The October international break saw plenty of eye-catching results from Venezuela’s historic draw in Brazil to Turkey’s narrow win against Croatia, and it also saw plenty of individual standouts. Today, we’re taking a look at five players who showcased their skills and bolstered their reputation whilst on international duty.
Name: Yeferson Soteldo
Club: Santos (Brazil)
National Team: Venezuela
Venezuela have never qualified for a World Cup, the only CONEMBOL side to have never reached the promised land. But the winds of change were lashing the Estadio Monumental de Maturin as 52,000 watched the ‘Vinotinto’ put an aging Chile side to the sword.
Chile were unable to contain the eclectic Yeferson Soteldo in Caracas as the 5ft3 winger played a key role in all three goals. Firstly he drilled a brilliant finish across goal to put his side 1-0 up before running near enough 60 yards, rounding the keeper and putting the ball on a plate for the timeless Salomon Rondon. Soteldo capped his magnificent evening with a dangerous cross, which was flicked on before being turned in by Darwin Machis.
Soteldo went viral a couple of weeks ago for standing on the ball, in a brazen act of showboating for his club side Santos, but it was the winger’s relentless ability to take on his full-back either way that caught the eye against Chile. The victory leaves Venezuela on 7 points from a possible 12 in what has been an excellent start to their campaign.
Name: Jasir Asani
Club: Gwangju FC (South Korea)
National Team: Albania
There are unlikely heroes and then there is Jasir Asani. As Albania sit pretty at the top of Group E, needing just a point from their final two games to qualify for EURO 2024, the fans have a player playing in the K-league to thank for stepping up to the occasion when it has mattered most across the campaign.
Jasir Asani only made his Albania debut in March at the age of 27. A somewhat low-key career has seen the winger move from Albanian side Partizani to Sweden to Hungary and now to Gwangju in South Korea. Asani had already popped up with huge goals in the wins against Poland and Moldova when it came to the all-important top-two clash against the Czech Republic in Tirana.
Again Asani was there to cut in from the right and smash a thunderous drive into the bottom corner from all of 25 yards, sending the home fans into raptures. International football is often about being in the right place at the right time and Asani has undoubtedly found a home with backing from manager Sylvinho – time will tell if his knack for big goals will crop up in Germany this summer.
Name: Harun Hamid
Club: Free Agent
National Team: Pakistan
It doesn’t get much better than scoring the winner for your nation in a World Cup qualifier, but how about scoring the goal that gives your country their first ever World Cup Qualifying victory in their history? That’s exactly what Harun Hamid did when he gave Pakistan the lead against Cambodia in Islamabad.
The Falcons had fought heroically to earn a goalless draw in the away leg, before heading back to Pakistan to play their first home fixture in 8 years. The game itself was the type of cagey affair you’d expect from a match that completely decides the number of competitive fixtures either side will have for the next year or so, but when the ball broke to 19-year-old Harun Hamid on the edge of the box he lashed in a half volley to provide the much-needed spark.
The goal has been described as the most consequential in Pakistan’s football history, a huge moment for a youngster whose last competitive domestic game was in England’s 7th tier for Kingstonian. The Lambeth-born attacker will have his name forever in the history of books.
Name: Nicolás De La Cruz
Club: River Plate (Argentina)
National Team: Uruguay
Nicolás de la Cruz has been in sublime form for both club and country of late. In the September World Cup Qualifiers, the attacking midfielder was exceptional as Uruguay beat Chile 3-1, scoring two and assisting another.
A player that Marcelo Bielsa clearly trusts a great deal, he’s started all four qualifiers under the new manager, the 26-year-old stepped up again as Uruguay earned a famous win against Brazil in Montevideo. La Celeste hadn’t beaten Brazil in qualifying since 2001, until goals from De la Cruz and Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez gave them an impressive 2-0 victory.
It’s no surprise the attacking midfielder has been a hit under Bielsa, he earned a reputation for being a manager’s dream when under Marcelo Gallardo at River Plate. His ability to play a variety of roles and his combination of good dribbling ability in tight areas and a clever eye for a pass make him easy to pick and hard to leave out.
Name: Georges Mikautadze
Club: Ajax (Netherlands)
National Team: Georgia
It has not been a good EURO Qualification campaign for Georgia from whom so much was anticipated after the emergence of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia at Napoli amongst other talented young players at various European clubs. One of these players was forward Georges Mikautadze, who fired Metz to promotion to Ligue 1 last season by scoring 23 league goals and providing 8 assists. Since then Mikautadze moved to Ajax who have had a well-documented disastrous start to the season, which has naturally had a knock-on effect on the 22-year-old who is yet to score.
However, Mikautadze will have thoroughly enjoyed his time away with Georgia. He notched 4 against an admittedly poor Thailand side in a friendly but also went on to score against Cyprus in a comfortable qualifying win, leaving him with a very tidy 5 goals in 2 games.
His goals demonstrated a range of clever finishes, including a particularly impressive effort swept into the hapless Thailand goalkeeper Kampol Pathomakkakul’s net. Ajax fans will hope that the Georgian international will come good when and if the team emerges from the utter chaos that envelopes them at the moment.
By: Wilf MacDonnell / @WilfMacDonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Edilzon Gamez / Getty Images