torres. He won the Golden Boot again in 2008-2009.
On Uruguay's erratic qualification road to South Africa, he scored seven goals -- including a hat-trick against Peru -- although critics still complained he was not hitting the net as often as he did with Atletico Madrid. He has scored 23 goals in 61 appearances for Uruguay.
He heads for South Africa on good form, having scored both of Atletico's goals in their 2-1 extra-time win over Fulham in the Europa League final.
An intelligent player always seeking space
Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)
Brilliant finisher, the centre forward Argentina needed to be able to forget Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo, he was also eligible for France having been born in Brest where his defender father "Pipa" (hence the nickname "Pipita") played but turned them down.
An intelligent player always seeking space to take the ball from a team mate, he prefers to run on to passes but will also do a good job with his back to goal holding the ball up.
Overlooked at first by Maradona, apparently over his refusal to play for Argentina at the World Youth Cup in 2007.
The 22-year-old goes into the tournament on a high having extended his contract with Real Madrid by three years until 2016
Higuain netted 27 league goals for Real last season, seven behind compatriot and top scorer Lionel Messi of Barcelona and one more than Real's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
He joined Real from River Plate in December 2006 for a fee of around 13 million euros ($15.5 million).
A battler to the last
Carlos Tevez (Argentina)
Known as Apache after the shantytown Fuerte (fort) Apache where he grew up, he is a battler to the last and one of Argentina's most charismatic players.
As a City regular he has recovered the scoring form with which he won the South American Player of the Year award for three years in a row while at Boca Juniors and Corinthians.
Has made a huge impression in England's Premier League, scoring regularly, and will be looking to transfer his form to his games for Argentina after mixed performances and two red cards in the qualifiers.
Tevez has also pledged his future to Manchester City after resolving his differences with manager Roberto Mancini.
A great chance for him to cement his reputation
Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
Cameroon's players are capable of taking the team beyond the World Cup quarter-finals, surpassing the country's 1990 performance, coach Paul Le Guen
Cameroon became the first African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, in Italy in 1990.
Le Guen said he would be relying heavily on striker Samuel Eto'o, who helped Inter Milan to win the Champions League final last month.
"I have players on whom I can count and Eto'o is the first," he said. "He is a great player, he is my captain, I believe in him, I'm sure he will deliver the goods.
Eto'o threatened last month to miss the World Cup after being irked by criticism of his commitment to the Indomitable Lions from 1990 World Cup scorer Roger Milla, but the striker played for part of a friendly against Portugal last week before being sent off for dangerous play.
Three-times African Footballer of the Year and a three-time Champions League winner, Eto'o has been stung by criticism from Milla that he had not truly delivered for his country.
Two African Cup of Nations titles and important goals in qualification for these finals suggest Eto'o, has some justification in considering the comments unfair. The finals present a great chance for him to cement his reputation as one of the finest forwards produced by the continent.
A versatile player
Robin van Persie (Netherlands)
Arsene Wenger's first-choice striker at Arsenal but he missed five months of the season after surgery on an injured ankle.
A stylish product of the Feyenoord youth system, he became a regular at the Rotterdam club in their UEFA Cup-winning 2002 season.
Joined Arsenal in 2004. A versatile player who is used in the Dutch side as winger, playmaker or striker.
Van Persie has said he preferred to play as a central striker with Sneijder as playmaker, Robben on the right and Van der Vaart the left.
"If we can work on giving everything for each other the whole tournament I believe we will be unstoppable," the 26-year-old said.
"With these four players in one team we really will be unique and will have an excellent chance of success."
Van Persie played six qualifying matches and scored one goal before he sustained an ankle injury in November in a friendly against Italy.
He underwent surgery and was sidelined for five months before returning to the Arsenal team in April.
The Netherlands would be looking to build their attack around Van Persie supported by Robben, Sneijder and Van der Vaart.
His goal-scoring record speaks for itself
David Villa (Spain)
Villa's goal-scoring record for Spain speaks for itself.
Top scorer at Euro 2008 despite missing the final through injury, the speedy Asturian is lethal with both feet and in the air and rarely misses from the penalty spot.
Now at Barcelona after a long spell at Valencia, who agreed to take 40 million euros ($48.75 million) for the striker.
Villa's 38th goal for Spain came against Poland on Tuesday, and it leaves him just six short of record holder Raul.