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World Cup Player Profile: Giovani dos Santos

Giovani dos Santos was a key to Villarreal's success in 2013-14. Now he'll be a key man in the Mexico National Team as they seek to get out of a tough group.

Miguel Tovar

Giovani dos Santos looked like a sure bet for international stardom in 2007.  As an 18-year old, he played over 1200 minutes for Barcelona's first team, including ten starts, and scored a hat-trick in his last game for the club.  Perhaps unwisely, he forced a move overseas to Tottenham Hotspur.  I remember Villarreal playing Spurs in a friendly in the summer of 2010 where Gio looked great, but he hardly played for Tottenham, being loaned to various clubs before being sold to Mallorca in 2012.

At the national level, he has always done well for Mexico's national team.  But this is the first time he goes into a major international tournament on the back of outstanding club form.  His eleven goals for Villarreal were a personal high, and his linkup play with the Yellow Submarine's rotating cast of strikers (eight assists on the year) was a key element in their run to sixth place in La Liga and a Europa League spot.   Mexico's qualifying campaign has been a real roller-coaster; can Gio, at age 25, show the maturity and creativity to lead El Tri out of the group stage this time?   If he does, we can expect a number of suitors to be nosing round Vila-real after the World Cup.

Caps: 76, Goals: 14
Group A

Giovani dos Santos

Service for Mexico: 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup--Player of the Tournament.  2010 FIFA World Cup--Young Player of the Tournament runnerup.   Member of Mexico's U-23 side that won the 2012 Olympic Championship.  Played in Copa America, Confederations Cup.  And then there was this--the outstanding goal of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

What makes him interesting: When Gio joined Villarreal, he stated he wasn't primarily a goal scorer.  That's true--while he is an excellent finisher, his strength comes from his ability to find space and accelerate quickly with the ball into dangerous positions. (He averaged 1.5 "key passes" and 2 shots per match this season).   Against a high back line when he's trying to wait for the quick through pass, he can have problems staying on side, but when he can play in the space behind the front man, or even slightly behind an overlapping fullback on a counterattack, he's much more dangerous, with excellent lateral movement and dribbling skills.  A dangerous free-kick taker as well, and a very skilled player overall.

What to expect in Brazil:  Unlike Villarreal, who largely played a counterattacking style this season, Mexico tries to control possession.  However, Mexico don't have a lot of great passers in midfield (unlike Villarreal, with Cani and Bruno).  Andrés Guardado runs like crazy down the left, but tends to shoot wildly into the grandstand rather than create anything of real interest, so Gio's role may depend on Hector Herrera's abililty to control possession and make attacking passes.

Gio could stay fairly well forward, moving laterally to open up passing and shooting opportunities for himself and Peralta, or, if Mexico is struggling in midfield, expect him to drop back a bit more toward midfield so he can collect the ball from there and run at defenders.   Mexico also has a problem in that they tend to attack leftward from deep (Layun and Guardado), so expect Gio to be the main option to spread the attack toward the right.

Either way, he has always been a player with a great 'feel' for international play, and Mexico will need that if they are to advance.