Top 20 Unheralded Players to Watch out for at FIFA World Cup

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentMarch 11, 2014

Top 20 Unheralded Players to Watch out for at FIFA World Cup

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    Here are the top 20 unheralded players to watch out for at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

    An unheralded footballer is a person who is either a role player or does not have star status among casual football fans.

    The 20 unheralded players were ordered subjectively projecting how well they would perform at the World Cup.

20. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Iran), NEC RF, Age: 20

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    Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

    Iran's Alireza Jahanbakhsh has mainly been a super-sub for NEC since 11 of his 20 Eredivisie appearances have been off the bench.

    Though, he has displayed his raw talent when given an opportunity to impress. 

    During NEC's 3-2 win over AZ, Jahanbakhsh started as a right forward in a 4-3-3 with Michael Higdon playing the No. 9 role and Soren Rieks as a left forward. 

    Jahanbakhsh scored a brace and created NEC right-back Marnick Vermijl's goal. 

    AZ left-back Ridgeciano Haps had a hapless game against Jahanbakhsh while AZ left-sided centre-back Jan Wuytens also struggled against the Iranian international. 


19. Alejandro Bedoya (United States), Nantes CAM/RW/RB, Age: 26

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    Want a player to root for? Why not go for Alejandro Bedoya from the United States. 

    While his numbers for Nantes are unimpressive (three goals in 23 Ligue 1 games), he is not afraid to take command and create his own shot.

    Another positive is that he is versatile and willing to put the team ahead of his needs (has filled in at right-back). 

    With Nantes centre-forward Filip Djordjevic being scouted extensively by clubs from Europe's elite leagues (has signed a pre-contract with Lazio, per Sky Sports), Bedoya is at least on the radar. 

    He has had a modest career (Orebro, Rangers and Helsingborgs), so if he does overachieve at the FIFA World Cup, he could secure a career payday. 

    The only barrier to that idea is that Nantes have been handed a 16-month transfer ban, per SkySports, so it is unlikely that the French club would relinquish such an invaluable member of the squad in Bedoya.  


18. Mathew Ryan (Australia), Club Brugge GK, Age: 21

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    By the time Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan retires, he could be the Socceroos' greatest ever No. 1.

    Two years ago, former Manchester United keeper Mark Bosnich was already ordaining Ryan, then with Central Coast Mariners, as a world-class goalkeeping prospect. 

    "For me, for a goalkeeper, the No. 1 thing is domination of the box. He [Ryan] does that, that really sorts out the men from the boys," Bosnich said, per Matchday Saturday (h/t David Weiner at Fox Sports). "His technical ability is fantastic."

    With Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund) and Brad Jones (Liverpool) being reserves at club level, the regular reps Ryan receives at Club Brugge will separate him from the pack. 

    Australia are in a group containing reigning FIFA World Cup champions Spain, World Cup finalists the Netherlands and a strong Chilean team that stood toe-to-toe with Germany in a recent friendly. 

    What does this mean?

    Ryan will be picking the ball out of his net quite frequently, but he will be given the chance to make save after save. 

17. Javier Aquino (Mexico), Villarreal RW , Age: 24

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    Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

    Mexico's Javier Aquino is explosive, he is a threat and he tracks back, so you would think he'd be a regular under manager Miguel Herrera.

    That has not been the case.

    Though, Aquino's form with Villarreal (62 tackles, three assists, 25 key passes [pass that leads to a shot] and 30 dribbles in 23 La Liga games) should justify a place in Herrera's FIFA World Cup squad.

    Aquino could be lethal as an impact sub. 

16. Park Joo-Ho (South Korea), Mainz LB/LW/CM, Age: 27

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    South Korean utility player Park Joo-Ho is tactically adaptable as he can play left-back, as a left winger or a central midfielder. 

    He is tireless, technically shrewd and has become an unsung hero for Mainz manager Thomas Tuchel.

    In Mainz's 1-1 draw against Hertha Berlin, Park made three tackles and nine clearances, while also forming a good attacking partnership with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

15. Sejad Salihovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Hoffenheim LB/LW/DM, Age: 29

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    Bosnia and Herzegovina's Sejad Salihovic can play in a multitude of positions. 

    Should Bosnia end up being in a penalty shoot-out at the FIFA World Cup, trust Salihovic to step up and coolly slot home his spot-kick. 

    In the Bundesliga this season, seven of his eight goals have come via penalties (the exception being a free-kick against Hertha Berlin).

14. Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon), Lorient CF, Age: 22

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    Armando Franca/Associated Press

    Four years ago, then Cameroon manager Paul Le Guen saw something special in Vincent Aboubakar.

    He was 18 years of age at the time yet it did not dissuade Le Guen from giving the teenager a run against Denmark and the Netherlands. 

    Aboubakar was a clear example of a diamond in the rough at Valenciennes: nine Ligue 1 goals in three Ligue 1 campaigns. 

    Since joining Lorient, Aboubakar has displayed his strength, his ability to poach goals and a very direct style of playing football.

    These are factors in his superlative season: 12 goals and five assists in 28 league games. 



13. Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria), Chelsea CB/RB, Age: 20

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    When you watch Nigerian defender Kenneth Omeruo play, his playing style is seasoned, whereas his compatriot Efe Ambrose plays like a nervous schoolboy. 

    Ambrose is 25 years of age while Omeruo is 20. 

    You presume Omeruo's calmness coupled with his physical tangibles were reasons why Chelsea pulled the trigger and signed the Nigerian. 

    Coincidentally, Michael Emenalo, Chelsea's technical director, is also Nigerian, so he would have broken the ice in the initial transfer conversations with Omeruo, who was on the books of Standard Liege.

    "[I] got a call that Chelsea were interested. Emenalo was the one that called," Omeruo said, per Henry Winter at the Telegraph. "I couldn't believe it. Chelsea! I watched Chelsea growing up. I liked [John Obi] Mikel and I used to hear about Celestine Babayaro."


12. Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria), Napoli LB, Age: 23

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    Sidali Djarboub/Associated Press

    Algeria's Faouzi Ghoulam is looking like the most dependable left-back at Napoli. 

    He has upped his defensive productivity, making 0.4 more tackles (2.5) for Napoli than he did at Saint-Etienne (2.1).

    Offensively at Saint-Etienne, he consistently made in-roads against opposing teams.

    Even after moving to Napoli during the January transfer window, he still has more Ligue 1 assists (four) than Lille's Ivory Coast international Salomon Kalou (three).

11. Adam Lallana (England), Southampton RAM/CAM/LAM, Age: 25

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    If England manager Roy Hodgson wants to overachieve at the FIFA World Cup, he needs to make Southampton's Adam Lallana the star of the team. 

    Amid the constant failings for England from £300,000-a-week Manchester United deep-lying forward Wayne Rooney (has never scored a World Cup goal), a modest and humble Lallana could emerge as England's most valuable player at the World Cup. 

    Lallana has a turn of pace to get away from defenders, he is skillful, he has vision and he is a game-changer. 

    Without him, England would not have beaten Denmark 1-0. 

10. Alessio Cerci (Italy), Torino CF/RW, Age: 26

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    Italy's Alessio Cerci is elite in a free-roaming central role. 

    He is not exactly a No. 9, nor is he a No. 10, but playing predominantly in a forward role for Torino which has resulted in 11 goals and eight assists in 27 Serie A games. 

    Yes, he is still a threat off the dribble out wide, but if Italy need a game-winning moment, chuck Cerci up front and see what he can do. 

    He is a trump card for Italy. 

9. Majeed Waris (Ghana), Spartak Moscow CF, Age: 22

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    There is no way Ghana can ignore Majeed Waris' form on loan at Valenciennes. 

    He has scored five goals and created another three in his first nine Ligue 1 games. 

    His playing rights are owned by Spartak Moscow, so the Russian club will either start him next season or sell him to the highest bidder. 

    Waris can play up front as a centre-forward or as an inverted right-footed winger on the left flank.



8. Marcelo Diaz (Chile), Basel CM, Age: 27

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    It is odd that Marcelo Diaz's understudy, Felipe Gutierrez, plays in a stronger league via Eredivisie club Twente, while Diaz is with Swiss Super League club Basel.

    According to the UEFA coefficients, the Eredivisie is the eighth best league in Europe, whereas the Swiss Super League is the 13th. 

    Point being: How is a midfield maestro like Diaz not playing in La Liga or Serie A?

    He has elite positional ability, he dictates the tempo of play and has high football IQ.

    There are fitness concerns with him: He had a broken rib last November, per, and he is currently out with a muscle tear, per Angus McNeice at the Santiago Times




7. Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Toulouse CB/RWB, Age: 21

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier has already demonstrated versatility, having the X-Factor and world-class upside. 

    He can play at centre-back, right wing-back or right-back and has the tools to move into midfield. 

    His X-Factor is productivity in the attacking half (four goals and six assists in Ligue 1 for Toulouse this season) despite his main job of trying to stop opposing teams from scoring. 

    At 21 years of age, he will only continue to get better hence why he has world-class upside. 

6. Keylor Navas (Costa Rica), Levante GK, Age: 27

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas is having a world-class season. 

    He leads La Liga in saves made (109), per Fox Soccer, and made four saves in a 1-1 draw against Barcelona. 

    He denied Real Sociedad seven times in a 0-0 draw.

    Costa Rica are in the same group as England, Italy and Uruguay, so he could end up being the hero like compatriot Luis Gabelo Conejo was at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, per


5. Hiroshi Kiyotake (Japan), Nurnberg CAM, Age: 24

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    David Ebener/Associated Press

    Josip Drmic is the consistent target Hiroshi Kiyotake has at Nurnberg.

    The Japanese international still averages more key passes per game (a pass that leads to a shot; 2.1) than Borussia Dortmund's Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan (1.8).

    Kiyotake has a knack of opening up defences and while has yet to dominate for Japan, he could emerge as a surprise star at the FIFA World Cup. 

4. Daley Blind (Netherlands), Ajax CM/LB, Age: 24

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    Daley Blind has gone from an easy target for disgruntled Ajax fans believing he was only in the team due to his father (Danny Blind, a five-time Eredivisie winner with Ajax) to one of the most complete footballers in the Netherlands. 

    He is a high quality left-back, who has now become a wonderful orchestrator of play in midfield. 

    With Roma's Kevin Strootman set to miss the FIFA World Cup after a cruciate ligament injury, per BBC Sport, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal should consider playing Blind in midfield.

3. Fernandinho (Brazil), Manchester City CM, Age: 28

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Fernandinho may not have the superstar reputation of Neymar or a widely recognised name like Hulk, but the Manchester City central midfielder is one of the best players in his position. 

    His defensive contributions, his team-first persona and his box-to-box running means he is an ideal partner for Yaya Toure at City. 

    Fernandinho's world-class form will put him in good stead for Brazil. 

    If Brazil want to win the FIFA World Cup, Fernandinho must start every game. 

2. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia), Fiorentina RWB/LF/RF, Age: 25

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Colombia's Juan Cuadrado is a one-man counterattack for Fiorentina.

    He is an instant impact type of footballer and is so lethal going forward that he has been tried in a wide forward role for Fiorentina. 

    He could be a worldwide revelation if he emulates his lung-bursting runs in Serie A at the FIFA World Cup for Colombia.

1. Josip Drmic (Switzerland), Nurnberg CF/RW, Age: 21

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    In the Bundesliga for Nurnberg, Josip Drmic has scored five goals and created two assists in a five-game stretch and previously scored four goals in a six-game stretch. 

    Australia scored three past Ecuador in a 4-3 friendly defeat. 

    Which team does Switzerland face first? Ecuador, so if Drmic has a great game, it could precipitate an epic run at the FIFA World Cup. 

    Drmic has scored 11 times in league play for 14th-placed Nurnberg, so if he has a great World Cup, expect him to be the subject of several summer transfer window bids from Europe's major clubs. 



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