Five international newcomers pushing for a late World Cup berth

By Sports Desk September 21, 2022

The World Cup in Qatar is now just two months away and the first international break of the season is the final opportunity for squads to convene before coming together for the tournament.

In Europe, the Nations League offers competitive action in the build-up to Qatar, while teams elsewhere will face friendlies.

With a mid-season window and just one break before the action commences in November, it presents a challenge for any new faces to establish themselves in their international side before the squad for the World Cup is selected.

Some have been handed glorious opportunities though and Stats Perform has assessed some of the newcomers.

 

Ivan Toney

England's main striker role is nailed down by skipper Harry Kane but the role of understudy is a competitive one with the likes of Callum Wilson, Tammy Abraham and Ollie Watkins having earned opportunities – and Ivan Toney is the latest to join that list.

Quickly settling into life in the Premier League, Toney netted 12 goals for Brentford in their inaugural campaign last season but has hit new heights in 2022, scoring 13 goals this calendar year.

Toney doesn't just offer goals, though, as he has also contributed seven assists since August 2021, totalling 24 goal involvements (17 goals, 7 assists) in that period, with Kane (31) the only English player to have more in the Premier League.

This season, Toney has five goals and two assists for Brentford, with a tally of seven goal involvements only bettered by Erling Haaland (12) in the Premier League.

Nico Williams

Brother of Inaki Williams, capped once by Spain in a friendly before switching allegiances to Ghana, 20-year-old Nico Williams has been handed a chance by Luis Enrique, who insists the decision is not to ensure he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his sibling.

The right-winger has established himself in Athletic Bilbao's first-team and has made a firm impact this season, scoring twice – including in the recent 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, which marked the first time both he and Inaki had scored in the same match.

Williams' role with Athletic will continue to grow, having only recently become a regular starter for the Basque side towards the end of last season and now starting five of Athletic's six LaLiga matches.

Securing a spot on the plane for Qatar will not be easy considering the vast competition, but Williams may get his opportunity due to his age, with a forward line of the future potentially being created alongside Yeremy Pino and Ferran Torres.

Kenneth Taylor

Only earning his first start for Ajax in the Eredivisie last season, Kenneth Taylor has become a mainstay in the side this term with five starts across six league appearances for the Dutch champions, following Ryan Gravenberch's move to Bayern Munich.

The 20-year-old has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, scoring three goals and contributing two assists in the league. His control on the ball has also been impressive, misplacing 41 of 352 passing attempts in the Eredivisie for an accuracy of 88 per cent.

In the Champions League, Taylor has yet find the net or contribute an assist, but he has caught the eye. In the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, he won three tackles, the joint-most in the Ajax side, and completed 92 per cent of his passes.

Those performances have earned Taylor a call-up to Louis van Gaal's squad ahead of Gravenberch, who has been capped 10 times by the Netherlands but has found playing time difficult to come by since moving to Bayern.

Enzo Fernandez

Only arriving at Benfica from River Plate ahead of the current season, Enzo Fernandez has quickly made an impression in Portugal, where he was named the Primeira Liga's Midfielder of the Month.

In the third qualifying round of the Champions League, the Argentine struck in both legs against Midtjylland and made a significant impression in the 2-1 group stage win against Juventus – with the most touches (92), pass attempts (71) and accurate passes (68) of his team, as well as the highest pass completion percentage (96%).

He also won 12 duels and won possession on 12 occasions, both tallies that were bettered by none of his team-mates.

His form has already seen him linked with Liverpool, just months after his arrival in European football, and the 21-year-old could be once to watch in Qatar if he secures a seat on the plane.

 

Borja Iglesias

At the age of 29, Borja Iglesias is finally poised to make his international bow with Spain after a sensational calendar year in which he has scored 18 LaLiga goals – with only Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (28) scoring more.

Six of those goals have come in the opening six matches of the 2022-23 season, from which Real Betis have won 15 points to sit behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in the early-season standings.

Robert Lewandowski (8) is the sole player to score more LaLiga goals than Iglesias this season and he has averaged a goal every 103 minutes, though he is yet to feature in the club's Europa League campaign thus far.

Spain's lack of central striking options may well play into Iglesias' hands in his bid to make the World Cup squad, with the 28-man party for September's Nations League fixtures having only Alvaro Morata as the other natural option through the middle.

Related items

  • Messi to make 1,000th appearance, but career-defining match may still be to come Messi to make 1,000th appearance, but career-defining match may still be to come

    Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when Argentina face Australia in the last 16 of Qatar 2022.

    That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.

    Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.

    Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's milestone match, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.

    Barca Breakthrough

    October 16, 2004. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest this was a day that football as we know it changed, with a 17-year-old Messi replacing Deco from the substitutes' bench in Barcelona's 1-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

    In a sign of the mini maestro's longevity, he has since played alongside two players born after his Barcelona debut – Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, born in March 2006 and May 2005 respectively.

    Both teenagers are on Paris Saint-Germain's books, where Messi is now plying his trade after ending his two-decade association with Barcelona in emotional circumstances in August 2021.

    Unsurprisingly, the majority of Messi's career appearances came during his 17 seasons at Camp Nou. He featured 778 times for Barca, scoring a staggering 672 goals and assisting 265, which amounts to 937 direct-goal involvements.

    He made more appearances against Real Madrid than any other opponent, playing 47 times against Barca's fiercest rivals.

    Good times under Guardiola

    Barcelona's inability to offer Messi a new contract due to their dire financial situation allowed PSG to pounce. After an underwhelming first campaign in Paris, the superstar forward has found his form this term.

    Messi has featured 53 times for the Parisians to date and has scored (23) and assisted (28) a combined 51 goals – just short of one goal involvement every match on average.

    He has already had two different managers at the Parc des Princes, with Christophe Galtier having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat. That takes the number of head coaches Messi has worked under to 19.

    It was under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, that Messi played his most games as he featured on 219 occasions under the Catalan and scored 211 times.

    Luis Enrique is next on that list (158 games), followed by Ernesto Valverde (124) and Frank Rijkaard (110), the man who gave him his debut against Espanyol.


    1,000 not out

    Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance comes match number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.

    Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more. 

    Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).

    The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.

    And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina's Qatar campaign concludes.

    Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.

  • Talented Bournemouth winger Anthony not ready to choose between England and Jamaica Talented Bournemouth winger Anthony not ready to choose between England and Jamaica

    Talented Bournemouth winger Jaidon Anthony insists he is in no hurry to decide his future with both international teams England and Jamaica being options at this point.

    In truth the 22-year-old winger might not be a major consideration for either country at this point, having not secured much time on the pitch in the English Premier League (EPL).

    In total the player has made only 12 appearances but has shown plenty of ability with the 3 goals he has scored so far.  At Bournemouth, Antony is teammates with Jamaica international Jamal Lowe who has already attempted to sell the young player on representing the Caribbean team.  At this point in time, however, he insists he is not yet ready to consider it.

    “My mum and my dad are both from Jamaica as well. I have got good heritage from there,” Anthony told the Beautiful Game Podcast.

    “It would be an honour to represent either.  One of my team-mates, Jamal Lowe, plays for Jamaica. He’s always saying you need to come!

    “I have only been playing professional football for two years. I don’t want to rush any decisions. We will see what happens.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I’m ready now – Whisper

  • England's Henderson says big-stage near-misses will make Three Lions stronger England's Henderson says big-stage near-misses will make Three Lions stronger

    Jordan Henderson is convinced England's experience of coming within touching distance of glory can make them better equipped to go the extra mile – because it is a process he knows all about from playing for Liverpool.

    Defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley was a crushing blow to England, who felt they were on the brink of a first major title in over 50 years.

    Gareth Southgate's team also went mightily close to reaching the 2018 World Cup final, missing out after losing to Croatia in the semi-finals.

    They are getting close repeatedly, and this is relatable for Henderson given his 11-year Liverpool career has seen its ups, downs and close calls.

    The Reds finished as runners-up in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League during Henderson's time at Anfield before laying their hands on each of those trophies, and he can see why England's situation is comparable.

    "I suppose you could see similarities in terms of getting so close and just failing at the last bit until we ended up winning," Henderson said.

    "I don't like to make comparisons with other teams, and especially club football, but I do feel like when you go through experiences together, especially good ones, but at the end you don't get what you want, that can make you really stronger as a team.

    "I keep my runners-up medals. Not many players get to cup finals so I'll always respect the process of getting there. But when you just miss out on your dream then it can hurt a lot and that is what drives you to get better."

    Henderson, an FA Cup and EFL Cup winner as captain of Liverpool last season, said complacency "won't be a danger" when England tackle Senegal in a last-16 tie on Sunday.

    His former Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane was ruled out by the Africa Cup of Nations champions just before the tournament began, after a cruel injury blow, but Senegal still beat Ecuador and Qatar in the group stage.

    They are a team to be taken seriously, and Henderson, quoted in the Guardian, said: "We can say they are missing Sadio Mane, but they got into the knockout stages without him and they will be feeling confident.

    "They are used to winning. We have just got to keep focused on what needs doing, not get too carried away, not look too far ahead."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.