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Thursday, June 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ten players who could emerge as household names

LUCA TONI , forward, Italy: Toni, 29, scored a remarkable 31 goals in 38 matches this season, the first player in 47 years to score more than 30 goals in Serie A. The 6-4 forward languished in the lower divisions for years before scoring 50 goals during two seasons for Palermo 30 in Serie B in 2003-04. A star on and off the field, he dates a model and is a regular on the gossip pages.

ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO , forward, Ukraine: AC Milan paid $26 million for Shevchenko in 1999, and he didn't disappoint. He scored 24 goals in 32 matches his first year, the first non-Italian to lead Serie A in scoring in his debut season.

That same year, he married American model Kristen Pazik, whom he met at a Giorgio Armani fashion show. Some say Shevchenko, 29, has lost a step. But he scored six of Ukraine's 18 goals during qualifying and is a big reason it is in its first World Cup.

LIONEL MESSI , midfielder, Argentina: He is only 18 and stands 5-7, but Messi could become one of the World Cup's biggest stars. In the past year, he has gone from the under-20 youth team to a bona fide star on the Argentine national team. Last year at the Under-20 world championships in the Netherlands, Messi won the Golden Shoe and Golden Boot, and before long, Argentine fans were begging coach Jose Pekerman to add the kid to the roster. Juan Roman Riquelme is still considered the most dangerous player on the team, but Messi is not far behind.

THIERRY HENRY , forward, France: Henry has proved to be the English Premier League's best import. Since joining Arsenal seven years ago, the fleet-footed Frenchman has become the club's all-time leading scorer, three times won England Footballer of the Year and finished runner-up twice for FIFA World Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004. He has led Arsenal to two league titles, three FA Cups and the 2006 Champions League final.

However, he has not been as dominant when he is wearing a blue French jersey, and that is a great source of motivation for the 28-year-old forward.

JARED BORGETTI , forward, Mexico : Though at 32 Borgetti is at the tail end of his career, he was the world's leading scorer in the qualifying rounds with 14 goals (Brazil's Ronaldo was second with 10). The tall, lanky forward known as El Zorro del Desierto (the Desert Fox) is Mexico's all-time leading scorer and known for his spectacular headers. He has scored 37 goals in 60 matches for the national team.

MICHAEL BALLACK , midfielder, Germany : Ballack has become the face of German soccer in recent years, and the pressure on him this summer is immense because he is the host nation's star. He is the three-time German Player of the Year. The 6-2 midfielder is equally comfortable attacking or defending and is considered one of the most complete players in the world.

DIDIER DROGBA , forward, Ivory Coast: As a young child, Drogba was sent to France to live with his uncle, Micheal Goba, who was a professional soccer player. Drogba began his career with French second-division Le Mans and had his breakout season with Marseille in 2003-04 (18 goals in 35 games). Chelsea was so impressed it paid a $45 million transfer fee for Drogba. He helped Chelsea to Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.

KASEY KELLER, goalkeeper, USA: It took four World Cups and a few heart-to-hearts with coach Bruce Arena, but Keller is finally the undisputed No. 1 U.S. goalkeeper. Keller, from Lacey, spent much of the past 16 years battling Brad Friedel for the top spot, but Friedel's retirement from the national team opened the door for Keller, 36, who is widely considered one of the top keepers in this World Cup.

WAYNE ROONEY , forward, England: Rooney will likely will miss the first round because of fractured bones in his right foot, but is expected to be rejoin the team for the knockout stage. Rooney has been under intense media scrutiny since the 2004 European championships, where, at the age of 18, he scored four goals.

RONALDINHO, midfielder, Brazil: Known for his no-look passes and perpetual smile, Ronaldinho is the most visible and expensive player in the world. The 26-year-old Brazilian is a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year and recently led FC Barcelona to the Champions League title. He is so vital to Barcelona that his transfer fee has been listed at $100 million.

Ronaldinho plays as if dancing to a samba rhythm, and he leaves defenders baffled with his elastico moves, in which he rolls the ball over his foot as if it were attached to an elastic band.

Miami Herald

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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