From zero to potential hero

Zakumi: 2010 World Cup Mascot

It’s so close we can almost smell it. The 2010 World Cup is just weeks away and football junkies the world over may rejoice. 64 games crammed into a 32 day schedule and the best players on the planet strutting their stuff on the grandest stage of all. But it is not only the Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of this world who get the chance to display their talents. There is an opportunity for certain individuals to re-ignite a career that has somewhat stagnated at club level. Football Digest will take a look at five players who are marginalised at their clubs, only to be vital to their countries relative hopes in South Africa this summer.

Carlos Vela (Arsenal and Mexico): Arsene Wenger has not held back in praising his young forward. He claims Vela’s finishing ability is on a par with that of Robbie Fowler, probably the only complement he has ever delivered on the technique of an English player. Vela was

A sight all to rare for Arsenal fans

expected to get more game time after the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor, but figured sporadically last season. The 21-year-old avoided the indignity of a goalless 2009/10 campaign by 8 minutes, and the promise shown in League Cup ties in previous years seems a lifetime ago. However, he is pushing for a starting place in Mexico’s XI and may line-up in the tournament’s opening game against hosts South Africa. His understanding with Giovani Dos Santos could be key to to El Tri’s chances.

Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth and South Africa): The defender-cum-midfielder has much responsibility on his broad shoulders; he will be leading out the host nation as captain in the first game of the 2010 World Cup. The eyes on the will be on the 29-year-old, but it is a

Captaining the hosts

challenge Mokena will relish. As he edges towards 100 caps for the Bafana, Bafana, he has found getting regular first-team action at Fratton Park hard to come by. He started just over half of Portsmouth’s league games, despite being fit for most of the season and given Pompey’s generosity at the back. However, his heroic display in the FA Cup final shows signs of a player who rises to the big occasion. He has come a long way from the Gauteng Township of his youth.

Fanis Gekas (Eintract Frankfurt and Greece): Top scorer in the World Cup qualifiers in Europe with 10 goals (10 more than Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo combined); Gekas is Greece’s undisputed number one striker and a certainty to start in their opener against South Korea. His previous employers Leverkusen are not so keen on the forward, with him featuring in just 50 games over his in three years at the club. Farmed out on loan to Portsmouth and Hertha Berlin, his career at Fratton Park lasted precisely one minute as a substitute. At international level, he provides a good foil for the burlier Angleos Charisteas and Georgios Samaras and will spearhead Greece’s attack as they search for their first ever goal in a World Cup finals.

Jozy Altidore: It has been a trying few months for the young American striker. He signed off his loan spell with Hull with a red card following a horrific head butt on Sunderland’s Alan Hutton, which ended a run of just one goal in 28 appearances for the Tigers. Off the field, his international team-mate and close friend, Charlie Davis was involved in a sickening car crash and will miss this summer’s finals. The earthquake in Haiti also shook Altidore to the core, with many of his relatives still resident in the country destroyed by the natural disaster. At international level, his place has not been affected and he will line the U.S. attack with his usual guts and gusto. England  beware: the 20-year old will be out to prove a point when the sides meet in Rustenberg on June 12th.

Garfunkel: midfield general.

Simon Elliot: The heartbeat of the New Zealand midfield, the former Fulham midfielder is currently without a club following his release from the San Jose Earthquakes. Celebrating his 36th birthday on the eve of the finals, Elliot will hope to finish off his career on a relative high. Considered the whipping boys of Group F, a draw would be a monumental achievement for the All-Whites. The manner in which they wildly celebrated a goalless draw with Iraq in last summer’s Confederations Cup was indicative of their ambitions. The Art Garfunkel look-alike will be vital to his countries hopes, with his experience and discipline bringing a certain level of calm to a side lacking the quality to compete at this level.

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