World Cup veterans
The focus is often on young players ahead of a World Cup, with fans keen to identify those at the beginning of their careers who could take the tournament by storm.
It’s important to respect your elders, though, and there are also plenty of over-30s who could have a decisive impact in Russia. In this slideshow, we’ve picked out 12 of them…
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria, 31)
Before joining Chelsea 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 him 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 (six) as he did in 374 appearances for Chelsea, including two in qualifying against Algeria and Cameroon.
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.
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.
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.
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. Fortunately, there's still one last opportunity to witness ElIlusionista 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 LaRoja's starting XI for the biggest games in Russia. There’s still magic in those feet.
Paolo Guerrero (Peru, 34)
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.
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 great news for Peru, who will be able to count on their all-time top goalscorer in Russia.
Kari Arnason (Iceland, 35)
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.
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!
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).
Tim Cahill (Australia, 38)
At 38, 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 only outscored by Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski.
Rafael Marquez (Mexico, 39)
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 either centre-back or 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. Despite being arrested in 2017 for alleged ties to drug trafficking, he should get on the field in Russia.
Essam El-Hadary (Egypt, 45)
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.
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