2014 World Cup: A Team of Unfamiliar and Underrated Players to Look Out For

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2014 World Cup: A Team of Unfamiliar and Underrated Players to Look Out For
Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

Asked to come up with a starting XI of unfamiliar players (to those who tend to watch Western European football) who may shine at the World Cup, I decided that rather than trying to decide arbitrarily who was famous and who wasn't, I'd impose some rules.

I started trying to just pick players who have played for a season or less in any of Europe's five wealthiest leagues (England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France), but in the end certain players—Darijo Srna, Jackson Martinez and Axel Witsel, for instance—have still been omitted on a whim, just because they seem too well-known.

I also limited myself to no more than two players per country.

With that all being said, here is an XI to look out for this summer in Brazil.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

FORMATION: 4-2-3-1

GK: Igor Akinfeev (Russia)

The CSKA goalkeeper has long been touted as the next great Russian goalkeeper in the proud line of Khomich, Yashin and Dasaev and but for his determination to stay at home he probably would have left for Western Europe before now. Back to his best after a badly-broken leg.

RB: Khosro Heydari (Iran)

Iran's great strength in qualifying was the tightness of their defence, and a key part of that was the right-back Heydari. Although he did register 13 assists in a season for Esteghlal five years ago, he is very much a defensive player, and he has never scored more than one goal in any of his six stints at different clubs—although he has got a second for Esteghlal since returning in 2011.

CB: Sergei Ignashevich (Russia)

In recent years, Russia's strength has been its neat, technical midfield, often let down by its lumbering central defence. Under Fabio Capello, though, Ignashevich and his CSKA team-mate Vasily Berezutsky have become a reliable, if slow, platform. Ignashevich's forward wanders are not as common as they once were, but he has a ferocious long-range shot.

Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press

CB: Kim Young-Gwon (South Korea)

South Korea didn't exactly sparkle in qualifying, but they were defensively solid and a key part of that were Kim's performances alongside Kwak Tae-Hwi. He has also been a significant part of Guangzhou Evergrande's success in recent years. Highly technically accomplished, he played for South Korea's futsal team while at university.

LB: Samuel Inkoom (Ghana)

Four years ago, when Inkoom first began to catch the eye, he was an attacking right-back who sometimes played in midfield. More recently, he has switched to the left, where he takes on a more defensive role. Now on loan at the Greek side Platanias from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, there is a sense he hasn't quite kicked on since helping Basel to the Swiss league in 2010, but the talent is there and he's only 24.

DMC: Celso Borges (Costa Rica)

Borges is only 25 but has already won 60 caps. He first emerged at the 2005 Under-17 World Cup and, while he perhaps hasn't reached the heights many predicted for him then, he remains a gifted deep-lying playmaker, the man who will be key to linking a deep-lying defence to a fluid forward line.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

DMC: Egidio Arevalo Rios (Uruguay)

It may be Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani who take most of the headlines, but just as important has been Arevalo Rios, a Pac-Man at the back of midfield, forever gobbling up possession in front of the back four and disguising the lack of pace of the two centre-backs. Now on loan with the Mexican club Morelia.

AMR: Macnelly Torres (Colombia)

Named after a baseball star his father admired, Torres was a key part of the occasionally brilliant Atletico Nacional side that won the Superliga in 2012. He caused controversy last summer, though, by moving to the Saudi side Al-Shabab.

AMC: Sunday Mba (Nigeria)

When Stephen Keshi called four players based in the Nigeria league into his squad for the 2013 Cup of Nations, he was widely criticised. But his vindication came with Mba's winners against Ivory Coast in the quarter-final and Burkina Faso in the final. An elegant playmaker, he moved from Warri Wolves to Bastia in December.

Matej Divizna/Getty Images

AMR: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)

The winger was one of the stars of the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011, constantly looking to cut infield and shoot, but also capable of getting to the line and crossing. He's quick, intelligent and industrious. He moved from VVV-Venlo to CSKA Moscow in 2012.

CF: Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)

Campbell had already impressed Arsene Wenger, but if Arsenal had any doubts they were surely removed by the quick and robust forward's performances in the Copa America in 2011. The Premier League club signed him soon after but work permit problems mean he has yet to play in England, instead going on loan to Lorient, Real Betis and Olympiakos. His recent performance against Manchester United only confirmed his talent.

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