The FIFA World Cup is the very greatest of all sporting competitions. During the 2014 World Cup, it was reported that 42% of all humans viewed the competition, which is more than 3 billion people. Even with key nations like Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and the United States missing out next year, the viewership will still likely be just as massive. The Dutch Eredivisie has some amazing players who will be representing their respective nations in Russia next summer, so let’s highlight some of those poised to make a massive impact.
Hakim Ziyech – Morocco
“How stupid can you be to choose Morocco if you are in contention for the Dutch national team?” These were the words of Dutch legend Marco van Basten last year, after Eredivisie star Hakim Ziyech chosen to represent the Moroccan national team instead of the country of his birth. Only a year later, van Basten has been made to look like a fool – the Netherlands failed to qualify and Ziyech is headed to the World Cup.
However, discussing the politics of national representation is far beyond what I hope to portray here. What must be said is that Hakim Ziyech, a 24-year-old midfield playmaker currently on the books at Ajax Amsterdam, is a brilliant footballer. Linked with moves abroad for years, the flashy left-footed Ziyech has torn the Eredivisie to shreds this season with his 3 goals and 7 assists in 12 matches. Very few would argue that he is the most purely talented player in Holland at the moment.
After being reintroduced into the Moroccan national team in September, Hakim Ziyech was involved in four goals in four matches as the Atlas Lions qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1998. It’s clear that his confidence brought about by domestic league dominance is easily carried over to international duty.
Many will point out Ziyech’s technical skills like dribbling and passing as his greatest assets, but watch him week-in-week-out and you’ll realize that his work rate and tactical cohesion is what makes the Moroccan truly great. In a high-pressing Ajax system, the midfielder will attempt to retrieve the ball all over the pitch, especially when teammates are drawn out of position.
No matter how good Hakim Ziyech is for a squad’s tactical presence, there is no doubt that his technical skills will cause many fans to take notice. A lot of people watching next year’s World Cup won’t have even heard of the lanky midfielder, but I’m sure Ziyech will take part in a few moments of brilliance and could possibly be the type of player to lead Morocco to a few upsets.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh – Iran
In my pre-season Eredivisie predictions, I was confident of AZ Alkmaar’s ability to have a go at third place. We’re now a good four months into the season and they’ve just leaped over PEC Zwolle to take that exact position. Credit must go to players across the pitch, but there’s little doubt that Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh is the driving force behind the team’s rise.
The 24-year-old versatile right-winger has been linked with Napoli this month, and it’s easy to see why. Jahanbakhsh is a major threat in both build-up and counter-attacking play – his pace can really open up a defense on the back-foot while his technique can slice open a backline. Adept with both feet, Alireza can cut inside and feed a teammate with a through ball or take a powerful long shot. Alternatively, he can sprint down the flank and send in an accurate cross to a poaching forward.
Iran will certainly be an underdog to advance to the knockout stages, no matter what group they’re placed in. But just like Hakim Ziyech with Morocco, Alireza Jahanbakhsh has the flair and skill to make a direct impact on a crucial match. With seven assists and three goals in twelve Eredivisie duels to this point (21 goals, 26 assists in 90 all-time Eredivisie appearances), Alireza is one to watch next summer in Russia.
Hirving Lozano – Mexico
PSV Eindhoven have a history of signing great Mexican footballers – Andrés Guardado, Carlos Salcido, Francisco Javier Rodríguez, and Héctor Moreno have all made the move to southern Holland during their careers. With Guardado and Moreno opting to leave over the summer for Real Betis and AS Roma, respectively, the PSV hierarchy clearly felt a need to continue the Mexican tradition at the Phillips Stadion.
Enter Hirving Lozano, possibly the best of the bunch.
At 22-years-old, Hirving Lozano is already one of the most impactful players currently donning a Mexico kit. After making the jump from his boyhood club Pachuca to PSV in the summer, the left-winger has proven just why the fans of El Tri are justified in their chants for Lozano. A stunning nine goals and three assists have been authored by the speedy winger in only ten Eredivisie matches.
Lozano’s speed, versatility in the final third, and quick dribbling makes him a threat to any type of defense. In a friendly against Belgium earlier in November, “Chucky” scored two goals and was a pain in the side of Roberto Martinez’ team all night. The run-and-gun style of play often deployed at both PSV and the Mexican national team perfectly suits Lozano. It allows him to gain momentum going forward, which nearly always spells trouble for defenses.
Just like recently retired Netherlands international legend Arjen Robben, Hirving Lozano is a master at cutting inside. Usually starting on the left flank, Lozano prefers to get inside on his stronger right foot, which can allow him to wreak havoc in all sorts of manners. Deadly through balls, curling crosses, and enthralling long shots are just a few of the possibilities when the Mexican winger is on the ball.
As a Pot 2 team, Mexico will certainly fancy their chances of getting to the knockout rounds. While the likes of Chicharito, Carlos Vela, and Guardado will attract a lot of attention in Russia, a majority of the Mexican supporters know that there is a force ready to break through on the international stage. It’s like a bubbling magma chamber with millions of years of built-up pressure, ready to burst open at any second. It’s Hirving Lozano.
Kasper Dolberg – Denmark
Think you’re having a bad time at work? Let me introduce you to Kasper Dolberg. Last season, the Danish teen emerged from the Ajax academy and scored 23 goals in all competitions. He was the spearhead to an enthralling Peter Bosz team that made it all the way to the Europa League Final. After being linked with the likes of AS Monaco and Borussia Dortmund for a €40m+ move, the blonde wonderkid decided to continue his career in Amsterdam.
Fast-forward to today – Dolberg has scored only two goals in 12 Eredivisie matches and has been subdued to a rotational role after the re-arrival of Klass-Jan Huntelaar. While some of his poor form is down to this smaller role and a lack of distribution from teammates, a lot of this onus must be placed on the shoulders of the Denmark international.
Despite this sophomore slump, the talents of the nimble forward must not be doubted. Kasper Dolberg had a prolonged drought of goals last season as well, but he was able to recover well and finish the season as the club’s leading scorer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more complete 20-year-old attacker – his ability to drop deep and connect with the midfield was well documented during Ajax’s fantastic European campaign in 2016/17.
Dolberg’s technical skills have clearly not been up to par this season, but the #9 is a brilliant dribbler and finisher, as well as a smart passer and runner. He’s only made two international appearances and will have to fight for a starting spot with league rival Nicolai Jørgensen, but an improvement in Dolberg’s form should guarantee at least an appearance or two in Russia.
Does Kasper Dolberg have what it takes to be an impact player on an international level? This question will be answered by this time next year. Those avid watchers of Ajax don’t doubt the potential of the striker who rose to national fame nearly overnight, but the question is if his confidence will be high enough to perform in next year’s World Cup.
Gastón Pereiro – Uruguay
Uruguay is one of those countries that consistently performs well on the international stage despite their minimal resources, relative to other big nations. Many say it’s due to supreme youth development. Others point to the fact that Uruguayan culture promotes great footballers. Some even say that the FA’s push to incorporate the 4-3-3 system across the country is the reason why Uruguay is so successful. For me, it’s probably a combination of all three. Uruguay is versatile and innovative, just like Gastón Pereiro.
Pereiro, a midfielder/inside-forward hybrid born in Uruguayan capitol Montevideo, moved from Nacional to PSV for €7 million two seasons ago. The relatively large price tag saw the now 22-year-old receive a lot of hype upon arrival. This pressure was not without merit, as Pereiro reached a double-digit goal-scoring tally in his first two seasons in Eindhoven.
At 22, Gastón Pereiro is one of the leaders in a PSV team atop the Eredivisie by a country mile. Though the Uruguayan was deployed mostly as a right or left-winger last season, the 17/18 campaign has seen Phillip Cocu select him as a midfielder. It’s difficult to say where Pereiro thrives more – his fantastic finishing and dribbling abilities make him a constant threat on the right flank, but his knack for controlling the ball and making superb final passes are great traits of an attacking midfielder.
In his national team debut, just a few weeks ago, Gastón Pereiro was positioned in the midfield. Though the 22-year-old likely won’t be starting any matches in the World Cup, he’s certainly talented enough to make a huge impact off the bench in an important match. Pereiro’s shadow-striker-esque tendencies evoke images of Davy Klaassen – arriving late to take a long shot at goal or play a killer ball past the defense. It would be a real shame if Gastón Pereiro didn’t manage to make an appearance in Russia next year.
For the first time since 2002, the Dutch national team will not be participating in the FIFA World Cup. It’s a real shame for some of the bright young talent currently lighting up the Eredivisie, but that’s not to say that there will be a lack of talent representing Holland’s top flight in Russia. Clearly, some of the most promising talents in some top national sides are under contract in the Eredivisie. We all hope that they will put on a great show and represent Holland in their own way, despite the fact that the actual nation did not qualify.
Which player do you think will make the biggest impact at Russia 2018? Leave a comment with your thoughts. Thank you for reading!
Player statistics provided by WhoScored and Transfermarkt.