12 July 2014

World Cup Unknowns XI

The World Cup is drawing to a close, so here's my selection of some of the tournament's star performers who you may not have heard of prior to the event

GK: Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
The eccentric Mexican ‘keeper impressed us all with some outstanding reflex saves to help seal his country’s passage through to the knockout stage. The 28 year-old thwarted the Dutch on numerous occasions and it took a thunderous Wesley Sneijder strike and a penalty to deny Ochoa and his teammates late on. His heroics in Brazil have attracted interest from clubs throughout Europe who are keen to add the now former Ajaccio stopper to their ranks.

RB: Fabian Johnson (USA)
The USA’s proud and gutsy performances at the tournament were personified no more so than by right-back Fabian Johnson, whose defending and intelligent forays up and down the right-wing earned him numerous plaudits. Johnson is by trade a left-back, making his showings in the red, white and blue even more impressive.

CB: Konstantinos Manolas (Greece)
Whilst Greece may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing side to watch, their defending was typically staunch. In 23 year-old Kostas Manolas, they have unearthed a young Greek warrior. The nimble, intelligent Olympiacos centre-back formed a solid partnership with Sokratis Papastathopoulos (yes I copied and pasted that surname), helping Greece reach the knockout stages where the luck of penalties deserted them.

CB: Matt Besler (USA)
The little known Sporting Kansas City defender became a national hero in the States after a series of fine performances, most notably against Belgian and Portugal, where Besler helped nullify the substantial threat of Cristiano Ronaldo. The 27 year-old is attracting interested from Premier League sides as a result, meaning his MLS club have been quick to try and tie down their in-demand skipper.

LB: José Holebas (Greece)
Completing the ‘Ameri-Greek’ defence is 30 year-old left back Holebas, who throughout the tournament was Galanolefki’s main, sometimes only attacking outlet – bombing down the wing and whipping teasing crosses into the box. In that sense the importance of the Olympiacos man in Greece’s progress is somewhat understated.

RM: Graham Zusi (USA)
Another United States and Sporting Kansas City player, Graham Zusi was another of Jurgen Klinsmann’s men who, despite being an unknown outside America, impressed on the biggest stage of all. The 27 year-old recognises his technical and agility limits and plays to his strengths - the biggest being sharp passing that Johnson benefitted from the most. Zusi is usually a central midfielder, highlighting the ability of Klinsmann to get the most out of his squad.

CM: Charles Aránguiz (Chile)
Aranguiz was an integral part of the Chile side that knocked out the World Champions and so nearly the hosts too. His terrier-like pressing in the centre of the park won back possession numerous times, leading to the swift counter attacks we became accustomed to from the South Americans. The 25 year-old currently plies his trade with Brazilian side Internacional.

CM: Celso Borges (Costa Rica)
Joining Aranguiz in midfield is Costa Rica’s Celso Borges, one of the star men to lead the unfancied side to the quarter-finals. The combative box-to-box midfielder provided an extra layer of defence when needed, particularly when down to ten men against the Greeks, as well as keeping things ticking over in the centre of the park. Don’t expect him to remain at Swedish side AIK Stockholm for long.

LM: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)
In what was a hit-and-miss tournament for Nigeria, Ahmed Musa enhanced his reputation as his country’s main attacking threat. Whilst the progress of Victor Moses has stagnated, CSKA Moscow winger Musa hit top form with two goals against finalists Argentina, including a sensational strike after a mazy run. At just 21 years of age, he could be a star in the making.

ST: Enner Valencia (Ecuador)
Undoubtedly Ecuador’s star man in Brazil, Valancia notched all three goals as La Tricolor exited valiantly at the first hurdle, attracting interest from Europe. West Ham are believed to be close to sealing the signing of the 25 year-old Pachuca striker.

ST: Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
The forgotten man at Arsenal prior to the tournament, Campbell was shipped out on loan to Olympiacos last season, where he impressed in the Champions League against Manchester United. Further good displays in Brazil have put the lively forward back into the thoughts of Arsene Wenger, and the 22 year-old looks set to start the new season with the Gunners.