The Under The Radar LaLiga World Cup XI

Oghenekaro Etebo plays for Las Palmas and representing Nigeria at the World Cup. PICTURE: Supplied

MOSCOW: LaLiga clubs are sending an impressive number of players, with many countries from around the globe, to this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Top LaLiga stars such as Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina, Atletico Madrid and France star Antoine Griezmann, and Real Madrid and Portugal hero Cristiano Ronaldo will all be hopeful of winning the World Cup trophy this summer.

However, with many more under the radar players are drawn from LaLiga set to shine with a breakout tournament performance here’s an XI of World Cup 2018 players to watch out for from 11 different LaLiga clubs and nations.

Yassine Bounou [Girona/Morocco]

Girona goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, known as ‘Bono,’ is one of four LaLiga players in the Morocco squad for the tournament. The former Atletico Madrid youth teamer kept nine clean sheets for Girona during 2017/18, the first ever top flight season for both him and his club. He will battle for a starting place in Russia with Munir El Kajaoui of LaLiga 1l2l3 team Numancia.

Gabriel Mercado [Sevilla/Argentina]

Sevilla right-back Gabriel Mercado’s aggressive style of play will be on show in Russia, with the 31-year-old having played in nine of Argentina’s qualifiers for the tournament, scoring twice. Mercado is well versed in the expectations of playing for national coach Jorge Sampaoli, with the pair having been together at the Sanchez Pizjuan during the 2016/17 season.

Oscar Duarte [Espanyol/Costa Rica]

Espanyol centre-back Oscar Duarte played in Costa Rica’s first four games at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, scoring in the surprise group victory over Uruguay, before missing their quarter-final exit to the Netherlands through suspension. Having recovered from a thigh injury which saw him miss the end of the LaLiga season with his club, he should start again for his country this summer.

Antonio Rukavina [Villarreal/Serbia]

Villarreal full-back Antonio Rukavina, 34, has been a Serbia international for over a decade now and is closing in on a half-century of senior caps. The one-time Real Valladolid player started nine of his country’s 10 games in qualifying – helping the Balkan side finish top of a group also including Gareth Bale’s Wales, Austria and the Republic of Ireland.

Oghenekaro Etebo [Las Palmas/Nigeria]

Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo was one of the bright spots of Las Palmas’ 2017/18 LaLiga campaign, arriving during the January transfer window and playing 14 games between then and the season’s end. The 22-year-old has one goal in 12 games for the Super Eagles and has impressed with his physical approach and use of the ball in friendlies ahead of this summer’s tournament.

Jefferson Lerma [Levante/Colombia]

One of the stand-out young players in LaLiga during 2017/1, the Levante midfielder was especially impressive during his side’s dramatic late escape from relegation trouble. Although he only made his full international debut last October, the 23-year-old is already a key part of Cafeteros coach Jose Pekerman’s plans.

Adnan Januzaj [Real Sociedad/Belgium]

An excellent first season in LaLiga with Real Sociedad secured a place for winger Adnan Januzaj in the squad of tournament dark-horses Belgium. After playing just one minute of qualifying when at previous clubs Manchester United and Sunderland, three goals and five assists in 28 LaLiga games for the side from San Sebastian changed the mind of Red Devils national coach Roberto Martinez.

Takashi Inui [Real Betis/Japan]

 Japanese international Takashi Inui is going to his first World Cup finals this summer. Inui scored 11 goals and gave 10 assists in 89 LaLiga games for Eibar, before joining Real Betis this summer ahead of the 2018/19 season. The 29-year-old has shown a liking for the big stage by twice scoring in LaLiga against Barcelona; a big-game temperament always goes down well at the World Cup.

Ismael Diaz [Deportivo La Coruña/Panama]

Young Deportivo La Coruña forward Ismael Diaz is heading to the finals with World Cup debutants Panama. The 20-year-old has already scored twice in 11 senior caps for his country and recovered from a knee injury to make the final squad. Diaz netted six goals in 12 games for Depor’s youth team in Spain’s third tier this season, and will likely feature for their senior side in LaLiga 1l2l3 next year.

John Guidetti [Alaves/Sweden]

Alaves striker John Guidetti’s arrival at the Basque club last January helped the team to climb up the table away from relegation danger, with his 17 appearances bringing three goals, three assists and infectious enthusiasm. Ex-Celta player Guidetti played five times for Sweden in World Cup qualifying, having featured in all three of his country’s games at the Euro 2016 finals in France.

Maxi Gomez [Celta Vigo/Uruguay]

Young Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gomez’s first season in European football yielded a hugely impressive 18 goals and five assists in 36 games. That secured the 21-year-old a senior Uruguay debut last October, and now a place on the plane to Russia. Likely to understudy Barcelona’s Luis Suarez in the opening games, Gomez has the potential to become a real international star.