There is no such thing as an unknown at the World Cup anymore, but there are players who will emerge as surprise stars. Bleacher Report looks at five potential hits of the tournament who could come out of left field.
Antoine Griezmann, France
Club: Real Sociedad
Rejected by a number of clubs as a youngster for being too slight and small, Antoine Griezmann (174 centimetres, 72 kilograms) has had the last laugh after a season of coronation in La Liga. Having come through the youth academy at the Anoeta after moving to Spain as a 14-year-old, Griezmann made his debut while La Real were languishing in the Segunda.
After becoming a regular, the zesty winger helped take them to the Champions League before smashing 16 La Liga goals last season; among the competition’s foreign players, only Alexis Sanchez and Karim Benzema got more. His debut France goal, in a recent friendly against Paraguay, confirmed his potential to stand in for Franck Ribery after the Bayern Munich star succumbed to his injury problems.
Henri Bedimo, Cameroon
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Many assumed that Henri Bedimo had already enjoyed his career peak when he was a key part of Montpellier’s surprise Ligue 1 title triumph in 2012, but the move east to Lyon has given him fresh impetus.
His galloping, nimble runs from left-back were an eye-catching feature of Lyon’s marathon season at home and continentally. Bedimo’s accurate crossing could also be a real asset for Samuel Eto’o and company; only James Rodriguez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura supplied more than Bedimo’s 10 assists in Ligue 1 during 2013/14.
Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast
If ever a player was primed to “explode” into the wider consciousness (as the French say) at a major tournament, then it is Serge Aurier.
Having just completed his third season in Ligue 1 for Les Violets, Aurier’s emergence has left Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi comfortable enough to leave out the experienced Emmanuel Eboue. Like the former Arsenal man, Aurier is primarily considered a right-back but has more strings to his bow, excelling at wing-back and in central defence too.
He was Europe’s most offensively productive defender last season with six goals and six assists, and a prolific tackler too (2.8 on average per match, via WhoScored.com). A big move will surely follow a keynote tournament from Aurier.
Sead Kolasinac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
It takes some believing that Sead Kolasinac is still yet to make 50 first-team appearances for Schalke, such is his assurance and decisiveness. Born in Germany to Bosnian parents, Kolasinac played for Germany at representative level up to and including under-20, until accepting an approach to become a full Bosnia international last year.
He made his debut in trying circumstances—a November friendly which saw Safet Susic’s team well-beaten by Argentina shortly after sealing World Cup qualification. Yet his poise and accomplished tackling was evident in that and subsequent appearances.
The left-back reliably fills what has sometimes been a problem position for a growing international side.
Aleksandr Kokorin, Russia
Club: Dynamo Moscow
Fabio Capello’s Russia squad may look a little old, but there are exceptions to every rule. Aside from being approachable and media-friendly, the inventive Aleksandr Kokorin is a creative force to get the fans excited.
This season he has built on his considerable potential as a multi-faceted forward, scoring 10 times and registering six assists in 20 Russian Premier League starts. In a Russia squad that has drawn criticism at home for being on the conservative side, Kokorin is a beacon of youth and brightness. What’s more is that his best performances for Dynamo this season have come at centre-forward, where Capello has little depth beyond Aleksandr Kerzhakov.