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Players to Look out for in Russia 2018 You've Probably Never Heard of | © WikiCommons / sconosciuto
Players to Look out for in Russia 2018 You've Probably Never Heard of | © WikiCommons / sconosciuto
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Players to Look out for in Russia 2018 You've Probably Never Heard of

Picture of Jonny Blair
Updated: 24 April 2018
As Russia prepares for the greatest sporting tournament on Earth, there is bound to be an unknown superstar ready to emerge. Be it a passionate goalscorer like Toto Schillaci for Italy in 1990, El Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop for Senegal in 2002 or Pat Jennings for Northern Ireland in 1982, there is likely to be a surprise in store. Here are a few potential stars waiting for their chance to shine.

Blas Pérez, Panama

Club – Municipal
Position – Forward
Caps – 113
Goals – 43

Panama have qualified for their first-ever World Cup in 2018, knocking out the mighty USA, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago from the North American qualifying groups. One of their strikers, Blas Pérez, is a journeyman and veteran who has played for over 20 clubs in a lengthy career. Now aged 37, Pérez finally has the chance to shine on the big stage. Having missed out on the play-off for 2014 by conceding two later goals, Pérez will be very much up for the challenge this summer. At club level, he has played in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Guatemala. With an impressive goal scoring record in a career spanning 20 years, could he be the next Roger Milla?

Tryggvi Haraldsson, Iceland

Club – Halmstads BK
Position – Forward
Caps – 3
Goals – 1

Iceland will compete in their first ever World Cup
Iceland will compete in their first ever World Cup | © Tobias Klenze / WikiCommons

Tryggvi Haraldsson is only 21 years old and wasn’t in Iceland’s record-breaking Euro 2016 Quarter-Finals adventure. Since then, he has drafted his way into the Iceland squad, opening his goalscoring account in the friendly win over Indonesia. Haraldsson plies his trade for Halmstads BK in Sweden and aims to be one of the youngest players in the World Cup. He has already fired in over 10 goals at club level and could be an excellent supersub option for Heimir Hallgrímsson, the Iceland manager. To put things in context, when Eiður Guðjohnsen made his debut for Iceland in 1996, Tryggvi wasn’t even born!

Yasser Al Mosailem, Saudi Arabia

Club – Al-Ahli
Position – Goalkeeper
Caps – 31

Could Saudi Arabia spring a surprise?
Could Saudi Arabia spring a surprise? | © Dean27 / WikiCommons

Saudi Arabia should not be taken lightly despite some mediocre World Cup showings in the past, including an 8-0 defeat to Germany in 2002. They are a revitalised country on the world stage, topping their initial qualifying group and coming in runner-up only to Japan in the second stage. They scored 45 goals along the way. The Saudis one-time veteran goalkeeper, Mohamed Al-Deayea, ended his career in 2006 with a World record 178 international caps, after leading the Saudis to four World Cups, leaving a huge goalkeeping gap to be filled. The current number one, Yasser Al Mosailem,has taken over the reigns impressively since Al-Deayea’s departure. Given that Saudi Arabia are in a group with hosts Russia, two-time winners Uruguay and Red-Sea rivals Egypt, good performances by Al Mosailem will be essential if the Saudis are to spring a surprise at this World Cup.

Sardar Azmoun, Iran

Club – Rubin Kazan
Position – Striker
Caps – 31
Goals – 23

Sardar Azmoun should feel at home during the 2018 World Cup; he is already well known to the Russians due to the fact that he currently plays for Rubin Kazan and previously played for Rostov. Still only 23 years old, Sardar was one of the unfortunate ones to miss out on the Iranian 2014 World Cup squad. He has already netted a whopping 23 goals in 31 matches for his national team. If you’re going to bank on an Iranian goal at the World Cup, Sardar is the most likely to find the net. He has been likened to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and been nicknamed “the Iranian Messi.” A player of grit and flamboyance, Sardar netted the first goal against Uzbekistan, which sealed Iran’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

Jefferson Farfán, Peru

Club – Lokomotiv Moscow
Position – Winger
Caps – 81
Goals – 24

Peru played in the very first World Cup back in 1930 and will be competing in their fifth finals. It might come as a surprise to newer football fans that Peru were twice quarter finalists in their day, in 1970 (where they knocked Argentina out during qualification) and in 1978 (when they famously knocked out Scotland). This time, they have ousted Paraguay, Ecuador and Chile and are at their first World Cup in 36 years. One to watch is Jefferson Farfán, a 33-year-old veteran who currently plays in Russia for Lokomotiv Moscow, so he is already well accustomed to playing football in Russia. He has fired in 24 international goals, helping Peru knock out New Zealand in the 2-0 play-off win.

Lewis Cook, England

Club – AFC Bournemouth
Position – Midfielder
Caps – 1

While English Premier League fans will know all about Lewis Cook, outside England he is relatively unheard of. Cook has finished his second Premier League season with AFC Bournemouth, for whom he has now made over 30 Premier League appearances. Cook received his first cap for England in a March 2018 friendly against Italy. A hard working and clever midfielder, Cook has already lifted the World Under 21s Cup as England captain in 2017. He was also a member of the 2014 UEFA European Under-17 Championship winning team. As England have struggled in recent tournaments, fresh young blood is the way forward. Cook could just be Gareth Southgate’s wildcard for Russia. Watch this space.

Abdallah Said, Egypt

Club – Al-Ahli Saudi
Position – Attacking midfielder
Caps – 33
Goals – 6

Football fans have all heard about Mohammed Salah and his heroics for Liverpool FC this season, but one man doesn’t make a team. Egypt was the first African country to qualify for the World Cup way back in 1934, however 2018 is their first World Cup since 1990. All eyes will be on Salah, who has already scored 33 international goals. But all good strikers need a good midfielder to weigh in with assists. This is where Abdallah Said comes into the picture. Said has 33 caps to his name and six goals but also played a significant part in Egypt’s qualifying campaign, setting up the chances for Salah to dispatch.