Saud Abdulhamid: Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal
There was a lot to analyze when Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina in their opening match. The focus was on lackluster efforts from the Argentines, who were beaten by the best team of the day. One of the main Giant killers was right-back Abdulhamid. The full-back has 26 caps – not bad for a 23-year-old. His hero is Brazilian Dani Alves, which explains the marauding nature of his game on the flank. He brings speed, precise tackles and is comfortable in possession, in addition to being a specialist in set pieces and having the ability to adapt to operate in midfield. European clubs have taken notice of his impressive efforts in Qatar, with scouts from Sevilla, Milan and Juventus monitoring his progress. He was captain of his country, a sign of his importance for Saudi Arabia, and is expected to lead his country in the years to come. Wu
Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou: Morocco and Seville
Sevilla’s status as a top club when it comes to polishing talent has continued in Qatar thanks to the Moroccan goalkeeper’s brilliance, although perhaps his status as a Europa League winner which has played a crucial role in their final win over Inter in 2020 shouldn’t have made him such a star. . Those two penalty saves against Spain, the country where he has played for the past decade, and his mastery of Morocco’s excellent, well-honed defense make him one of the star men of the World Cup. Canadian-born and multilingual, the 31-year-old will be on any scout’s list looking for an experienced, organizing goalie who has proven to be adaptable. And Sevilla still have a prize for their talent. J.B.
Ritsu Doan: Japan and Freiburg
Japan’s defeats against Germany and Spain will long live in national memory and followed a similar pattern. Once Doan hit the field, everything changed. Four minutes after arriving, Doan equalized against the country where he played Bundesliga football for first Arminia Bielefeld and, since the summer, Freiburg. Then, against Spain, Doan came on at half-time and scored within three minutes. The fact that his team lost both games started by Doan, however, raises questions for a player sometimes referred to as ‘Japan’s Mesi’. He had previously struggled to make an impact at PSV Eindhoven, but after five years in European football, anyone who can harness a winger with blistering speed and a latent goal threat that overtakes forwards will have a serious asset to exploit. In this era of five substitutes, impact players have increased as a bonus. J.B.
Aïssa Laïdouni: Tunisia and Ferencvaros
Among the litany of goalless draws at the start of the tournament, a classic of its kind in Denmark 0-0 Tunisia. Laïdouni excelled in a game played in intense heat and overpowered a talented and experienced midfielder from Denmark with his energy and devilry, stringing together runs that made your lungs explode. Against Denmark and Australia he was replaced when he could give nothing more, but his ability to show off was extremely striking. And as Tunisia secured a historic win over France in their final group game, Laïdouni was once again at the forefront. The Ferencvaros player, recently linked with Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic, would seem ideal for a side with high pressing. Born in France, and having started his career at Angers, he has played in Romania and now Hungary, this season competing in the Europa League for that country’s champions. J.B.
Dominik Livakovic: Croatia and Dinamo Zagreb
The goalkeeper made himself a penalty shoot-out hero in Croatia’s wins over Japan and Brazil, but his consistency as well as his penalty saves made him the tournament’s standout keeper, despite one shot on goal in the semi-final loss to Argentina. Livakovic has spent his entire career in Zagreb, first at NK before joining Dinamo, where he won five domestic titles. He was part of the Croatia side who finished second four years ago but watched from the bench as an understudy for one of their heroes, Danijel Subasic. Since then, the 27-year-old has become his country’s No. 1 thanks to his reflexes and his imposing nature in the box. He has been linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks and could attract a lot more interest in the winter transfer window. Wu
Azzedine Ounahi: Morocco and Angers
After Morocco beat Spain in a shootout, Luis Enrique could have been forgiven for being disappointed, but he took the time to congratulate his opponents, singling out Ounahi. The midfielder made his international debut in January at the Africa Cup of Nations and played in the French third division 18 months ago. He is with the last Ligue 1 club, Angers, but has the confidence of a man who plays at a higher level. Ounahi spent the tournament breaking lines in midfield, providing consistent energy, while also being key to a tough-to-break Moroccan setup. He has a contract until 2025 at Angers, who would be smart to sell the 22-year-old in January with his justly high price tag thanks to helping his country reach the semi-finals. Wu
Harry Souttar: Australia and Stoke
Australia’s success in Qatar stemmed in large part from an alliance of A-League graduates and players of Scottish descent. Souttar, whose older brother John plays for Rangers and Scotland, is an Aberdonian with a West Australian mother whose dreadnought defense laid the foundation for famous wins over Tunisia and Denmark as the Socceroos reached the last 16 . Three seasons ago he was on loan at Fleetwood Town. Stoke, who signed him from Dundee United in 2016, was denied his services last year due to a cruciform injury. He had played just one club game this season, against Luton on November 8, before flying away to become an Australian national hero. At 6ft 6in he towered over the air traffic and Graham Arnold, his national manager, was only too happy to recommend him to Premier League suitors: “I would knock on his door real quick. He is so good. He quickly returned to action with Stoke at home to Cardiff last weekend and is in line to play Bristol City on Saturday. J.B.