20 Unknown Players Set to Start at the 2014 FIFA World Cup
At the FIFA World Cup you get your annual dosage of star power, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Lionel Messi and more draped across our screens, plastered across every billboard and advertised on every product.
But what of the lesser-known players set to make an impact? Do they not deserve a little love and attention too?
We've picked out 20 relative unknowns who are seemingly set to start for their respective nations at this stage. Every footballer is famous, you may well have heard of some, but most football fans stand oblivious to plenty of these names.
Miguel Layun, Mexico
Miguel Layun stands to line up at either left-wing-back or right-wing-back for Mexico and has the edge over Paul Aguilar due to his ability to play both roles.
At one stage both were set to start, playing opposite each other in the key playoff victory over New Zealand, but now Andres Guardado is likely to be integrated into the lineup for the tournament proper.
Yeltsin Tejeda, Costa Rica
Yeltsin Tejeda is set to start alongside the better-known Celso Borges in central midfield for Costa Rica at the World Cup.
He's a disciplined player who has bought into his manager's strategy of stifling and containing, rarely straying from his position and protecting his defensive line at all costs.
Marcos Gonzalez, Chile
Marcos Gonzalez is an important, yet somewhat unfashionable cog in Jorge Sampaoli's Chile side.
There were concerns when he left Flamengo early this year and didn't land with another club, given that la Roja's centre-back depth is so poor they have no choice but to play him.
He's a stalwart on the South/Central American scene but never made it across to Europe to play domestically.
Mathew Ryan, Australia
Mathew Ryan looks set to start at the World Cup thanks, largely, to his ability to play out with his feet.
Ange Postecoglou is working hard to change the default mechanisms of this Australian side, and the new pass-first philosophy he's installed requires a calmer, more reserved goalkeeper.
Ryan has impressed and taken a good hold on the job.
Aissa Mandi, Algeria
Aissa Mandi has just one official cap for the Algerian national team, but his form for Reims in Ligue 1 this past season was so good the coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, couldn't resist calling him up.
The 22-year-old full-back can play left or right and has shown comfort on the ball throughout the year. He's slated to play opposite Faouzi Ghoulam on the right side.
Sead Kolasniac, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Sead Kolasinac, just 20 years of age, has emerged as Bosnia & Herzegovina's saving option at left-back.
Throughout qualifying the position was a bit of a revolving door, with Sejad Salihovic deputising there more often than not due to a dearth of talent.
But a strong season for Schalke caught the attentions of Safet Susic, and Kolasinac has now been fast-tracked into the XI.
Jalal Hosseini, Iran
Iran's strategy for victory is based almost entirely on defensive unity, and the leader of Carlos Queiroz's stubborn line is Jalal Hosseini.
The 32-year-old is closing in on a century of caps for the national side and commands the respect of every Persian Star. He sets the line, barks orders and remains fearless in the air.
Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria
Kenneth Omeruo, coming off an excellent season on loan at Middlesbrough from parent club Chelsea, looks slated to start at the heart of Nigeria's defence.
The 20-year-old has never played top-tier football in a major European league but does boast 14 international caps. He started all three of the Super Eagles' games at the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Ivan Franjic, Australia
Luke Wilkshire is one of the few players in Ange Postecoglou's Australia squad with any experience, but even his place is under threat due to the emerging Ivan Franjic.
The Australian-Croat has been plying his trade for Brisbane Roar since 2009 and quickly became a key option for Postecoglou during his time managing the club.
He'll frequently drop back and receive the first pass out of defence from Mathew Ryan as a full-back, starting attacks.
Steve von Bergen, Switzerland
Despite his role being nothing more than a rotational centre-back under Ottmar Hitzfeld, Fabian Schar was Switzerland's top scorer during qualifying with four goals.
That's prompted many to believe Schar starts at the finals, but it was actually the Steve von Bergen-Johan Djourou partnership that carried them through the groups.
Everyone knows Djourou, but how popular is Von Bergen's name?
Masoud Shojaei, Iran
Masoud Shojaei stands to play a big role for Iran on the left wing, and while opposing defences will likely key in on Ashkan Dejagah, he'll be given a one vs. one every time on the opposite flank.
Much of Iran's game plan revolves around releasing runners on the wing early, so any full-back Shojaei comes up against—likely Pablo Zabaleta, Efe Ambrose and Mensur Mujdza—will need to pin back and track.
Teofilo Gutierrez, Colombia
The large majority of Colombia's squad have graced European football, so when you think of Jose Pekerman's side, you think Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Fredy Guarin.
But Teofilo Gutierrez is a trusted member of the squad and stands to start given Falcao's injury issues; he plies his trade with River Plate, so he's not as well-known as some of his colleagues.
Teofilo is key to retaining the ball and creating dominant spells. He's also a good finisher given the chance.
Tommy Oar, Australia
Robbie Kruse, who plays his club football for Bayer Leverkusen, is something of a household name in Australia due to his prominence on the European scene.
An ACL injury sustained before Christmas has ruled the winger out of the World Cup, though, and in his place steps Tommy Oar of FC Utrecht.
Oar played a year at Brisbane Roar under Ange Postecoglou before moving to the Eredivisie and will be looked to to create on behalf of the side.
Jose de Jesus Corona, Mexico
Jose de Jesus Corona looks likely to pip the magnificent Guillermo Ochoa to the starting role in Mexico's XI for the World Cup.
Why? Because he plays with his feet, and coach Miguel Herrera likes it; Ochoa is travelling with the squad but seemingly only as backup.
He's not as good a shot-stopper, but that's not the key factor here. Building attacks from the back is important, and Corona has the ideal make-up for it.
Josip Drmic, Switzerland
Josip Drmic is another who's popped up right at the death for his nation, seemingly solving their biggest problem instantaneously.
Goals were hard to come by for Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland in qualifying, with both Eren Derdiyok and Mario Gavranovic unimpressive in their stints atop the formation.
Drmic is just the right measure of hard work and finishing ability; he could transform his side's fortunes should he catch fire.
Vincent Aboubakar, Cameroon
Vincent Aboubakar has emerged as a late favourite to taking the goalscoring burden for Cameroon this summer courtesy of his stellar Ligue 1 season with Lorient.
After smashing in 16 goals the Indomitable Lions have drafted him into the setup, and with him leading the line Samuel Eto'o is free to drop deeper and influence play.
It could be a career-making tournament for the young man—he's just 22 years of age.
Frickson Erazo, Ecuador
Frickson Erazo is Ecuador's leader in defence.
He anchors a very disciplined back four that plays firmly, tackles hard and passes simply and quickly out from the back.
He's a reassuring presence to the other, less-experienced members of the unit.
Daniel Opare, Ghana
Daniel Opare has a strong chance of starting for Ghana at right-back this summer after starting three of the last four games the Black Stars have played.
His direct competition, Samuel Inkoom, is losing ground in the direct race between the two, and Opare's stock has been boosted by FC Porto's decision to sign him last week, as per SuperSport.com.
He's explosive, consistent and tidy with the ball at his feet.
Viktor Fayzulin, Russia
Viktor Fayzulin is a vital part of the Zenit St. Petersburg core running through Fabio Capello's Russian 4-3-3 formation.
He's perhaps lesser-known because of his nitty-gritty role in central midfield. He's rarely on the scoresheet like Roman Shirokov, and he doesn't have the quick feet of Alan Dzagoev or Andrey Arshavin.
But he's a leader, an organiser and a key cog in the system.
Godfrey Obaobona, Nigeria
Completing a young Nigerian centre-back pairing is Godfrey Oboabona, who's just three years older (23) than Kenneth Omeruo (20).
Stephen Keshi is building for the future, certainly, but both are extremely capable defenders who are yet to be exposed to the majority of European football fans.
It's Keshi's persistence with young players such as these that has the Nigerian Football Association so irritated with him.
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