By: Gregory Oldfield special to Florida Cup
Some of the best players in the world are coming to the Florida Cup this January. Representing all regions of the globe, the following players have found success in top leagues, played in World Cups, the Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, and captured the hearts of fans around the world. Here’s who to follow:
Tadić has transformed his career with a move to Amsterdam this summer following four years at Southampton, where under Ronald Koemen the club continued what Mauricio Pocchetino had started, playing the Europa League and competing for a top six position in the English Premier League. But in the latter years, with multiple coaching changes and departing players, Tadić’s form had been a reflection of the club’s downfall. Despite that, Tadić made 134 appearances for the club, scoring 20 goals, a total he nearly eclipsed in the first half with Ajax this season. After playing in the World Cup with Serbia, Tadić has rolled right into life at Ajax, scoring 10 goals in the Eredivisie and another 8 in the Champions League. Tadić has been the best player on the field in many of Ajax’s games, roaming from his position on the left wing to create numerous opportunities. In addition to scoring, he also leads the team with 11 assists.
Rebić has become sort of a legend at Eintracht Frankfurt in the past year with his two-goal performance in the DFB Pokal final, which brought Frankfurt their first major trophy in years. One of only a handful of Florida Cup participants to play in the past two World Cups, Rebić helped lead Croatia to the finals where they eventually ran out of energy in the 4-2 loss to France. Rebić, who had been on loan from Fiorentina, signed a new contract with Frankfurt this August and has been a part of one of Europe’s most dangerous attacks, scoring 5 goals and providing 2 assists in the Bundesliga. But it’s Rebić’s non-stop engine that has propelled Frankfurt this season, much like he did in the World Cup playing so many extra-time games. He’s fast, strong on the ball, and has the will and determination to compete against the world’s best. Rebić was a candidate for Bundesliga’s Player of the Month in November.
In ten seconds, Éverton showed his class when he received a ball outside the box against his former club Cruzeiro this past November. Running at his defender, Éverton dinked the ball through the defender’s legs with one touch and curled the ball into the top corner with the next. The goal earned the attacking midfielder the Serié A’s Goal of the Year in 2018, one of many awards Éverton has won during his career. He won Player of the Year honors with Cruzeiro in 2013 and 2014 before a three-year stay in UAE with Al Ahli where he won another championship in 2016. Éverton scored 6 goals and provided 6 assists this year in the Serié A with another two goals and 1 assist in the Copa Libertadores.
Diego Souza led São Paulo in scoring last season with 16 goals in all competitions after signing with the club last January. The striker led the Serié A in scoring in 2016 and was named Player of the Year in 2009 with Palmeiras. A three-time Serié A Team of the Year recipient, Souza spent a number of years throughout Brazil, playing for Sport, Cruzeiro, and Vasco da Gama among others and has also played for the Brazilian National Team, scoring twice against Australia in an international friendly in 2017.
Ziyech, the reigning Ajax and Dutch Footballer of the Year, hit the world stage during Morocco’s outstanding performance in the World Cup where they nearly knocked off Portugal and Spain in the group stage. This fall, despite battling injury, he still managed to secure Eredivisie’s Player of the Month for October and has scored three times in the two matches he’s played in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers. Ziyech has 12 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season for Ajax and has been one of Europe’s best on the right side attack, using his speed and dribbling ability to cut inside or shoot from distance with his left foot. He’s also scored a number of goals from free-kicks, adding to his building reputation as one of the most complete players in the world.
Sébastien Haller has been one of the most dangerous strikers in the Bundesliga this season. With 12 goals and 11 assists in both the Bundesliga and the Europa League, Haller has been a key player for Eintracht Frankfurt’s rise to the top three in the Bundesliga and their unbeaten performance in the Europa League group stage. The former Utrecht and Auxerre player was named a finalist for the Bundesliga’s Player of the Month in November, and with his combination of size, strength, and composure in the box, it will only be a matter of time before he is called into France’s National Team.
Renê is a forward who plays left back, much like Roberto Carlos or Cafu, spending ninety minutes up and down the wing pressing high into the opponents’ territory. Renê joined Flamengo in February 2017 from Sport Recife, where he made 110 appearances. In 2018, he was one of the best defenders in the Serié A, earning a spot in the Team of the Year at the end of the season. Renê had 2 goals and 5 assists but his athleticism in stopping opposing strikers and his endurance and skill in supporting the attack make him one of the more dynamic defenders in Brazil.
Nenê, the ageless creative midfielder, led São Paulo last year in matches played and brings experience and creativity to a side pushing for championships in 2019. Nenê spent time with Paulista, Gremio, and Santos early in his career before moving to Spain in 2003. He’s played throughout Europe for large clubs in Spain, France, and England, and spent a year in the Middle East. His best years were at Paris Saint-Germain where he scored 14 goals in the 2011-12 season and 25 goals in 2012-13 to lead PSG to the Ligue 1 title and automatic qualification to the Champions League. Nenê played with Vasco da Gama for three seasons before joining São Paulo in January 2018. Last season he scored 8 goals and added 5 assists for São Paulo and was the second-leading scorer of the team.
Tagliofico joined Ajax a year ago from Independiente where he captained the team to the 2017 Copa Sudamericana title. He made 28 appearances for the club at right back and has been a steady contributor, balancing youth with his experience. Tagliofico has scored 1 goal and added 3 assists in the Eredivisie but has been an attacking threat in the Champions League with two goals against AEK Athens in September and a vital late goal against Bayern Munich in the thrilling 3-3 draw in December. Tagliofico was recognized as the November Player of the Month in the Eredevisie. At the international level, he’s played 12 times for Argentina, including every match in the 2018 World Cup.
Kostić joined Eintracht Frankfurt on loan in August from Hamburger SV after the club were relegated to the Bundesliga 2 for the 2018-19 season. Kostić’s speed and skill have fit perfectly with Frankfurt’s style of play this season, and he’s scored 3 goals with 6 assists in all competitions this season. Two of those goals were during Frankfurt’s perfect Europa League campaign. Kostić has played 28 times for the Serbian National Team and played in all three group stage games in the 2018 World Cup. Before Hamburger, Kostić played with Stuttgart and Gronigen. He made his pro debut in 2010 with his boyhood club Radnički Kragujevac.
Diego is one of the more accomplished players at Florida Cup 2019. He made his debut with Santos at age 16 and spent two years playing alongside Robinho, Elano, and Alex, leading the side to two Serié A titles in the two and half years he was there. In 2004, Diego moved to Porto and spent his most formidable years in Germany with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg with a spell at Juventus in between. In 2009, he led Bremen to the UEFA Cup Final, but was unable to play due to yellow card accumulation. In 2012, while on loan with Atlético Madrid, he won the Europa League, scoring in their 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Diego played in 35 Champions League games and has been capped for Brazil 33 times. Diego joined Flamengo from Fenerbahçe in 2016, and last season he had 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions. Diego is a skilled attacking midfielder who controls the game but also plays with grit and passion, which made him so popular with fans in Europe.
Éverton joined São Paulo in April after spending the last four seasons with Flamengo and provided an instant jolt to the Tricolor attack with 6 goals and 8 assists. São Paulo benefited from the crafty midfielder’s experience and his ability to create opportunities from the left side of midfield. His amazing header was the only goal in a 1-0 win against his former team in July. Éverton, a product of Paraná, spent previous seasons with Tigres, Atlético Paranaense, Botafogo, and Korean-side Suwon Bluewings.
Huntelaar is known as “The Hunter” for his prolific goal-scoring ability. A former Ajax Player of the Year in 2016, he re-joined the club in 2017 after a distinguished career throughout Europe, including stops at PSV, Herenveen, Ajax, Real Madrid, and Milan. His strongest years were at Shalke where he became the club’s second highest scorer. In 2011, Huntelaar scored twice in a 5-0 win over MSV Duisburg to lead Shalke to the DFB-Pokal title. He scored 29 goals to lead all scorers in the 2011-12 Bundesliga season, earning Shalke a place in the Champions League. In 2018, Huntelaar has 13 goals in all competitions and 4 assists. A veteran of two World Cups, he has been capped 76 times for the Netherlands, scoring 42 goals in his international career.
Makoto Hasebe is a versatile midfielder and defender who’s been with Frankfurt since 2014 following a brief stint with Nuremburg. He began his career playing for Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds and earned J. League Player of the Year honors in 2004. He spent seven years with Wolfsburg, making 159 appearances and winning the Bundesliga in the 2008-09 season. Hasebe was honored in December as Asian Footballer of the Year after leading Japan to the Round of 16 in the World Cup where they lost to Belgium 3-2. A veteran of three World Cups, he has made 115 appearances for Japan and has been the captain since 2010. Hasebe has played 144 games for Frankfurt.
Salcedo arrived in Frankfurt on loan from Fiorentina in 2017 and helped anchor the defense in their historic run to the DFB Pokal victory in 2018. Before his travels to Europe, Salcedo spent time in the Guadalajara youth programs before a move to MLS’s Real Salt Lake. He was a prominent player in Mexico’s qualification through CONCACAF and played in every match at the World Cup, including Mexico’s thrilling defeat of Germany as well as their heartbreaking loss to Brazil. Known for his physicality and defending ability, his remarkable recovery from ankle surgery in August emphasized his hard work and dedication to returning to top form.
Vitinho joined Flamengo this past summer from CSKA Moscow and provided an instant jolt to the attack from the left side, scoring 3 goals with 5 assists in his 21 appearances. The dynamic winger was Flamengo’s most expensive transfer after concluding the Russian Premier League season in which he had 10 goals and 6 assists. In the 2017-18 season, Vitinho played every match for CSKA in the Champions League, scoring 2 goals with 1 assist in the Group Stage. He also played every match in the Europa League knockout rounds until CSKA lost to Arsenal in the quarterfinals last April. The Botafogo youth also featured for Brazil’s U-23 team.
PabloPablo, one of São Paulo’s newest signings, had an incredible 2018 season for Atlético Paranaense in which he scored 17 goals and added 5 assists in all competitions, with many of his goals coming in the second half of the season. Pablo was a centerpiece of the PR attack, leading them to the Copa Sudamericana title in 2018 where they defeated Junior FC in penalties. Pablo is a prototypical striker with size, strength, and skill who finds good spaces around the box. He is a clinical finisher capable of scoring from any position.
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