The cast list for the greatest show on earth might be dominated by star performers, but FIFA World Cup squad announcements never completely adhere to expectations. Controversy and shock inclusions are guaranteed, and there are invariably a clutch of players who emerge from nowhere to take their place on the world stage. At Germany 2006, we had the likes of Theo Walcott, barely 17, without a single Premier League appearance to his name, whom then England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson had never even seen in competitive action.
It is debatable whether the 2010 announcements yielded a moment of comparable drama, but there were nonetheless plenty of eyebrows raised as the 736 names were unveiled to the waiting world. Some, of course, caused greater astonishment than others and, occasionally, no-one was more shocked than the player in question.
Garce ditches supporting role
That was certainly true of Argentina’s Ariel Garce, whose tale is surely the most endearing of these stories of shock inclusions. So convinced was the little-known Colon defender that he wouldn’t figure in Diego Maradona’s thinking that he had already booked with his friends to travel to South Africa as a supporter. As it is, rather than cheering on Argentina from the stands, the 30-year-old could well find himself influencing matters on the field as La Albiceleste chase a third world title.
Prior to his call-up, Garce had only ever made one international appearance, and that in a friendly, but even this meagre experience compares favourably to some of South Africa 2010’s other surprise packages. Spain’s squad, for example, featured three players without a single cap between them when the 30-man list was announced: Barcelona duo Pedro and Victor Valdes and Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez. "They have had a good season,” Vicente Del Bosque explained. “They are coming to strengthen the squad as substitutes."
Raymond Domenech shared Del Bosque’s willingness to gamble, calling in two uncapped players of his own in Marseille winger Mathieu Valbuena and Bordeaux defender Marc Planus. The former, rewarded for his form in OM’s title-winning campaign, enthused: “After such an exceptional year, this is the icing on the cake.” Nigeria striker Brown Ideye is another player whose place was earned by an impressive Ligue 1 campaign, although many Super Eagles observers were still taken aback that he was parachuted directly into the FIFA World Cup without any prior international experience.
Changes in goal
Algeria sprung a surprise of their own in Rais M'Bolhi and, again, it was the keeper’s fine domestic form that won over Rabah Saadane, with the Slavia Sofia No1 having been named the Bulgarian top flight’s goalkeeper of the season. The biggest shock in the hosts’ squad also came in the goalkeeping department, with South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira preferring the uncapped Shu-Aib Walters to the considerably more experienced Rowen Fernandez. Parreira also recalled veteran striker Siyabonga Nomvethe – a goalscorer for Bafana Bafana at Korea/Japan 2002 – after three years in the international wilderness.
Shuffling of the goalkeeping pack proved a recurring them, with Carlos Queiroz unexpectedly calling up Daniel Fernandes, a former Canada U-20 international who didn’t feature at all during qualifying and has spent his entire career outside Portugal. In Chile, no-one expected Marcelo Bielsa to pick Luis Marin in favour of Cristopher Toselli, while still fewer Japanese fans anticipated that Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi would feature given that the veteran Jubilo Iwata keeper was publicly ruled out following a leg-break earlier this year. “This team needs a man who can lighten the mood under any circumstances,” was Takeshi Okada’s explanation. “He is the true leader on and off the pitch.”
Kawaguchi was far from the only player whose personality and experience proved crucial. Despite seeming to have a wealth of central defensive options, Fabio Capello felt the need to coax Jamie Carragher back into the fold, recalling the Liverpool stalwart over three years after he quit the national team. The England coach even tried - and failed - to lure 35-year-old Paul Scholes out of retirement, while also listing a left-back, Stephen Warnock, whose sole cameo appearance for the Three Lions had seen him touch the ball just five times.
Following Toto's example
Grafite was Dunga’s most eye-catching inclusion, having played a grand total of 27 minutes under the current Brazil coach prior to receiving the call. "Three months ago I had no hope of playing at the World Cup," the Wolfsburg striker admitted. Denmark’s Mikkel Beckmann must surely have felt similarly hopeless before being restored to the squad over two years after his last international appearance, while USA sprung a string of striking surprises. Despite a combined haul of 11 caps, Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez now make up three-quarters of Bob Bradley’s complement of forwards and look certain to have a major role to play.
Bradley insists that he is merely staying true to the old maxim of picking players on form, and the same justification was true for New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert in calling up the NZFC’s player of the year, Aaron Clapham. Others have gambled on youthful exuberance, among them Slovenia’s Matjaz Kek, Paraguay’s Gerardo Martino and Germany’s Joachim Low, who put their faith in the exciting attacking trio of Tim Matavz, Rodolfo Gamarra and Holger Badstuber respectively. Nearly every coach at South Africa 2010 has provided at least one wildcard, in fact, with Korea DPR’s Pak Sung-Hyok, Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci, Korea Republic’s Kim Bo-Kyung and Greek duo Sakis Prittas and Stelios Malezas among the players who have timed their emergence to perfection.
Not all will begin the FIFA World Cup as key players, of course, but Bonucci in particular will know that a rapid rise need not end once the tournament begins. As anyone who watched Italy 1990 will recall, Toto Schillaci arrived at that tournament as a sure-fire substitute without a cap his name, and left clutching the adidas Golden Shoe. Will South Africa 2010 have its very own Schillaci? Only the men above can decide that.