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In Focus: Five surprise stars of the World Cup so far
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Dan Fitch
LiveScore
Takuma Asano scored Japan's winner in the 2-1 victory over Germany
Takuma Asano scored Japan's winner in the 2-1 victory over Germany

Some unlikely stars have emerged in the first week of action at the World Cup in Qatar.

Football fans have already been treated to two almighty shocks, with Saudi Arabia beating Argentina and Japan defeating Germany. 

Among those epic team performances, there were individual displays that stood out, as players stepped up to make themselves national heroes. 

Equally, we have seen some left-field selections from the tournament favourites, where often overlooked figures have justified their places. 

Here are five surprise stars of the World Cup so far. 

Shuichi Gonda (Japan)

No goalkeeper made more saves in the first round of World Cup matches than Japan’s Shuichi Gonda. 

The 33-year old made eight stops against Germany, as the 2014 World Cup winners peppered his goal in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid an eventual 2-1 defeat. 

Four of those saves came in a frenetic period of 20 seconds, which included a quick-fire double-save to twice deny Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry. 

With 432 appearances at club level, the Shimizu S-Pulse stopper has plenty of experience to fall back on. 

Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda helped his team to a superb 2-1 win over Germany
Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda helped his team to a superb 2-1 win over Germany

Lucas Paqueta (Brazil)

Lucas Paqueta now has 36 caps for his country, so it was no surprise to see him lining up in Brazil's opening match against Serbia. 

Yet many eyebrows were raised to see a player known as an attacking playmaker, positioned alongside Casemiro at the base of the Brazilian midfield. 

The West Ham maestro was preferred to Fred and Bruno Guimaraes, who on the face of it, were both more natural selections in the position. 

Brazil's full-backs were employed in areas where they could protect this seemingly fragile midfield duo. Paqueta was able to get forward and could be a key figure in Tite's team in future matches.

Lucas Paqueta was employed in a surprise position for Brazil
Lucas Paqueta was employed in a surprise position for Brazil

Michy Batshuayi (Belgium)

Having long served as an understudy, it might finally be time for Michy Batshuayi to take a starring role. 

The 29-year old started ahead of Romelu Lukaku in Belgium’s 1-0 win over Canada and scored the crucial goal with a fine finish from Toby Alderweireld’s long pass. 

As important as Lukaku is for Belgium, the Inter Milan forward has only played five games at club level this season, while Batshuayi has been a regular starter and scorer for his new club Fenerbahce. 

It is easy to forget how highly-rated the 6ft 1in striker was when he arrived at Chelsea from Marseille in 2016 and he could yet belatedly fulfil his promise on the biggest stage.

Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi celebrates his goal against Canada
Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi celebrates his goal against Canada

Takuma Asano (Japan)

Germany could be forgiven for not sweating too much when they saw Japan’s Takuma Asano coming on as a second-half substitute against them on Wednesday. 

Having signed for Arsenal in 2016 and being denied a work permit, Asano had loan spells at Stuttgart and Hannover, where he struggled to establish himself. 

A return to the Bundesliga in 2021 with Bochum has only seen the Japanese forward score four times in 38 appearances. 

It was nevertheless Asano who delivered the killer blow to Germany, with a stunning 83rd-minute goal in which he displayed perfect control, strength, pace and composure. 

Salem Al Dawsari (Saudi Arabia)

Salem Al Dawsari netted Saudi Arabia's winning goal against Argentina
Salem Al Dawsari netted Saudi Arabia's winning goal against Argentina

Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win against Argentina in Group C has been hailed as the biggest shock in World Cup history. 

It was the Saudi Arabian winger Salem Al Dawsari who scored the already famous second goal, as he brought a looping ball under control, twisted and turned away from a number of defenders, before bending it past Emiliano Martinez. 

Such was the delight at the victory that the Saudi Arabia government declared that the day after the Argentina match would be a national holiday. 

Now it is up to Al Dawsari, 31, and his team-mates to regain their composure and secure a place in the knockout stages, that seemed an impossibility pre-tournament.

Tags

JapanWorld CupBrazilBelgiumSaudi Arabia
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