World Cup: 10 players who DON’T play in Europe who can steal the show


As the footballing world draws to a standstill for the first-ever winter edition of the World Cup, all eyes will be on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Harry Kane in a tournament largely dominated by those who play their club football in Europe.

But within the 32 teams who battled for qualification across six confederations are a number of enticing talents – who fall outside of that category – looking to make their mark, particularly with the January transfer window looming. 

The Qatar World Cup, which gets underway on November 20 and runs until December 18 – with top-flight English football then resuming a week later – will be the perfect setting for those perhaps not quite in the spotlight to either become a star, or to remind the world of their quality. 

The 2022 Qatar World Cup is now right around the corner, getting underway in November

The action will now come thick and fast until the tournament’s opener between Qatar and Ecuador, with a jam-packed schedule of top-flight football to come until the players officially leave for international duty.

With that in mind, Sportsmail takes a look at the top-10 players playing their club football outside of Europe who can make a mark at the 2022 World Cup. 

Guillermo Ochoa 

We start with Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who has certainly made a headline or two during his extensive spell as his nation’s No 1 shot-stopper. 

The 37-year-old, who only last week became Mexico’s most-capped goalkeeper with 130 appearances, initially suffered disappointment as he acted as deputy to Oscar Perez at the 2010 World Cup, despite being tipped to start. 

Ochoa has since become a permanent fixture in the Mexico XI, however, putting in exceptional performances at both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. 

In 2014, Ochoa became a sensation after his stunning performance in Mexico’s goalless draw against Brazil, after which opposition striker Fred insisted the keeper had made ‘four miracles’ throughout the game. 

Guillermo Ochoa last week became Mexico's most-capped goalkeeper with 130 appearances

Guillermo Ochoa last week became Mexico’s most-capped goalkeeper with 130 appearances

Included was a quite sensational save to deny a dumfounded Neymar, who looked on in disbelief as his goal-bound header was somehow clawed away by the flying Mexican. 

Ochoa was then at it again in 2018, producing nine saves as Mexico stunned Germany in their tournament opener. Again, he caught the attention of the masses with a fingertip save to nudge a Toni Kroos free-kick onto the bar. 

Now playing his club football for Club America, where he first played as a youngster before moving to Europe, Ochoa will hope to make the headlines once more this winter. 

Garang Kuol 

Next up we have Garang Kuol, an 18-year-old Australian starlet who will certainly look to impress in the next couple of months. 

Kuol is perhaps a controversial pick, given he has just been signed by Newcastle, who saw off competition from Barcelona to land their man, but the youngster won’t be playing English football until after the World Cup. 

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has revealed he could be integrated into the squad sooner than expected should he perform well at the tournament, however. 

The Premier League-bound star currently plays his football with Aussie club Central Coast Mariners, where he scored within seven minutes of his introduction during his debut last year.

Newcastle had tracked the teenager for some time but had to act swiftly as Stuttgart made a bid and Barcelona proposed a two-year loan.

Garang Kuol officially signed for Newcastle United last week, as the Magpies won the race for the highly-rated Australian youngster

Garang Kuol officially signed for Newcastle United last week, as the Magpies won the race for the highly-rated Australian youngster 

Kuol, 18, made his debut for the Socceroos last week in a friendly against New Zealand

Kuol, 18, made his debut for the Socceroos last week in a friendly against New Zealand 

The Magpies, however, won the race for the Socceroos star and agreed a $515,000 (£300,000) fee with the Aussie side. 

Though playing his international football for Australia, Kuol was born in Egypt, where his family had fled from Sudan, before moving Down Under when he was six. 

Kuol was called up to the Australia squad for the latest international break, becoming the youngest star to do so since Harry Kewell, making a substitute appearance in their 2-0 win over New Zealand. 

And with a huge future ahead, the starlet will look to make an impression in Qatar  over November and December.  

Thiago Almada

Next up is Argentina attacker Thiago Almada, who impressed during his senior debut during the most recent international break. 

Almada featured in Argentina’s 3-0 win over Honduras, earning praise from seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

‘Thiago is very fresh,’ Messi sad. ‘He’s a very fast player who can play 1v1. He’s clever and isn’t afraid of anything.’ 

Playing his club football for Atlanta in the MLS, Almada, 21, has been lethal in front of goal this season, scoring six goals and providing 11 assists in 27 games. 

Lionel Messi raved about Thiago Almada following Argentina's 3-0 win over Honduras

Lionel Messi raved about Thiago Almada following Argentina’s 3-0 win over Honduras 

Almada was described as 'very fast', 'very clever' and 'not afraid of anything' by PSG's Messi

Almada was described as ‘very fast’, ‘very clever’ and ‘not afraid of anything’ by PSG’s Messi

The midfielder has certainly justified his league record £13.5million transfer fee, shining since making the move from Argentine first division side Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield. 

Almada was an unused substitute in Argentina’s subsequent 3-0 win over Jamaica, but the youngster will hope his enticing cameo will ensure him a place on the plane to Qatar. 

Crucially, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni is a big fan of Almada, wanting to shape La Albiceleste’s future around him. The Argentina coach has even encouraged the player to seek a move abroad to one of Europe’s top leagues in the future. 

Akram Afif 

Next up we have a player who will be featuring in the tournament opener between Qatar and Ecuador in versatile attacker Akram Afif. 

The winger, who can also play up front, is undoubtedly the star man for Qatar; he will need to be at his very best if they are to see off two of Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands and progress to the knockout stages. 

Afif now plays his football in Qatar with Al Sadd, but the prolific forward did venture to Europe for a brief spell, initially signing for Belgian side Eupen in 2015. 

Akram Afif will be host nation Qatar's most potent attacking threat at this winter's World Cup

Akram Afif will be host nation Qatar’s most potent attacking threat at this winter’s World Cup

In 2016, he then became the first Qatari-born signing in LaLiga history when he moved to Villarreal, but he never managed to make an appearance for the Spanish club. 

Instead, he went on loan to Sporting Gijon, before spells back at Eupen and Al Sadd and finally returning to the Qatar club.  

Nevertheless, with 76 goals and 63 assists for Al Sadd in only 124 games, as well as 24 goals in 83 games for his country, Akram Afif will certainly be Qatar’s most potent threat as they look to shine on home soil this winter. 

Joel Campbell 

Remember him? You certainly will if you’re an Arsenal fan, having spent seven years with the north London club between 2011 and 2018. 

Indeed, a longer stint than legendary winger Robert Pires, but things certainly didn’t go to plan for the winger at Arsenal. 

Campbell would make just 40 appearances in total, going on loan to Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos, Villareal, Sporting Lisbon and again to Real Betis before finally leaving Arsenal in 2018 and joining Frosinone on a permanent deal. 

Joel Campbell, 30, scored the decisive goal to send Costa Rica to the Qatar World Cup

Joel Campbell, 30, scored the decisive goal to send Costa Rica to the Qatar World Cup

The winger spent seven years under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but managed only 40 caps

The winger spent seven years under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but managed only 40 caps

The 30-year-old, who received hefty praise from Arsene Wenger during his time at Arsenal, is now playing his football in Mexico with Club Leon, but perhaps he’ll have one eye on a Premier League return should he perform well at the World Cup. 

For his country, Campbell resembles quite the opposite of a forgotten man, having scored the decisive goal that sent Costa Rica to the World Cup back in June. 

Costa Rica defeated New Zealand 1-0 in a closely-contested affair to qualify for their third-straight tournament, having most notably reached the quarter-finals in 2014. 

Campbell, a cult hero for his country, has scored an impressive 25 goals in 117 outings for Costa Rica, and though housed in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Spain, Germany and Japan, he will be looking to make a name for himself once more.  

Bryan Ruiz

Sticking with Costa Rica and we have another blast from the past in 37-year-old Bryan Ruiz.

The midfielder is now very much in the twilight years of his career – and the World Cup will be his final opportunity to dazzle. 

Ruiz competed in the Premier League with Fulham for four years, before moving to Sporting Lisbon, Brazilian side Santos and finally Costa Rican outfit Alajuelense. 

Bryan Ruiz has confirmed he plans to retire at the end of the year following the World Cup

Bryan Ruiz has confirmed he plans to retire at the end of the year following the World Cup

Ruiz was previously in Fulham's first-team between 2011 and 2015 (pictured above in 2013)

Ruiz was previously in Fulham’s first-team between 2011 and 2015 (pictured above in 2013)

He memorably scored the winner in a major upset against Italy at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – that saw Costa Rica progress at the Italians’ and England’s expense – before also finding the net in the last-16 victory over Greece.

But now, Ruiz insists he will hang up his boots at the end of the year, bowing out in the best way possible by captaining his country at the World Cup. 

Speaking of his retirement, Ruiz said: ‘For us, players of a generation that is coming to an end, so to say, it is nostalgic and very emotional to have this opportunity and to know that for many years we have given our best effort in the national team.

‘We have achieved important things, we have even cried for some failures we have had during this process.’

Xherdan Shaqiri

Another player who recently graced the Premier League is former Stoke and Liverpool attacker Xherdan Shaqiri. 

The 30-year-old is currently playing in the MLS for Chicago Fire, where he has notched an impressive seven goals in 28 outings this season. 

The well-traveled attacker is shortlisted for the MLS End of Year Awards, nominated for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP category, such has been the quality of his performances. 

Xherdan Shaqiri notched three goals in five games at Euro 2020 but has failed to score since

Xherdan Shaqiri notched three goals in five games at Euro 2020 but has failed to score since

Shaqiri left the Premier League following spells at Stoke and Liverpool (above) in 2021

Shaqiri left the Premier League following spells at Stoke and Liverpool (above) in 2021

But it’s not just at club level where Shaqiri has excelled, also playing a pivotal role for his Switzerland side. 

Shaqiri scores three goals in five games as Switzerland made it to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, before eventually bowing out to Spain on penalties. 

The 30-year-old has failed to hit the target for Switzerland since, however, despite playing in four World Cup qualifiers, two international friendlies and six Nations League games. 

Regardless, having scored 26 goals in 108 games for Switzerland, the former Inter Milan and Bayern Munich star will certainly be on the plane, and he’ll be looking to impress on the big stage once more.  

Vincent Aboubakar

With Cameroon qualifying for the World Cup, having missed out on the 2018 tournament in Russia, striker Vincent Aboubakar will look to put on a show. 

The 30-year-old is perhaps best known for his six-year spell at Porto, where he scored an impressive 58 goals and provided 16 assists in 125 games. 

Aboubakar also scored 35 goals in 67 games during a fruitful period with Besiktas, and sits as Cameroon’s second-top goalscorer, behind Samuel Eto’o on 56, with 33 goals. 

Vincent Aboubakar will be Cameroon's main goal threat after stealing the show at AFCON

Vincent Aboubakar will be Cameroon’s main goal threat after stealing the show at AFCON 

He was at his scintillating best as Cameroon secured third place at AFCON earlier in the year, scoring eight goals in seven games, the second-biggest tally at a single AFCON tournament. 

The striker has now swapped Europe for the Middle East, playing his football for Al Nassr, where he has scored 10 goals in 30 games since arriving in 2021 on a free transfer. 

Likely to be supported by Bryan Mbeumo and Toko Ekamb on the wings, an exciting attacking trio will look to give Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia a tough challenge. 

Gareth Bale 

Gareth Bale, who is surely the most notable of all the World Cup stars playing their club football outside of Europe, simply has to make the list. 

While the attacker was jeered for much of his Real Madrid career, the same could never be said for his beloved Wales, who are firmly at the forefront of his mind as he enters the final stages of his career. 

Now at 33 years old, a rejuvenated Bale has moved out to the States, switching Madrid for Los Angeles FC as he bids to be in the best possible shape for the impending tournament. 

Gareth Bale has swapped Madrid for Los Angeles to be as fit as possible for the World Cup

Gareth Bale has swapped Madrid for Los Angeles to be as fit as possible for the World Cup

Bale is now playing his football with LA FC in MLS after leaving Real Madrid over the summer

Bale is now playing his football with LA FC in MLS after leaving Real Madrid over the summer

‘We have a plan in LA with what we’re doing. We’re not doing too much straight away,’ Bale recently said.

‘Every footballer wants to play as much as they can but we’re being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season. Hopefully that should put me in great shape for the World Cup. I think I’ll be a lot fitter.’

Wales, who play their tournament opener against the United States on November 21, will certainly hope so, being the nation’s all-time top scorer with 40 goals. 

Bale was integral as Wales made history by qualifying for Euro 2016 before eventually reaching the semi-final, and he was equally as influential as they qualified for the World Cup, netting the only goal as they beat Ukraine in the play-off final. 

Walker Zimmerman

Competing the list is USA centre-back Walker Zimmerman, who has established himself as a clear starter in Gregg Berhalter’s side in recent months. 

The 29-year-old plays for Nashville SC and has done since 2020, previously enjoying spells at Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas. 

Zimmerman played a fundamental role in USA’s World Cup qualification, which they sealed despite finishing behind Mexico and Canada. 

The defender – a two-time MLS Defender of the Year – has scored three goals in 31 appearances for his country, and his impressive form form for Nashville this season saw him picked for the MLS all star game against Liga MX All-Stars. 

Two-time MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman is out to make a statement for USA

Two-time MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman is out to make a statement for USA

Zimmerman, who played the full 90 minutes in both of USA’s recent international friendlies, insists his side are out to make a statement in Qatar. 

‘None of us have a lot of World Cup experience. People can hit on us for that or think that that is a disadvantage,’ Zimmerman recently said. 

‘But I also know how eager we are to get out there and prove to people what we have in this group.’ 

Being in the same group as England and Wales, Zimmerman will certainly have plenty of eyeballs on him this winter. 

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