Abu Dhabi: Beyond Real Madrid and River Plate, you may not be familiar with everybody at the Fifa Club World Cup, which got under way in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. However, cast your mind back six months to the World Cup this summer and some of these names will begin to scream out from between the teamsheets.
Not all will need introduction, but forgotten gems from Russia are worth looking out for again in the UAE. Honourable mentions go to Tunisia’s Anice Badri, Argentina’s Enzo Perez, and depending on whether you’ve forgiven him for ruining Mohammad Salah’s tournament, Spain’s Sergio Ramos — plus copious more from that Real Madrid side. Here’s the best though:
Luka Modric (Croatia and Real Madrid)
Player of the tournament who went on to break the 10-year dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or, after getting Croatia to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia this summer. Beating their previous best finish of third on their first attempt in 1998, Modric helped the Chequered Ones top their group with wins over Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland before seeing off Denmark, Russia and England in the knockouts. France in the final proved a step too far, but by then, the Real Madrid centre had done enough to warrant all the accolades that have since come his way.
Raphael Varane (France and Real Madrid)
Got the opening goal in France’s 2-0 win over Uruguay in the quarters in a game that was tipped to make or break Les Bleus’ tournament. France had topped an easy group with expected wins over Australia and Peru and then drew with Denmark. It wasn’t until the knockouts when they beat Argentina that people began to take notice. Argentina had struggled to get out of the group, however, so Uruguay proved a better barometer. After that, wins over Belgium and Croatia flowed and Didier Deschamps became only the third person to lift the cup as a coach and a player after Zagallo and Beckenbauer.
Juan Quintero (Colombia and River Plate)
While everyone was watching out for Colombia’s James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, a certain Juan Quintero was able to roam free for the ‘Coffee Growers’ in Russia. The River Plate playmaker got the first in a shock 2-1 defeat to Japan, but he enabled his side to recover with wins over Poland and Senegal to still qualify top of their group. In the last 16 against England, the Three Lions were bullish without the threat of injured Rodriguez to contend with, but Quintero more than made up for his absence and helped Colombia push the game into penalties, where they eventually succumbed after an ill-tempered contest.
Gen Shoji (Japan and Kashima Antlers)
An ever-present defender who played in the game of the tournament where Japan almost stunned Belgium, before the Red Devils came back to win 3-2 in the Last 16. Gen Shoji also played in the shock opening 2-1 win over Colombia before drawing with Senegal and losing to Poland. A difference in the number of yellow cards received allowed the Samurais to qualify for the last 16 ahead of Senegal. Knowing they would go through on less yellows despite defeat, Japan won no fans for playing it around at the back, but they made up for it in the next round against Belgium.
Marcus Berg (Sweden and Al Ain)
In the absence of an ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the job of scoring Sweden’s goals was put on the shoulders of Marcus Berg. The Al Ain striker didn’t actually convert, so to say he shone or was a success is debatable but he was part of the Blue and Yellow’s run to the quarters, where they lost to England after topping their group with wins over South Korea and Mexico on either side of a defeat to Germany, before beating Switzerland in the Last 16. Having finished runners-up in 1958 when they hosted it, this wasn’t their best run but it was the most memorable since a third-place finish at 1994.