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12 veteran stars over 30 who could make a big impact at the World Cup

Tim Cahill Australia World Cup

Paolo Guerrero (Peru, 34)

Paolo Guerrero Peru

Peru were handed a huge boost a fortnight ago when they discovered that veteran striker Guerrero’s hokey-cokey doping ban – which would have kept him out of the World Cup – had been lifted by a Swiss court. The Flamengo No.9 tested positive for cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine in October but pleaded his innocence after claiming it was contaminated in his Coca tea. Nevertheless, he was banned by FIFA for 12 months.

Guerrero's sentence was halved on appeal, only for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to extend it to 14 months. But now he will go the ball after the temporary lifting of his suspension – and that's fine news for Peru, who will be able to count on their all-time top goalscorer in Russia. He struck five goals in qualification, and will be a welcome option for boss Ricardo Gareca. 

Tim Cahill (Australia, 38)

At 38 (and-a-half, Adrian Mole fans), Cahill travels to Russia this summer as one of the World Cup’s oldest players. His contributions proved decisive in helping Australia qualify for this tournament, however, two goals against Syria in a vital play-off sending the Socceroos through to their intercontinental showdown against Honduras. 

Eleven goals in qualifying also made him the joint-fourth-highest scorer across the world (albeit in a fairly weak section), level with Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen and Iran’s Sardar Azmoun – and second only to Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski.

He's really only an impact substitute these days, but could become just the fourth player to score in four World Cups – joining Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose. 

Kari Arnason (Iceland, 35)

Arnason Iceland

England fans will know the 35-year-old all too well following his heroic performance against the Three Lions at Euro 2016. The 6ft 3in stopper not only kept Harry Kane & Co. in check for 90 minutes, but also produced a brilliant headed assist for defensive partner Ragnar Sigurdsson as Iceland dumped out Roy Hodgson's hapless side at the last-16 stage. 

Arnason actually has closer ties to Britain, though: he spent six of his career there between 2009 and 2015, across spells with Plymouth, Aberdeen and Rotherham. He re-joined Aberdeen last summer, but will play his football back home with Vikingur in 2018/19. 

The veteran was again instrumental as Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side stormed their way through qualification, contributing two goals along the way to help Iceland top Group I ahead of Croatia. He scored in his latest appearance for the Nordic nation, too: a 2-2 draw with Ghana. Hú! 

Andres Iniesta (Spain, 34)

International football will wave goodbye to one of its all-time greats when the 34-year-old Iniesta calls time after the tournament ("if nothing strange happens, this World Cup will be my last participation," he said in March). Fortunately, there's still one last opportunity to witness El Ilusionista in all his glory.

Spain’s most decorated footballer remains a staple of Julen Lopetegui’s side, and as testament to his enduring quality, will likely keep the hugely talented Saul Niguez and Marco Asensio out of La Roja's starting XI for the biggest games in Russia.

Iniesta is responsible for scoring his country’s most important goal; the injury-time strike which unlocked a scrappy 2010 World Cup Final against Holland and earned Spain their first-ever World Cup. There's still magic in those feet yet. 

John Obi Mikel (Nigeria, 31)

John Obi Mikel Nigeria

Mikel was perhaps unfairly maligned at Chelsea as a limited and unspectacular central midfielder. But things could have been very different for the Nigerian at Stamford Bridge.

Before joining the Blues in 2006, Mikel was considered one of Europe’s most promising box-to-box midfielders; a winner of the Silver Ball at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, where he and Nigeria were beaten in the final by a 17-year-old Lionel Messi. But Jose Mourinho redeployed Mikel in a deeper role in west London, where his more creative instincts were blunted.

The 31-year-old has managed to retain a more liberated role for much of his international career, however, regularly playing as a No.10 for the Super Eagles. Mikel has scored as many goals for his country (6) as he did in 374 appearances for Chelsea, including two in qualifying against Algeria and Cameroon. In a Nigeria squad lacking top-level experience, Mikel is vital. 

Roman Torres (Panama, 32)

Unless you’re an avid viewer of MLS or the Chilean Primera Division, you’re unlikely to recognise many of the men in Panama’s World Cup squad. You may, however, be a little more familiar with the unmistakable Torres. The centre-back became Panama’s “national hero” when he scored the goal against Costa Rica that earned his country their first ever World Cup finals appearance; a crashing late strike which sent a nation into pandemonium.

His face is now plastered across billboards and bus-stops all over the country, and October 11 – the day after his historic goal – was turned into a national holiday. Torres says he now feels like a “film star” in the Central American country of just over four million people.

He's more than a one-goal wonder, however: the 32-year-old is a vastly experienced defender who has earned 108 caps for his country and won the MLS Cup with Seattle Sounders in 2016. 

Rafael Marquez (Mexico, 39)

Rafa MArquez Mexico

A true Mexican icon, former Barcelona and Monaco star Marquez retired from domestic football earlier this year after over two decades – but will wait until after the summer to call time on his career altogether.

He turns 40 next February but remains an important member of Juan Carlos Osorio’s Mexico side, turning out at both centre-back and defensive midfield depending on requirements. Mexico strolled their way to Russia as winners of the CONCACAF qualifying group, and Marquez scored a memorable 89th-minute winner against the United States back in late 2016. 

It hasn't all been plain sailing for the elder statesman, mind: in August 2017 he was among 22 people arrested under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act for alleged ties to drug trafficking. The United States Treasury Department claimed that several of his businesses have acted as fronts for notorious criminal Flores Hernandez, and Marquez was put on a Specially Designated Nationals list. In defence, he pleaded innocence: “I clarify that I have not now or ever participated in any of the organisations that have been mentioned.”

Still, should he play as expected in Russia, the 39-year-old will join a very exclusive club: becoming only the third player in history to feature at five separate World Cup finals, joining compatriot Antonio Carbajal and Germany star/FourFourTwo columnist Lothar Matthaus. Marquez is also two appearances away from Diego Maradona’s record for the most World Cup appearances as captain (16).

Pepe, Jose Fonte, Bruno Alves (Portugal) 

Portugal are taking only three centre-backs with them to Russia this summer, with a combined age of 105. Pepe (35) is comfortably the best of the three still, and comes into this tournament off the back of a busy campaign at Besiktas; Jose Fonte (34) and Bruno Alves (36) are now at Dalian Yifang and Rangers respectively. 

And yet they, alongside the now-retired Ricardo Carvalho, were the key men as Portugal marched to European Championship glory in 2016, conceding only five goals throughout the whole tournament (three of which came in one game against Hungary).

Pepe, Fonte and Alves may be two years older in Russia, but they'll be leaning on their experience one more – a quality which proved to be extremely useful two years ago in France. 

Essam El-Hadary (Egypt, 45)

Essam El-Hadary

Egypt net-minder El-Hadary will become the oldest player ever to appear at a World Cup if he turns out for his country this summer. Colombia's Faryd Mondragon broke the record in 2014, but his 43 years and 3 days could pale in comparison if El-Hadary gets the nod against Uruguay in the opening game.

The 45-year-old was previously Egypt’s back-up shot-stopper, but following injury to No.1 Ahmed El-Shenawy back in April which ruled him out of the tournament, El-Hadary is now in line to start for Hector Cuper’s side in Russia – and as captain, too. 

The veteran keeper is older than three of the coaches at Russia 2018 but by no means a last resort for Egypt – he’s keeping much younger options out of the starting XI. With 158 caps and four Africa Cup of Nations titles under his belt, El-Hadary brings unprecedented experience to an Egypt side that will need a wise head guiding them through their first World Cup since 1990.

Javier Mascherano (Argentina, 34)

Earlier this year, some Argentine fans released a viral video calling for Mascherano to be dropped from the national side following some lacklustre performances in central defence during qualifying. The song, named Masche Ciao, followed the tune of a local pop song and featured the lyrics "do not summon him, Mascherano, do not summon him". 

However, since Argentina squeaked through to Russia, manager Jorge Sampaoli has thrust the 33-year-old back into his favoured position of holding midfield, where the ex-Liverpool and Barcelona enforcer looks much more at home. 

Mascherano’s range of passing from deep and tenacity in the middle of the park are qualities that have served his country extremely well over the past 15 years. El Jefecito ('the Little Boss') was instrumental as Argentina reached the World Cup final in 2014, and Albiceleste fans will be hoping he can prove them wrong and be so again this time around – perhaps even taking them one step further. A tall order, though. 

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