Five debutants to watch out for at the World Cup

The ‘Japanese Lionel Messi’ and the ‘Monster’ from South Korea are among the first-timers in Qatar

THERE are 832 players registered to compete for 32 countries at the Fifa World Cup, which kicks off next weekend in Qatar. 

And while everyone is familiar with household names like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Son Heung-min, there are dozens of other talented stars who are chomping at the bit to stamp their mark on international football's most prestigious tournament.

In the third part of BT Weekend's series to preview the quadrennial event, we spotlight five players who are ready to take the sport by storm as they prepare to make their World Cup debut.

Alphonso Davies (Canada)

This exciting 22-year-old, who can play at left-back or as a winger, has made 34 appearances for his country and scored 12 goals. 

He has lightning-quick reflexes, immense strength and incredible acceleration. To give an idea of his pace, he can sprint as fast as 10.5 metres per second during a match - an astonishing speed of nearly 40 km per hour.

Davies plays for Bayern Munich in Germany, and he helped his team win the Champions League in 2020 and four consecutive Bundesliga titles.

He is by far the biggest name on Canada's roster as they prepare to strut their stuff at the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986. They are in Group F and will compete with Belgium, Morocco and the 2018 finalists Croatia for a place in the knockout stages.

Takefusa Kubo (Japan)

Even at the tender age of 15, Takefusa Kubo was already being hailed as Japan's answer to Lionel Messi. Now 21, the winger has coped well with that sort of billing as he looks to spearhead the Blue Samurai's attack in Qatar.

The quick-footed Kawasaki native plays in Spain for Real Sociedad, having also trained at Real Madrid and Barcelona during his teenage years. He played a leading role as he guided Japan to the semi-finals of the men's football tournament at last year's Tokyo Olympics.

Japan, which reached the Round of 16 in Russia four years ago, are in a tough Group E with former champions Germany and Spain, as well as Costa Rica.

Christian Pulisic (United States)

When the United States failed to qualify for Russia 2018, it meant American fans had to wait much longer to see Pulisic - the man nicknamed "Captain America" - produce a superhero performance at the World Cup.

The 24-year-old Chelsea midfielder, who made a name for himself at Borussia Dortmund, has emerged as US football's most recognisable face today and he is eager to show the world why he is so highly rated. 

A Champions League winner with Chelsea in 2021, Pulisic made his senior national team debut when he was 17, and is the youngest player to captain his country. He's netted 21 times in 52 games to be ranked sixth on the US' all-time top scorers list.

The Americans are in Group B and they will need to be at their very best if they are to overcome England, Wales and Iran.

Kim Min-jae (South Korea)

Napoli are flying high in Italy's Serie A and the Champions League this season, and they owe much of that success to Kim Min-jae, a centreback who's cemented his place in the club's starting 11 thanks to his precise tackling and sturdy blocks that have kept opponents at bay.

Having joined from Turkish club Fenerbache. in the summer, his performances at the heart of Napoli's defence earned him the Italian Footballers' Association's Player of the Month award in October.

Known as the "Monster" back home, the 25-year-old has been part of the national squad since 2017, but he failed to make the squad at Russia 2018 due to injury. He makes his World Cup bow in Qatar, with South Korea looking to emerge from Group H where they will face Uruguay, Ghana and Portugal.

Almoez Ali (Qatar)

Little has been said about the host nation, and that's probably because few people - except for their own fans - give them any chance of making it past the first round. But Qatar do have some aces in their pack, and one name who is making waves is Almoez Ali, a 26-year-old striker who has scored 42 goals in 85 matches for his country.

Ali owns a unique piece of football history, for he is the only player in the world who has scored in three different continental championships - the Gold Cup, the Asian Cup and the Copa America. His goals helped the national team win a first-ever Asian Cup title in 2019, with Ali being honoured as the championship's best player and top scorer.

Qatar will play the opening fixture of the World Cup on Nov 20 against Ecuador, before facing fellow Group A opponents Senegal and the Netherlands.

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