by Dallas Jackson - 10/14/2005
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With 24 of the 32 World Cup spots filled we are kicking off our coverage today by taking a look at some lesser-known World Cup players that you simply cannot miss. Assuming everyone already knows that Renaldo, of Brazil, and Pauleta, of Portugal, are studs; we want to point out some of the guys that will have an impact on the lesser-known teams. Outside of some hard-core soccer fans, most of these names will be obscure, but you will be hearing them in the near future.
Andriy Shevchenko. Striker, Ukraine (UKR). Playing for one of the top European teams, AC Milan, and former Ukraine super power Dynamo Kyiv, Shevchenko has elevated himself into the upper echelon of soccer players. The 2004 European Footballer of the Year award winner is back in his native Ukraine trying to help his national team establish itself in World Cup soccer. At 29, he has lost a step from when he lead the Serie A in scoring ('99-'00 and '03-'04) but he still has a powerful leg and great vision. Scoring five of his team's 18 goals in qualifying, he has once again proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with. This is UKR's first trip to the World Cup finals.
DaMarcus Beasley. Forward, United States (USA). When he signed with the L.A. Galaxy in 1999, he was the youngest professional soccer player under contract. To solidify his worthiness of the contract, in 2003, he became the youngest player to be named to the MLS Best XI. Now that he is a solid offensive option, and has established himself as the left-winger for the US national team. Look for Beasley and teammate Landon Donovan to be major contributors to the success of the US team in the '04 Cup. Beasley is a two-way player, and uses his quick feet and great instincts on the defensive side of the ball, and heady play on the offensive side. His four qualifying goals were fourth on the U.S. team.
Mabrouk Zaid. Goal Keeper, Saudi Arabia (KSA). One of the surprises of the early going is the play of the Saudi nationals. Although they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the Finals - scoring just 10 goals ? they, like the rest of the Asia Group, pride themselves on defense and goal keeping. The Saudis allowed just two goals in the three rounds of qualifying. Zaid was in net for only one of those goals. His personal goal is to win this World Cup and go to Europe to elevate his level of competitive play. The 25-year-old net minder has been under the tutelage of legendary KSA goalie, Mohammed Al Deayea.
Jaime Lozano. Midfielder, Mexico (MEX). The 27-year-old midfielder from EL Tricolores would have received much more attention had he not been on the same team as Jared Borgetti. With 10 goals scored in qualifying, he would have led all players. Mexico only lost one game in the three stages of qualifying - to the USA. Borgetti and Lozano were not heavily involved in that game. Mexico has the potential to score a lot of goals, so look for them to improve upon their performance of the '02 Cup- where they were unexpectedly eliminated by the U.S. in the Round of 16.
Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor. Sriker, Togo (TOG). The Togo Sparrow-hawks are not a legitimate threat to do any damage in these World Cup finals. But, they do have a player worth seeing. Adebayor, who plays in France for Monaco, has come back home to lead the Togolese team to their first World Cup finals ever. Scoring 10 of his team's 20 goals, and being an international soccer star, lends some credence to this team. Adebayor is very fast and has excellent power, allowing him to score at will. Beating Senegal is impressive, but still, they're not Mexico.
Luca Toni. Striker, Italy (ITA). One of the most popular players in the World Cup is Luca Toni. Equally talented as he is popular, Toni leads the Italians into their 12th consecutive World Cup finals. Toni has great feet and prefers to play around the wings, although he is tall and strong enough to play inside the box. In two years with Palermo, he has scored 50 goals - 30 in Serie B in 2004 and 20 in Serie A in 2005. While he is leading the National team with four goals in qualifying, look for him to step up his play when Cup play begins. When he scores, and he will, look for his signature "Can you get your mind around what I just did?" celebration.
Marciej Zurawski. Forward, Poland (POL). After snapping a 16-year absence from World Cup finals play in 2002, the Polish national team returns to Germany and is hoping to rekindle the magic they had in the late 70s and early 80s. Much of that pressure will be put on Zurawski - Magic as he prefers to be called. Zurawski was Poland's top goal scorer in 2003 and 2004 when he played for Wisla Krakow. Magic has since moved to Celtic of the Champions League, where he has seen similar success, but not as much acclaim. He enters finals play as Poland's leading scorer, tallying seven goals in qualifying. He has sniper accuracy in addition to being a threat to score in the air.
Jared Borgetti. Forward, Mexico (MEX). "The Goal King" of Mexico, playing for English Premier team Bolton Wanderers FC, is one of the most experienced players you will see this summer. Although he is in the twilight of his career at 32 years old, and put in a role player position, he still has a nose for the net. His acrobatics in the air are nothing short of spectacular. He will head to Germany as the all-time leading goal scorer in Mexican history. He also led all scorers in the qualifying rounds with 14 goals.
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