We all know Cristiano Ronaldo will be more than a threat for Portugal and that Emmanuel Adebayor will be Togo’s main source of attack should they qualify, but what about the rest of the Premier League? A Different League takes a look at some of the players who might be a star in their national side but playing for a club outside the big boys or perhaps they are shining in the league but their international career is just beginning to blossom. Who are the players England must respect at World Cup 2010, should the Three Lions come up against some of the so called ‘less glamorous’ sides?
Brede Hangeland, Norway
Hangeland has been a monster at the heart of Fulham’s defence since he helped keep the club in the top flight last season. His consistent performances this term have lead to his future being frequently speculated upon, with Arsenal being the supposed best suitors. With the big Scandinavian in their side, it is no surprise Fulham achieved their highest ever league position and conceded the fourth-least amount of goals of all 20 top-flight sides. On the International scene, the big American-born Norwegian is his country’s captain and has been capped 50 times. In the league he has dealt with big centre-forwards such as John Carew and Peter Crouch – so, should England come up against Norway in South Africa, Capello may have to look beyond playing a target man upfront.
Wilson Palacios, Honduras
Despite being highly rated by fans of the clubs he has played for, he has yet to score a goal in English football. Not that his game revolves around getting on the scoresheet – he can work magic with a ball at his feet while his work rate and tenacity is almost priceless, which is why Spurs were so keen to pay £12m for his services in January. His International career was already well under way before Premier League clubs, and Steve Bruce, started sniffing around him and, at just 24, he has racked up an incredible 59 caps for Honduras. A vital player for any side – one who can create chances from nothing and most certainly one who Capello will single out should England meet Honduras in South Africa.
Hugo Rodallega, Colombia
Relatively unknown before he moved to Wigan on the winter transfer window deadline-day last season, Rodallega, at 23, attracted European attention after being hugely prolific in the South American leagues. After being eased into the league by manager Steve Bruce, the young striker found his feet and hit form in the last month of the season, hitting his only three goals for the club in a productive May. For his country, the pacey forward has begun brightly, scoring a goal every three appearances (7 in 21). He has the potential to be a big star for a nation like Colombia, and regular club football will only help his cause. Capello will have to make sure his defence are at their strongest and quickest to keep this guy out.
Amr Zaki, Egypt
Another of Wigan manager Steve Bruce’s astute signings, striker Zaki arrived on loan from Egyptian side El Zamalek and immediately settled in the Premier League, firing his way to the top of the scoring charts by the end of September. Unfortunately, for him and the Latics, he failed to capitalise on this start and ended with ten goals to his name, somewhat disappointing after so much early promise. His International form has been nothing short of magical, managing 26 goals in 50 appearances for The Pharaohs and, should Egypt qualify for the tournament, he has the potential to upset any defence in the world. This does depend, however, upon which Amr Zaki shows up – the one from the first half of last season who scored such goals as the stunning bicycle-kick at Anfield, or the “highly unprofessional” one that has caused Wigan to drop their interest in his permanent services.
Valon Behrami, Switzerland
Many West Ham fans believe Behrami, had he not suffered a season-ending injury half way through the campaign, would have been a strong candidate for their Player of the Year. The Hammers’ form was more consistent with Behrami in the midfield and they might well have pipped Fulham into Europe with his work rate and quality. He is a regular part of the Swiss side, currently with 24 caps, and played all three of their games at the last major tournament. With Premier League experience under his belt at a successful club, it is likely he will cause some headaches for most sides in South Africa.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Cameroon
Some at Spurs consider Assou-Ekotto to be the most improved player of the season. After two seasons interrupted by injury, this term has seen the pacey left-back keep Gareth Bale out of the side for long stretches. Up until 2009, he was refusing to play for Cameroon in the hope that France would call him up, but, has since realised the African side are his only real shot at an international career. With another Premier League season and further caps to add to his current total of two, he could be a danger for whoever Capello designates to play on the right, should the Three Lions face Cameroon.
Nadir Belhadj, Algeria
The 26-year-old wing-back moved to Portsmouth, initially on loan, after only playing in the French leagues. He has terrorised defences all over England this season with his direct running and wicked left foot, and took very little time to settle into the league. On his day, he has the natural talent to make any international full-back look silly and, considering Algeria are currently top of their qualifying table, he might give Capello some food for thought. The Italian could well turn to Glen Johnson at right-back to potentially nullify the threat Belhadj poses.
Richard Kingson, Ghana
Despite being at Premier League clubs for the past two seasons (Birmingham and Wigan), he has made just four appearances in England. Premier League fans can be excused for not knowing who he is, but not Ghanaians – for he is the nation’s first choice goalkeeper and has been capped 61 times, and even has a goal to his name. He is an excellent shot-stopper who thrives on confidence, and has the potential to be one of those goalkeepers that might well give the England strikers nightmares.
Vince Grella, Australia
Grella signed for Blackburn Rovers last summer and has yet to set the Premier League alight, with injuries hampering his debut season in England, restricting him to just sporadic appearances. He has spent most of his career in Italy, where he was a regular at both Parma and Torino, while English fans haven’t yet seen what he is capable of. For Australia it is a different story, doing the dirty work in midfield, allowing the more creative players the freedom they need and he has even captained the Socceroos. When available he is a starter and Capello will have to be fully alert to both the freedom he allows his teamates – and actually getting past him.
Marouane Fellaini, Belgium
Eyebrows were raised when David Moyes agreed to pay Standard Liege an initial £15m for a 20-year-old Belgian player in September 2008. However, he has proved many of his critics wrong, playing the majority of Everton’s league games and literally ‘popped up’ with his fair share of goals too – eight in 30 for the Toffees last term. The giant box-to-box midfield player is still early in his International career, with 15 caps so far, but could stand out next summer at his first international tournament – and not only for his 6’4” frame. There is precious little Capello could do to counter Fellaini’s style as, like a lot of Moyes’ midfielders, he likes to roam around the park.