With the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ kicking off in a little over two-and-a-half months’ time, players from the 32 qualified nations are, as one can imagine, sparing no efforts in trying to secure a place in their country’s squad for the global extravaganza. In Asia, the ongoing AFC Champions League has provided both the imported and home-grown stars with opportunities to showcase their talents and form in front of the closely-watching coaches.
Argentinian international Walter Montillo, who started for La Albiceleste in place of an injured Lionel Messi against Colombia in a FIFA World Cup qualifier last year, recently told FIFA.com of his ambitions of making it to Brazil 2014. The 29-year-old midfielder has earned praises from media and fans alike through some solid performances since joining Chinese Shandong Luneng at the start of the season.
"It goes without saying that I want to return to Argentina’s national team and represent my country at the World Cup," said Montillo, who pulled his weight as Shandong Luneng won comfortably 3-1 at Cerezo Osaka in their second Asian outing. "I had played in a couple of (World Cup) qualifying games but unfortunately I was not called up for our last fixtures. I hope I can earn my place back through my performances with Shandong."
Having seen his former Santos teammate Neymar establish a talismanic place with Brazil, the mercurial attacking midfielder is keen that his dream can materialise. He said: "I am lucky I have the experience of playing alongside players like Nemar. I think he is among the top three stars of the world, alongside Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo. I have learned a lot from him. He gives me inspiration as I target a national team return."
I hope I can earn my place back through my performances with Shandong.
The same can be said of 24-year-old forward Yoichiro Kakitani, who is battling hard for a place in Alberto Zaccheroni's star-studded Japan side. The Cerezo Osaka player proved to be Japan's biggest revelation during last year's EAFF East Asian Cup, where he emerged as the top-scorer with three goals. He has maintained his eye-catching form in his Asian debut, bagging three goals in as many games as his club kept their hopes alive in a tough group that also features the likes of Pohang Steelers and Shandong.
There is a different story in the run up to Brazil 2014 for Kim Younggwon, who has continued his reliable role in Guangzhou Evergrande’s defence as Marcelli Lippi’s side have started their Asian title-defence off well. While a place in Hong Myung-Bo's World Cup squad should be within his grasp, issues like form and injury provide plenty of cause for concerns as he spoke with FIFA.com. "It is indeed a big year for me, with both club duties and World Cup responsibility. I pray I can continue my form and won't pick up any injuries."
Compatriot Kim Shin-Wook also entered this year's campaign in prolific form as Uslan Hyundai aim to recapture the title they had won two years ago. He has twice been on target as his side continues to dominate their section. Midfielder Ha Daesung, meanwhile, enjoyed a good start with new club Beijing Guoan, equalising for his side in a 1-1 draw at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in his debut.
Elsewhere, former Australian U-23 captain Mark Milligan has been an integral part of Melboune Victory’s success so far as the A-League side has pulled off four points to maintain their hopes in a pool that also features Guangzhou and Joenbuk Motors. His national team-mate Alex Brosque, for his part, started in the opening two matches for Al Ain, who are currently topping their group above the likes of Lekhwiya and Al Ittihad.
Established stars return to form
The majority of the fans have, of course, had their eyes glued on a rich crop of established stars who have set the Asian stage ablaze. Notably, Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan has showed his goal-scoring form has yet to desert him, topping the tournament scoring-chart with four goals from three matches as Al Ain are well on course to seal early progression.
In a no-less-impressive manner, Italian international Alessandro Diamanti has quickly established himself as a star for Guangzhou since joining early this year. The former Bologna skipper proved his worth with two of the opening matchday's finest strikes as his side fought from two goals down to power past Melbourne Victory 4-2 at home, before equalising in a 1-1 draw at Yokohama F. Marinos with a sublimely executed free-kick in Matchday 2.
Having struggled during his short acclimatisation with new club Cerezo, Uruguay striker Diego Forlan finally broke his duck with a stoppage-time strike in the recent 4-0 triumph at Buriram United, undoubtedly pleasing La Celeste coach Oscar Tabarez and many supporters back in South America. Lastly, 34-year-old Lee Donggook justified his place as Korea Republic's evergreen goal-getter, managing a brace in a 2-2 draw at Melbourne Victory before finding the back of the net again despite dropping a 3-1 result at Guangzhou.