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 By John Duerden

World Cup bolters: Daniel Arzani, Lee Seung-woo, Steven Beitashour earn surprise call-ups

The ESPN panel in London are skeptical of Australia ahead of the World Cup with Bert van Marwijk's defensive mindset and an aging squad.
Ian Darke leads the ESPN panel in predicting the 2018 World Cup winner with names of Germany, Brazil, France and England among the list.

Three of Asia's five 2018 World Cup representatives chose to name preliminary squads on or before the May 14 deadline.

All three nations were forced to make tough decisions, with newly appointed coaches Bert van Marwijk and Shin Tae-yong particularly determined to make their mark on their respective squads.

Here are the three surprise inclusions in each of the early lists:

Australia: Daniel Arzani

Van Marwijk went down the unusual route of naming two preliminary squads. A week after Australia's initial 32-man was named, the Dutchman reduced it to 26 on Tuesday.

Daniel Arzani survived the first cut at least and may be about to make his international debut. The 19 year-old Melbourne City star hit form at the right time, coming to the fore in the second half of the just-finished A-League season. The creative midfielder has been exciting fans Down Under and could be a classic late bolter. It is no surprise that Iran boss Carlos Queiroz was also looking at the Iranian-born star named the 2017-18 A-League Young Footballer of the year -- Arzani offers unpredictability and something a little different.

Few would argue against such a selection, but the main talking point surrounding Australia's squad was the omission of Jamie Maclaren. The striker has been in fine form for Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League since joining the Edinburgh team on loan in January, scoring eight goals to help Hibs into fourth place. The 24 year-old made the first cut but not the second, starting a debate as to whether an in-form Maclaren -- who ended the season with a hat trick against Rangers -- should be staying home while 38-year-old veteran Tim Cahill, who has played little club football in 2018, gets to go.

None of that is the concern of Arzani, though. The teenager looks to have a bright future in the game and has an excellent chance of making the final 23-man squad. That would give Van Marwijk at least a little ammunition against the charge that he cares not about the future of Aussie football once the World Cup is over. Arzani could be around for some time to come.

South Korea: Lee Seung-woo

Calling up a previously uncapped player is always going to raise eyebrows, but Korea coach Shin has named three. Much more has been written and said about the inclusion of Lee Seung-woo than that of Oh Ban-suk and Moon Seon-min.

It has been expected for years that the 20-year-old would be appearing at World Cups, just not the 2018 version. The "Korean Messi" -- as he was once called -- has been making headlines since 2011 when he joined Barcelona as a teenager. It never quite happened for the forward with the spiky haircut and silky skills in Spain and last August, he moved east across the Mediterranean to join Hellas Verona in Italy.

He took time to make much of an impact in his first season but a first goal on May 6 against AC Milan showed what he is capable of: A spectacular volley from the edge of the area. In the end, it wasn't enough to stop the team slipping through the trapdoor to Serie B but it can't have done the player's confidence any harm.

As Shin said when unveiling his picks, as coach of the under-20 team at the 2017 U20 World Cup, he knows Lee's strengths and weaknesses well. Lee looked very good indeed in the group stage, scoring a delightful goal against Argentina, but was anonymous when the pressure was on in the second round against Portugal.

Yet Shin is right when he says that Lee's speed and dribbling can cause problems for defences such as Sweden's -- Korea's opening game opponents. It would be a surprise if Lee makes the pitch in Nizhny Novgorod but his career has already provided plenty.

Iran: Steven Beitashour

Steven Beitashour was included in Iran's squad for the 2014 World Cup, though did not actually make an appearance in Brazil. Since then, the right-back has not been called-up by Team Melli boss Carlos Queiroz. That is, until last Sunday.

Many thought that Sadegh Moharrami would get the nod after the 22-year-old impressed with Iranian champions Persepolis, but Queiroz opted to go with Beitashour.

Now 31, the Californian-born defender plays his football for new Major League Soccer franchise LAFC. Queiroz, however, was not the first international coach to call-up the energetic and hard-working full-back. That was Jurgen Klinsmann. In August 2012, Beitashour sat on the bench as the United States famously defeated Mexico 1-0 at the Azteca. Things could have been very different for the player if he had made the pitch but he remained eligible for Iran.

Queiroz took advantage in 2013 and Beitashour went to the World Cup. Since Brazil, he left Vancouver Whitecaps, had two seasons with Toronto FC and joined LAFC earlier in 2018. Now he is back in the national team fold, there is still work to do to make the final 23. Vouria Ghafouri of Tehran titans Esteghlal and Belgium-based Ramin Rezaeian would be ahead of Beitashour in the pecking order according to most fans, but you never know.

A very well-taken goal against FC Dallas earlier in May must have helped. It showed that Beitashour can still has the engine to get into offensive positions and the composure to make it count. The next step is to get on that plane to Russia.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.

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