Monday 02 September 2019, 09:31

Stars heading for Qatar

  • We take a closer look at four key figures set for Qatar 2019

  • From strikers to defenders, they inspired their sides to glory

  • Get a glimpse of what’s to come at the FIFA Club World Cup

When you bring together the best club sides from across the continents, some of the game's outstanding individuals will inevitably be involved.

So, to whet your appetite for what’s in store for those heading to the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019, we’ve picked out a few names from the qualified teams who will be worth keeping an eye out for.

Virgil van Dijk celebrates Liverpool winning the UEFA Champions League

Virgil van Dijk

Liverpool, defender

‘Imperious’ is probably as close as you’re going to get to encapsulating Van Dijk in one word. A few eyebrows were raised when the Dutchman moved to Anfield for a record-breaking fee, but you’ll struggle to find anyone questioning that wisdom today.

The first defender to feature in the final top three to be FIFA’s best player since Fabio Cannavaro was crowned in 2006, Van Dijk’s composure on and off the ball only goes to mask his deceptive turn of pace. Blessed with an enviable passing range and dominant in the air, it’s rare to see him need a last-ditch tackle due to his outstanding reading of the game.

Who else to look out for

Mohamed Salah – Part of a devastating front trio, electric Egyptian Mohamed Salah came third in The Best FIFA Men’s Player standings a year ago and has been named Africa’s top talent for successive years.

Baghdad Bounedjah of Algeria celebrates his goal

Baghdad Bounedjah

Al Sadd, striker

It’s already been an unforgettable year for Bounedjah. He scored the goal that handed Algeria only their second ever CAF Africa Cup of Nations title in the summer just weeks after clinching the Qatar Stars League title with Al Sadd.

Composed and clinical with the ball at his feet, powerful and bullish when the ball’s in the air, Bounedjah has all the attributes to be considered the complete striker. He struck a mammoth 39 goals in just 22 league games last season, and was top scorer as Al Sadd reached the AFC Champions League semi-finals last year. He has not misplaced his scoring boots this term either, netting a 20-minute hat-trick on the way to scoring four in their second game of the new season.

Who else to look out for

Akram Afif – A central figure in the Qatar national team crowned AFC Asian Cup winners in January, providing goals and assists, he was named the league’s MVP last season.

Rogelio Funes Mori #7 of Monterrey uses the trophy as a mirror at the end of the Concacaf Champiols League final 

Rogelio Funes Mori

Monterrey, striker

While those beyond the Americas may know Funes Mori primarily through the fact that he is one half of a famous pair of footballing twins, alongside brother Ramiro, Rogelio has long been marked as a striking talent. Compared to the likes of Diego Milito during his days coming through the ranks at River Plate, he has blossomed at Monterrey.

Rangy, unpredictable and driven by getting his name on the scoresheet, Funes Mori has the capacity to produce the spectacular. Creativity is not a trait lacking in a striker who finds routes to goal where others wouldn’t consider – with backheels to overhead kicks stored in his locker.

Who else to look out for

Nicolas Sanchez – The seasoned Argentinian centre-back has found his scoring touch since moving to Mexico in 2017, with his haul including two vital goals in the Concacaf Champions League final.

Hienghene Sport captain Bertrand Kai (R) celebrates with a team-mate during the 2019 OFC Champions League final.

Bertrand Kai

Hienghene Sport, midfielder

Hienghene's dreadlocked captain is central to the New Caledonians’ creativity and goal-scoring capabilities. A figure who leads by example, the OFC Champions League Golden Ball winner looks to take control whenever he can, while also offering a clinical outlet up front when breaking forward from his deeper role.

His well-honed technique sees him taking up dead ball duties, but that doesn’t mean he’s not got a knack for doing damage in the air. He proved this superbly in the Champions League's opening game, heading home twice as part of a superb hat-trick, while also setting up the other two in a five-goal rout.

Who else to look out for

Rocky Nyikeine – The Hienghene Sport goalkeeper picked up the Golden Glove following their historic victory, producing a string of jaw-dropping saves to keep them on track throughout their campaign.

Anice Badri of ES Tunis is challenged by Michael Perez of CD Guadalajara 

Anice Badri

Esperance Sportive de Tunis, winger

Tunisian international and wing wizard Badri blessed with ability to cause havoc from either flank, dangerously cutting inside thanks to his direct approach play and fine close control.

Having looked unlikely to ever play at the top level, having suffered a serious spinal injury that kept him out of the game for two years, Badri has now helped guide his nation to their first FIFA World Cup in over a decade and won back-to-back continental titles with Esperance.

Who else to look out for

Khalil Chemmam – Having spent all but one season of his 12-year career at Esperance, their rock-solid centre-back is an inspirational figure at the back.