From established wonderkids to next-big-things, here are some of the top young talents to keep an eye on in Russia
I don’t know about you, but we’re pretty excited about this little thing called ‘The World Cup’.
For all the complaints about Russia as hosts, it remains the case that nothing really compares to a big summer tournament, and with Qatar 2022 potentially taking place at a different time of year this could be our last chance in a long time.
Fun fact if you want to feel incredibly old: This is the first World Cup to feature players who were born after the France 98 World Cup. As such there’s a lot of new talent that should be on your radar this summer.
If you want to feel like the smartest person in your office, it’s worth paying attention to the following names so you can point out some of the best young players (aged 23 and under) to keep an eye on in Russia this summer and beyond.
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Game to watch: Peru, 21 June
The breakout star of the 2016-17 Champions League, Mbappé will become the world’s most expensive teenager when his loan move to PSG is made permanent. He’s already shown himself not to be a one-season wonder, but might not have faced anything like the Peru defence in his career to date.
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Game to watch: Sweden, 27 June
Mexico and Sweden could end up facing a straight shoot-out for qualification, in a group which also contains reigning champions Germany and underdogs South Korea, and Lozano is just the latest homegrown talent to move from Liga MX to PSV. Only four players outscored him in last season’s Eredivisie, and more goals in Russia could see him attract interest from bigger leagues.
Club: Rubin Kazan
Game to watch: Morocco, 15 June
The ‘Iranian Messi’ forms part of an exciting front-line after narrowly missing out on a spot on the plane four years ago. With Spain and Portugal meeting in the first round of fixtures, the winner of Iran’s game against Morocco could stand a good chance of causing an upset.
Game to watch: Australia, 21 June
While some of the stars of Ajax’s Europa League final run moved on last summer, Dolberg stayed put and has been rewarded with a place in the Danish squad. Any forward being fed by Christian Eriksen ought to be in decent shape to make an impression – now he just needs to force his way onto the field of play.
Club: Schalke 04
Game to watch: Costa Rica, 27 June
Embolo was unfortunate to pick up an injury shortly after travelling to Euro 2016 as a teenager, and he’s had some catch-up work to do. However, the former Basel frontman now has a great chance to make an impression in what looks on paper like a competitive group.
Game to watch: Switzerland, 22 June
With Lazio narrowly missing out on Champions League football, Milinković-Savić could well treat this tournament as a shop window. Want to know how important he can be? Serbia switched managers after qualifying in an effort to fit him into their system.
Club: Leicester City
Important Game: Argentina, 26 June
Anyone who’s watched Leicester will know all about Ndidi, but he’s exactly the sort of player who can step up his game in pressure situations, helping the Foxes past Sevilla in the 2016-17 Champions League. If Nigeria still have their fate in their hands before the final group game, his box-to-box dynamism will be vital. And he’s still just 21.
Club: Boca Juniors
Game to watch: Iceland, 16 June
With West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini suffering a serious injury days away from the tournament, there’s a spot available for one of Argentina’s young talents. Pavón is one of just three outfielders in the squad still playing his club football in his homeland, but a good tournament could change that, with Arsenal among the clubs said to be sniffing around.
Club: AS Monaco
Game to watch: England, 28 June
It’s hard to believe Tielemans is still just 21, considering how long he has been linked with Europe’s elite, but the ¢25m midfielder is yet to flourish on the international stage. With Radja Nainggolan missing out for Belgium, he could end up being the man who makes Roberto Martínez’s team tick against England.
Game to watch: Uruguay, 15 June
Nicknamed after the man who won Euro 2000 for France, Trézéguet was one of the highest scorers in Turkey last season despite starting in a midfield role. He’ll need to be on form for the opener, especially if Mo Salah’s recovery from injury doesn’t go according to schedule.