‘World Cup scouting’
Starting with Nicolás Lodeiro back in December last year, Football Further selected 32 players to watch out for at the 2010 World Cup and then tracked their progress through the tournament via weekly scouting reports. Below is a full compilation of those reports, along with conclusions (and marks out of 10) on how each player performed.
Players with asterisks* were scouted by Football Further in the build-up to the World Cup.
South Africa: Katlego Mphela
- Group match 1 (South Africa 1-1 Mexico): Led the line with uncomplaining dedication, played a key part in the build-up to Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal and hit the post late on with a rather tame left-footed effort.
- Group match 2 (South Africa 0-3 Uruguay): Forced to plough a lone furrow again, he managed to craft a few half-chances for himself but was let down by the quality of the service he received.
- Group match 3 (South Africa 2-1 France): Bowed out of the World Cup with a man-of-the-match performance. Bundled home South Africa’s second goal from Tsepo Masilela’s left-wing centre and could have had a hat-trick. Tested Hugo Lloris three times – twice with well-controlled efforts from distance – and also rattled the post with a side-footed shot from close range.
Overall: 6/10. Made to toil in the hosts’ opening two games, he confirmed his quality in the victory over France.
Mexico: Giovani dos Santos
- Group match 1 (South Africa 1-1 Mexico): Illuminated the first 45 minutes of the World Cup with his enterprising dribbling in central areas. Had less of an impact in the second half but drew fine save from Itumelung Khune with rasping shot.
- Group match 2 (Mexico 2-0 France): Not as influential as against South Africa, but posed a threat whenever he got the ball in the right positions. Looked to get in behind the France defence at every opportunity and sent a low shot a couple of yards wide after outmuscling Patrice Evra shortly before half-time.
- Group match 3 (Mexico 0-1 Uruguay): Often Mexico’s most advanced player, he could not capitalise on the space occasionally afforded him as El Tri were made to accept the unpalatable prospect of a last-16 meeting with Argentina.
- Round of 16 (Argentina 3-1 Mexico): Started on the right but was repeatedly unable to exploit promising situations purely due to the fact he always had to cut inside onto his left foot. Slipped cute pass through to Javier Hernandez in the game’s early stages but endured a largely frustrating evening.
Overall: 7/10. Failed to rediscover the form that made him the stand-out player of the tournament’s opening game, but he nonetheless remained a dangerous weapon for Mexico and was nominated for the Young Player of the Tournament award.
The following 32 names represent Football Further‘s players to watch at the 2010 World Cup. We’ll be following their performances closely over the course of the tournament, with weekly scouting reports rounding up their progress.
Names preceded by squad numbers. Players in bold have been scouted by Football Further in the build-up to the World Cup. Players in brackets were scouted but not called up by their national sides.
England: 23. Joe Hart (Jack Wilshere)
United States: 4. Michael Bradley
Algeria: 7. Ryad Boudebouz
Slovenia: 15. Rene Krhin
Germany: 6. Sami Khedira
Australia: 23. Mark Bresciano (Tommy Oar)
Serbia: 3. Aleksandar Kolarov
Ghana: 18. Dominic Adiyiah
Even by modern standards, Fábio Coentrão is frighteningly skillful for a full-back.
The blond left-sided player began his career as a fleet-footed winger at hometown club Rio Ave, with whom he spent three years prior to joining Benfica in July 2007. He had to bide his time before making his first-team breakthrough though, enduring largely unfulfilling loan spells at Nacional and Real Zaragoza before returning to Rio Ave on another loan deal in January 2009, and it wasn’t until this season that he managed to pin down a starting place at the Estádio da Luz.
Nothing screams opportunity like an injury to a first-team player in the build-up to a World Cup. Had Jimmy Greaves not badly gashed his leg in 1966, we might never have heard of Geoff Hurst. Had Santiago Cañizares not dropped a bottle of aftershave on his foot in 2002, a 21-year-old Iker Casillas would have had to wait for his chance to shine at the World Cup. And if Michael Ballack had not been ruled out of Germany’s World Cup squad earlier this week, Sami Khedira would not be going into the tournament with the weight of his country’s expectations on his shoulders.
“It can be assumed that Khedira is the number one candidate for this position,” said Germany coach Joachim Löw shortly after Ballack’s unavailability had been confirmed last weekend. “He has a great deal of potential and is a player who has already been given a lot of responsibility at Stuttgart. He also shows that he has matured.”
As the son of national boss Bob Bradley, USA midfielder Michael Bradley has had to work harder than most to prove himself worthy of a role in his country’s World Cup plans.
Bradley, Sr. gave his son an early leg up by selecting him from the 2004 MLS SuperDraft during his tenure as coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars but since then, everything that Michael has achieved has been his own work.
He received his European footballing education at Dutch side Heerenveen, joining them from the MetroStars in a January 2006 move that made him the youngest MLS player ever to be transferred. A first-team starter from the moment of his arrival, Bradley enjoyed his breakthrough season in 2007-08, when he scored 16 league goals to finish joint-sixth in the Eredivisie scoring charts. In August 2008 he signed a four-year contract with one-time German powerhouses Borussia Mönchengladbach and has since become an indispensable component of their line-up, making 57 Bundesliga appearances over the last two seasons and scoring seven goals.
The express purpose of the World Cup scouting feature is to shed light on up-and-coming young players to look out for in South Africa, but this week Football Further is focusing on a more established player who tends not to receive the attention his ability richly deserves.
Antonio Di Natale was this week named in Italy’s provisional 30-man World Cup squad and if, as expected, he retains his place when Marcello Lippi whittles his group down to 23, it will be the first time that the 32-year-old Udinese captain has been selected for football’s showpiece event.
A short, wily support striker with marvellous technique and an exquisite touch, Di Natale is right-footed but typically plays from the left and has proven that he is more than just a scorer of great goals this season by racing to the top of the Serie A scoring charts. He has netted 28 times in 32 starts, breaking the club record for goals scored in a single season previously established by Oliver Bierhoff in 1997-98 and on Sunday he reached the 100-goal milestone in Serie A with a brace against Bari. If he repeats the trick in Udinese’s final game at Lazio on Saturday he will become only the second man after Luca Toni in 2006 to reach the 30-goal mark since Inter’s Antonio Valentín Angelillo in 1959.
Loan spells tend to go one of two ways. More often than not they are merely anecdotal footnotes in a player’s career, such as David Beckham’s five-game stint at Preston North End in 1995 or Jermain Defoe’s record-breaking achievements at Bournemouth, but occasionally, as with Joe Hart’s time at Birmingham City this season, they can be the making of a player. Miroslav Stoch’s move to FC Twente unquestionably falls in the latter category.
Stoch, a small, incisive wide player, joined Steve McClaren’s side on loan from Chelsea last July. He went on to make 32 league appearances for the freshly crowned Dutch champions and scored 10 goals (12 in all competitions), including the strike that wrapped up last weekend’s title-sealing 2-0 defeat of NAC Breda.
While much of the attention surrounding Argentina’s World Cup campaign will understandably focus on their star-studded attacking line-up, their chances of success in South Africa depend just as much – if not more – on Diego Maradona’s ability to configure an effective defensive unit.
The Albiceleste aren’t exactly shabby when it comes to big-name defenders either, but one of the prime reasons why stars such as Barcelona’s Gabriel Milito, Real Madrid’s Ezequiel Garay and Internazionale pair Javier Zanetti and Nicolás Burdisso are unlikely to feature in Maradona’s first-choice XI is the recent emergence of 22-year-old Vélez Sársfield defender Nicolás Otamendi.
Otamendi made his professional debut as recently as May 2008 and played his first game for Argentina in a 3-1 friendly win over Panama a year later. After playing an important role in Vélez’s Clausura triumph last year, the centre-back received his first competitive international cap in Argentina’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Ecuador last June. He was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from the damaging 3-1 loss at home to Brazil last September (see video) and his year ended on a high after he played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win in Uruguay in October that secured Argentina’s passage to the World Cup.
If recent World Cup history teaches us anything, it’s that pre-tournament form is a fickle indicator of how sides will fare at the sport’s showpiece event. Favourites typically stumble at early hurdles (France and Argentina in 2002, Brazil in 2006) and the teams that make it to the final - as Italy and France demonstrated in 2006 - are often simply those that come into form at the right time.
Spain, then, have little reason to feel complacent. Undeniably the most attractive footballing side in the international game after their scintillating 2008 European Championship success, they qualified for the World Cup with a perfect record and are currently outright favourites with most bookmakers to secure the beautiful gold and malachite trophy for the first time in their history.
Their shock 2-0 defeat to the United States in the semi-finals of last summer’s Confederations Cup was, with hindsight, a timely setback. With fans and pundits blithely anticipating a meeting between Spain and Brazil in the final, the European champions were ambushed by a disciplined and spirited American side who brought their record-equalling 35-match unbeaten run to an abrupt and unexpected end. A year to the World Cup and Spain suddenly had to re-focus.
One of the challenges now facing coach Vicente del Bosque is maintaining levels of motivation in a team that essentially picks itself and also making sure that he has the right alternatives on the bench for the rare occasions when Spain’s passing game is frustrated. Jesús Navas has benefited from this precise quandary. The Sevilla winger has the pace and the attacking incisiveness to make the established first-teamers sweat and also gives Del Bosque a one-man Plan B should he need one.
A common complaint of international coaches in World Cup year is that they simply don’t have enough time to prepare their squads for the manifold rigours of such an unremittingly high-profile tournament. Teams go into the World Cup backed by supporters who believe their performance will wash away years of accumulated disappointment in one fell swoop, despite having spent only a matter of weeks together by way of preparation in the majority of cases.
One way to short-circuit the lack of understanding inherent in a hastily convened international squad is to select players who have already played together at club level. It is for this reason that Paraguay were given reason to cheer last week, when Borussia Dortmund’s Argentine striker Lucas Barrios acquired dual nationality that opens the way for him to partner his Paraguayan clubmate Nelson Haedo Váldez at the World Cup.
Barrios, nicknamed La Pantera, joined Dortmund for €4.2 million from Chilean side Colo Colo last summer and began the season hoping to force his way into Diego Maradona’s Argentina squad. With Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Carlos Tévez, Diego Milito and Martín Palermo (not to mention Lionel Messi) barring his way to a call-up with the Albiceleste, however, a lawyer with links to the Paragauyan Football Association exploited the fact that Barrios’s mother was born in Asunción by applying for Paraguayan citizenship on his behalf.
“I had no idea. I’m a bit surprised and at the same time feel proud if what’s happening comes true,” said the 25-year-old after his dual-nationality was confirmed by a Paraguayan judge.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada’s stated aim of taking the Blue Samurai to the World Cup semi-finals has taken a bit of a battering in recent months, with an underwhelming run of results culminating in Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat to a second-string Serbia side in a friendly game in Osaka.
“We can expect nothing from his team at the World Cup, to say nothing about reaching the last four,” warned Japanese TV commentator Sergio Echigo ahead of the game. “The national team is facing a crisis.”
Thank goodness, then, for Keisuke Honda.
With Shunsuke Nakamura’s career on the wane after a disappointing spell at Espanyol prompted an unscheduled return to formative club Yokohama Marinos, the stage is set for Honda to become the new golden boy of Japanese football. The 23-year-old playmaker arrived in Europe in January 2008 when he joined Dutch side VVV-Venlo. Relegated from the Eredivisie in Honda’s first season, VVV bounced straight back up in 2008-2009, with Honda plundering 16 goals in 36 matches and being named the second division’s player of the year in the process.
A renowned pragmatist, Fabio Capello is not the kind of coach likely to take a gamble on a completely untested player when he names his England squad for this summer’s World Cup. Should he feel inclined to assess his options in the friendly matches that will precede England’s trip to South Africa, however, one player unlikely to have escaped his attention this season is Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
Currently on loan at Bolton Wanderers, where he has started seven of the last nine Premier League games, Wilshere is beginning to show glimpses of the talent that has made him perhaps the most talked-about English teenager since Wayne Rooney. The diminutive 18-year-old scored his first Premier League goal in the 2-1 victory at West Ham United last month and in Bolton’s 4-0 defeat at home to Manchester United last weekend he demonstrated a vision and a range of passing beyond most seasoned midfielders in England’s top flight.
“He surprised me,” admitted Capello back in August. “I saw him twice in the Carling Cup last year and he has improved a lot now. We have time before we have to decide if he will go to South Africa. He plays without fear, with confidence. And the other players passed the ball always to him. This is not normal to be so young and so good.”
“When Sochaux’s Martin, Ideye and Maurice-Belay found themselves in a three-on-one against Nkoulou with a match-winning 4-2 goal at their feet right at the end of the game, the goose looked well and truly cooked for Monaco,” wrote L’Equipe‘s Jean-Pierre Rivais in his match report on Monaco’s Coupe de France quarter-final with Sochaux on Wednesday.
“But the young Cameroonian somehow recovered the ball and, at the end of Monaco’s counter-attack, Pino popped up at the right moment to beat Richert and make it 3-3…”
Nicolas N’Koulou’s timely interception may have owed more to luck than judgement, but it laid the foundations for a 4-3 extra-time win and was further proof of his growing importance to a club for whom he has made 43 league appearances over the last two seasons.
The dreadlocked teenager has demonstrated his versatility in Monaco’s last two games – the cup win over Sochaux and the goalless Ligue 1 draw at Grenoble – by stepping back into the centre of defence to cover for suspended team-mate Cédric Mongongu. Mongongu has been Guy Lacombe’s preferred partner for Sébastien Puygrenier in central defence this term, with N’Koulou operating in the kind of deep midfield role favoured by his international team-mate Alex Song. He plays at centre-back for Cameroon though and, much like England’s Jack Rodwell, it is the role he is expected to master as his career progresses.
Fraternal similitude is a difficult thing to predict in football. For every pair of brothers like Kolo and Yaya Touré or Gabriel and Diego Milito playing at the very highest level, there’s a John and Paul Terry (currently at Rushden and Diamonds) or a Ryan and Rhodri Giggs (last seen playing for Bacup Borough in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division).
It is for this very reason that Barcelona have reason to be cautious about the development of Jonathan dos Santos. The teenager is the younger brother of Giovani dos Santos, who came to prominence with great fanfare in the 2007-08 season before surprisingly being shipped to Tottenham Hotspur for an initial fee of £4.7 million in the summer of 2008. The star of the Mexico side that won the 2005 Under-17 World Cup in Peru failed to make an impact at Spurs following Harry Redknapp’s arrival at the club and spent the last two months of the 2008-09 season at Championship side Ipswich Town. In January he joined Turkish giants Galatasaray on another loan deal, linking up with Frank Rijkaard, the man who gave him his chance at Barcelona.
At 20, Giovani dos Santos still has his whole career ahead of him, but it is undeniable that he has lost his way since leaving Catalonia. Heralded as the Mexican Ronaldinho when he first emerged on the scene in late 2007, he appeared to possess all the tools to become a world-class attacking player. Somewhere along the line, something went awry and it can only be hoped that in Turkey he rediscovers the form that made him such a tremendously exciting prospect.
When 18-year-old Brisbane Roar left winger Tommy Oar made his debut for Australia in their 1-0 Asian Cup qualifying victory over Indonesia last week, the most striking thing about him was initially the number 121 shirt on his back.
The assured nature of his performance, though, confirmed growing suspicions that he is the hottest prospect in Australian football and national coach Pim Verbeek was quick to call for calm.
“I wish I could keep the pressure and everything down but I must be honest, I thought he played a fantastic game,” Verbeek said. “I can say a few things about areas he can improve but I think he was fantastic. Let’s try to keep it normal for the boy, he’s just 18-years-old and don’t mention him as the next Harry Kewell please.”
Comparisons with Kewell are proving increasingly difficult to avoid, however. Oar shares many of the Galatasaray man’s key attributes, including a finely calibrated left foot, a wonderfully relaxed kicking action and an intuitive dribbling ability, and makes no secret of his admiration for the former Premier League sensation.