Iran may be the only team in West Asia to have made the World Cup but that does not mean there is nothing for fans in some of the region’s biggest football countries to cheer for.
Leagues in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar will be represented in Brazil with eight players in total and many of them could have big parts to play.
JAVAD NEKOUNAM – Iran and Al Kuwait, Kuwait
The Iranian captain has been one of the biggest names in Asian football for a decade. How many exports from the world’s biggest continent have spent six seasons in La Liga?
His achievements have been unique and he also hopes to become the only man to lead Team Melli to the second round of the World Cup.
The 33 year-old played a major part in qualification and while he does not quite have the engine as before, his ability to read the game, inspire his team-mates, protect the defence and contribute important goals remains undimmed –at least, all Iranian fans hope so.
ASAMOAH GYAN – Ghana and Al Ain, UAE
Gyan upset more than a few in England when leaving Sunderland for Al Ain, the local newspaper in England called it a “staggering decision”. That is a debate for a different day but if the striker can transfer his form against defences in the UAE to a extremely tough Group G and games against Portugal, Germany and the United States the Black Stars have a great chance of progression.
There is also the personal matter of ensuring that the penalty miss against Uruguay in the last minute of the quarter-final four years ago is not the abiding World Cup memory of this fine player.
MADJID BOUGHERRA – Algeria and Lekhwiya, Qatar
Solid, experienced, strong, Bougherra is the kind of player that every teams needs. The no-nonsense central defender hopes to become the first man to captain the North Africans to the second round.\
With a career in England, with Crewe, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic and then Scotland (and the UEFA Champions League) with Rangers, he would welcome the chance of an eventual clash with the Three Lions.
The 31 year-old has been a major player in Lekhwiya’s bid to become a major player in Asian football, reaching the last eight in 2013. Algeria may not get quite that far in Brazil but the Fennecs are looking solid in preparation and starting to cast aside the tag of Group H underdogs.
MARK BRESCIANO – Australia and Al Gharafa, Qatar
Along with Tim Cahill, Bresciano is the last remaining member of the golden generation that achieved success at the 2006 World Cup. With a new-look Socceroos team full of young and fairly inexperienced players, his role is going to be more important than ever.
But then it always was pretty important as the former Serie A star provides creativity and vision in the midfield, pulling the strings for those further forward. A lack of fitness has limited time in the build-up but ‘Bresh’ will be fresh in Brazil.
KWAK TAE-HWI – South Korea and Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia
The big centre-back was ready to be a big player ahead of the 2010 World Cup for South Korea until injury stepped in and crushed those dreams.
The 32 year-old is now a back-up member for the Taeguk Warriors and the only member of the 23 to be over 30. What injury takes away, it can also give.
Kwak came on as second half substitute against Tunisia on May 28 and young centre-back star Hong Jeong-ho was stretchered off. Hong should be fit but Kwak is ready to add some experience and leadership if called upon.
PEJMAN MONTAZERI – Iran and Umm Salal, Qatar
The cool and classy centre-back settled in quickly in the Qatari league and while there is some competition in defence, there is hope that the former Esteghlal man will be lining up on the pitch when Iran take on Nigeria in that crucial opening game.
The backline is crucial to Team Melli’s chances in Brazil and all depends on it holding firm. It is going to be a tough 270 minutes (but hopefully much more) for Montazeri but he has the composure and concentration to handle anything Messi and friends can throw at him.
FELIPE CAICEDO – Ecuador and Al Jazira, UAE
Sheikh Mansour may be the owner of a growing stable of clubs with Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi and then Manchester City and others in the United States and Australia and may have plenty of players at the World Cup but few have had such a varied career as the 25 year-old striker.
With a teardrop tattooed under his left eye in a nod to his background that came from playing football without shoes in the streets of his Ecuador home, Caicedo has had quite a career. It has taken him to Switzerland, England with Manchester City and Roberto Mancini. Despite scoring eight times in 33 games for the club, he never quite settled and was soon on loan to Portugal and Spain before a two-year sojourn in Russia with Lokomotiv Moscow.
He hasn’t had much time to show fans in the UAE what he can do but what better place to do so than the World Cup?
SEGUNDO CASTILLO – Colombia and Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia
Until recently, Al Hilal knew that they were the only club in West Asia, those in Iran excepted, that could actually boast two players at the World Cup. It’s now back down to one as Castillo tore his ACL in a collision with Mexico’s Luis Mondes that also broke the leg of the El Tri star.
It was just another injury on what has been dubbed savage Saturday as four players saw their dreams of Brazil come to an end.
Contributed by : Afran Mustafa