Could Rafa Be Portugal's Surprise Weapon at the World Cup?

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2014

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 31:  The team of Portugal poses after the International Friendly between Portugal and Greece at the National Stadium on May 31, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

There are very few surprises in international football—especially amongst the well-established nations.

The notion that the countries' coaching and scouting staffs won't have done much homework on their opponents' fringe players is often misguided.

They will, of course, naturally know less of those not in the limelight.

All of Portugal's opponents throughout their World Cup campaign will be fully aware of their main players.

They won't need to conduct any research to know that Cristiano Ronaldo scores goals for fun and he possesses lightning fast pace.

Germany will be fully aware that Pepe is a tough-tackling defender who treads a fine disciplinary line.

Ghana will know that Joao Moutinho is a quality midfielder with a good eye for a pass.

Others will be less renowned, but with the right checks and briefings their characteristics will quickly become apparent.

However, there will always be a select few who creep under the radar. This is particularly common if the player is very young or spent his formative years outside the top flight.

If the player has only had one season in the highest division, then the national manager is often taking a bit of a risk himself.

The goal scored by Michael Owen in 1998 seems to have set a theory, especially among England supporters, that a relative unknown in the football world can cause a shock on the biggest stage.

"The confidence he had, how brazen he was to be able to take on the Argentinian defence at 18. I would never have had the ability or the confidence to take that on," said Frank Lampard to The Telegraph when reflecting on the goal last year.

Owen was not exactly obscure. He had a supreme talent and had made his club debut 12 months earlier. He finished his first full season as the Premier League's top scorer, per Wikipedia, and was third in the PFA Player of the Year voting.

That was 16 years ago, and the background gathering is much more extensive nowadays, but it's unlikely the slow Argentinean defence would have stopped him even if they had more information on his attributes.

The Premier League is the most viewed in the world, so for English supporters hoping the element of surprise from Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley will be the same as Owen, they are likely to be disappointed.

Today, you have to look even further afield, so for Portugal, Braga's 21-year-old midfielder Rafael Ferreira Silva could fit the bill.

It's fair to say that Liga Zon Sagres is not currently of the same popularity as the Premier League.

Braga finished ninth in the Liga Zon Sagres table, which was their lowest position for 11 years. They have accrued a top-four spot in seven out of the last 10 campaigns.

Rafa only arrived at Municipal Stadium last summer, and this is only his second season as a full professional.

He spent his first year in the Segunda with Feirense and only missed one game throughout their league term.

The midfielder is capable of scoring with both feet, but his skill set is closer to a Lampard than an Owen.

If he makes late runs into the box, then it will cause all sorts of problems for opposing sides. This is magnified further when arriving into the game from the bench against tired legs.

His three goals in 17 starts this year are not an outstanding amount, though you get the impression that this will improve over time.

The two goals scored against Olhanense in the cup were taken with the composure of a seasoned striker, whilst his strike against the same opposition a fortnight later in the league was like an old-fashioned winger as he beat two players and curled the ball in following a one-two.

Like Spain's Pedro four years ago, Rafa has the potential to make an impact that few will see coming.