Car washes, sleeping rough & military service – Asian players' journeys to the World Cup


Milan’s San Siro stadium, where Japan international Yuto Nagatomo proposed to his girlfriend

We already know about the superstars who could shine at the 2018 World Cup, but what about the lesser-known players and their backgrounds?

What about the goalkeeper who used to sleep rough while trying to establish his football career and worked at a car wash specialising in four-wheel drives because of his height?

Or the team with three players who will have to salute when the national anthem is played because they are on military service?

BBC Sport spotlights some of those at the World Cup you might not know too much about – starting with players from the five teams who have qualified from the Asian Football Confederation.

Alireza Beiranvand (Iran)

Alireza Beiranvand became the first Iranian to be nominated for an individual award at The Best Fifa Football Awards

Alireza Beiranvand is the most experienced of Iran’s three goalkeepers in Russia but it has not been an easy journey to the top for the 25-year-old.

Beiranvand slept rough earlier in his career whilst trying to establish himself.

At 6ft 4in tall, the keeper had several jobs to supplement his income, including working at a car wash where he specialised in cleaning four-wheel drives because of his height.

Beiranvand, born into a nomadic sheepherding family, also worked in a dressmaking factory and a pizza shop before making his breakthrough in football and now plays for Tehran-based club Persepolis.

He kept 11 clean sheets in 12 matches to help Iran, who are in Group B with Spain, Portugal and Morocco, qualify for a second successive World Cup.

Yuto Nagatomo (Japan)

Yuto Nagatomo helped Japan win the 2011 Asian Cup

Defender Yuto Nagatomo is well known on the international scene and is one of three players with at least 100 caps in Japan’s squad in Russia.

What is perhaps less known is that the left-back is married to Japanese actress Airi Taira and proposed in 2016 on the pitch at the San Siro while giving her a guided tour on a non-matchday.

Nagatomo, 31, was playing for Inter Milan at the time but has since been at Turkish side Galatasaray on loan.

He will be hoping Japan can go further than they managed in 2014, when they failed to advance past the group stage in Brazil.

Japan are in Group H with Poland, Senegal and Colombia.

Hong Chul, Kim Min-woo & Ju Se-jong (South Korea)

Hong Chul plays primarily as a left-back but can also play as a left winger

Standby for some interesting scenes when South Korea’s national anthem is played before their three Group F games in Russia.

Three of their players – defenders Hong Chul, Kim Min-woo and midfielder Ju Se-jong – will have to salute when the anthem is played as they are all on military service.

A player must carry out the compulsory duty before the age of 28 unless they have achieved success with the national team.

Se-jong, 27, is spending 2018 and 2019 on loan from FC Seoul at second-division national police side Asan Mugunghwa whilst he is carrying out mandatory national service.

Min-woo, 28, and Chul, 27, are both on loan at army-associated side Sangju Sangmu from Suwon Bluewings.

South Korea are in the same group as world champions Germany, Mexico and Sweden.

Abdullah Al-Khaibari (Saudi Arabia)

Abdullah Al-Khaibari is appearing at the World Cup 16 months after making his professional debut

It has been a whirlwind few months for midfielder Abdullah Al-Khaibari, who only made his professional debut in February 2017.

The 21-year-old plays in the Saudi Pro League for Riyadh-based club Al-Shabab, who employ former Everton players Kevin Sheedy and Mike Newell behind the scenes.

Sheedy, who famously scored for the Republic of Ireland against England at the 1990 World Cup, is a youth coach while Newell is director of football.

Saudi Arabia, who face Russia in the first match of the 2018 World Cup on Thursday, are also in the same group as Egypt and Uruguay.

Milos Degenek (Australia)

Milos Degenek (number two) represented Australia and Serbia at youth levels before making his senior debut for the Socceroos

As Serbians living in Croatia, Milos Degenek’s family were forced to flee to Belgrade, where they lived as refugees during the war in Kosovo.

“I was only young but I still saw things no person should see,” said the Australia defender, who arrived in Sydney in 2000 with “two bags of clothes and shoes and $400.”

Degenek, 24, then played for Australia’s Under-17s and represented Serbia’s Under-19s before pledging his allegiance to his adopted nation.

“I followed my heart and chose the Socceroos,” he added. “I want to repay the country that’s given me everything.”

Degenek plays his club football in Japan for Yokohama F-Marinos and played in nine of Australia’s qualifiers for Russia.

The Socceroos are in Group C with France, Peru and Denmark.

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