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German duo contending for Best Young Player award

Germany midfielder Thomas Mueller, left, celebrates with Mesut

Germany midfielder Thomas Mueller, left, celebrates with Mesut Ozil after scoring the team's fourth goal against England (June 27, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Thomas Muller will sit out today's monumental semifinal between Germany and Spain, which may give his teammate just enough time to steal his award.

Muller, 20, and Mesmut Ozil, 21, are the lead candidates to win the Hyundai Best Young Player award for the 2010 World Cup. If one of them prevails, it will keep the award on German soil after Lukas Podolski took home the honors in 2006. Landon Donovan (2002), Michael Owen (1998), Franz Beckenbauer (1966) and Pele (1958) have been recognized as past award winners.

At this stage of the competition, Ozil and Muller may very well be the only candidates left. Muller is vying for the Golden Boot award with four goals, while Ozil has only one to his credit, but has exhibited exemplary play throughout the tournament. Perhaps he can add to his resume today.

Muller will be sidelined for the semifinal against Spain -- a rematch of the 2008 Euro championship -- for a innocuous handball in the quarterfinal win over Argentina. It was an outragous call and outlines the problem with FIFA's yellow card accumulation rule -- despite a recent attempt to fix it.

The cut-off for the Best Young Player award is apparently 21 years old and Muller (20) and Ozil (21) both qualify. Before I knew what the cut-off was, I compiled a list of some of the players under 24 that have stood out and I only found a couple -- Ghana's Jonathan Mensah (20) and Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro -- under 22.

On FIFA's website, Ozil doesn't even appear as a "Player to watch," but there's no doubt he's being considered. I'm assuming a player will have had to make it out of the group stage to win the award, so only a few candidates remain.

Players who have impressed, but barely missed the cut because of their "old" age include: Gonzalo Higuain (22), Asamoah Gyan (24), Kevin Prince Boateng (24), Keisuke Honda (24), Javier Hernandez (22), Gregory Van De Weil (22), Marek Hamsik (22), Gerard Pique (23), Cesc Fabregas (23), Pedro (22), Luis Suarez (23) and Michael Bradley (22).

Netherlands youngster Eljero Elia, 23, who was my pick to win the award before the tournament began, saw some garbage minutes against Uruguay, and hasn't really been effective. He's averaged about 20 minutes per game and sat out during the Netherlands' victory over Brazil. 

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