Who are the young players looking to impress at the World Cup this summer?
Along with the established stars, there will be a number of youngsters hoping to catch the eye in Russia, including Timo Werner, Hirving Lozano, Goncalo Guedes, Piotr Zielinski and the ‘Persian Pogba’.
As part of our World Cup 100 series, we pick out 20 youngsters to look out for over the next few weeks…
Alvaro Odriozola (Spain)
It could be a big summer for the Real Sociedad right-back. He could be an unexpected starter for Spain at the World Cup after Dani Carvajal went off with an injury during the Champions League final. And he might also be joining Carvajal at Real Madrid, with reports suggesting the European champions are prepared to pay the 22-year-old’s £40m release clause. His summer has already started in impressive fashion as he scored a fine volley in a 1-1 friendly draw with Switzerland.
Amine Harit (Morocco)
Harit was named as the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season after an impressive debut campaign with Schalke, playing through the centre as an attacking midfielder. He made 31 Bundesliga appearances, scoring three goals and notching six assists, and only turns 21 three days before Morocco’s Group B opener against Iran. Harit won the European U19 Championship with France in 2016 but decided to play for Morocco, where his parents were born.
Saeid Ezatolahi (Iran)
The Russian-based midfielder has been labelled the ‘Persian Pogba’ and already has 25 caps to his name at the age of 21. He is the Iranian Pro League’s youngest-ever player, having made his debut aged 16 in 2012, and spent a year with Atletico Madrid in 2014/15. The 6’3″ midfielder will, though, miss Iran’s first World Cup game against Morocco due to suspension.
Benjamin Pavard (France)
One of only four Bundesliga players to play every minute of the 2017/18 season, Stuttgart’s Pavard has emerged as one of Europe’s most highly-rated young defenders. Both Arsenal and Tottenham have been linked with moves for Pavard, who is good in the air and with the ball at his feet. He is also versatile, having played at centre-back, right-back and even as a defensive midfielder. “[Lilian] Thuram played in central defence for his club and as a right-back for his country. Why shouldn’t I have a career like him?” he said earlier this year.
Timo Werner (Germany)
The RB Leipzig striker looks set to lead the line for Germany at the World Cup. Germany assistant Thomas Schneider has described Werner as having “crazy speed”, and he also has seven goals in his first 13 internationals. Playing among a creative cast at Leipzig, featuring Liverpool-bound Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg among others, Werner has excelled, with former Germany forward Gerald Asamoah saying of his qualities: “He’s a strong finisher, very fast, can get in behind defences and create spaces in deep-lying positions; Timo Werner is just very, very good.”
Daniel Arzani (Australia)
The Melbourne City, Iranian-born winger will be the youngest player at the World Cup. His rise to the World Cup has been remarkable, with just 16 starts in his professional career and his international debut coming in a recent friendly win over Czech Republic last week. He could provide the Socceroos with an X-factor from the bench, with no A-League player attempting or completing more dribbles than Arzani last season.
Kasper Dolberg (Denmark)
After a breakout season with Ajax in 2016/17 as they reached the Europa League final, Dolberg’s progress over the last year has been disrupted by injuries. However, the 20-year-old striker, who has been touted as a potential Tottenham target, could still play a role for Denmark, especially with Nicklas Bendtner not making the final squad due to injury.
Giovani Lo Celso (Argentina)
Could Lo Celso be the future for Argentina in midfield? The 22-year-old made 47 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions last season and was described as a “very important player” by manager Unai Emery in January. He has only won five caps but his range of passing and composure on the ball could give Argentina some much-needed balance in midfield.
Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
A reported Everton target, Lozano scored 17 goals and notched eight assists as PSV won the Eredivisie title last season. The 22-year-old winger is fast, direct and likes to run with the ball. He is likely to be a key attacking option for Mexico along with Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez.
Lee Seung-woo (South Korea)
Once-upon-a-time called the ‘Korean Messi’, Lee was signed by Barcelona at the age of 12. He impressed for Barca’s youth teams but his progress was hindered when the club was hit with a two-year ban over the “international transfer of minors”. The ban meant Lee could not play official matches for two years for Barcelona and he joined Hellas Verona in 2017. Barcelona still reportedly have the option to re-sign the winger until 2019.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Reportedly scouted recently by Jose Mourinho, 21-year-old Golovin is one of Russia’s brightest prospects. He started 26 of CSKA Moscow’s 30 league games last season and also impressed in the Europa League, where he scored against Lyon and Arsenal. CSKA team-mate Vasily Berezutsky has described Golovin as the “best young player in Russia at the moment” and he looks set to start in a midfield two or three for the hosts.
Fahad Mosaed Al-Muwallad (Saudi Arabia)
After impressing for Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, Al-Muwallad was one of nine Saudi players loaned to La Liga teams in January as part of a new initiative. He was given a big billing too, with Fernando Sanz – the director of La Liga in the Middle East and North Africa – saying: “I have not tracked the players, but I can say that one example of a very good player is the one who has joined Levante – he is the Cristiano [Ronaldo] or [Lionel] Messi of Saudi Arabia.” Al-Muwallad made just two substitute appearances for Levante, but, having scored the goal that secured Saudi Arabia’s place at the World Cup, he will be hoping to have much more of an impact in Russia.
Piotr Zielinski (Poland)
Better than Kevin De Bruyne? That is how the head of the Polish Football Federation has talked up Napoli midfielder Zielinski. “He will be the next De Bruyne? I think Zielinski already has more quality than De Bruyne,” Zbigniew Boniek said to Corriere dello Sport. “They are different kinds of players, of course, but they have the same ability to leave their mark on the team. I think that he will become a top player. He was 16, I went to see a Poland youth international match and thought: ‘This is an extraordinary player’.”
Keita Balde (Senegal)
Keita did not have the best debut season with Monaco, playing only 23 league games due to injuries, but the 23-year-old could be an important player for Senegal at the World Cup. He has largely been played on the left of midfield or wide in a 4-3-3 and has the pace and quality on the ball to cause defences problems.
Presnel Kimpembe (France)
The defender made his senior debut for PSG in 2014 but only became a regular under Unai Emery last season, when he started 27 Ligue 1 games. Former Chelsea, Arsenal and France defender William Gallas has described him as the “future of Les Bleus”. “In two years I see him as an indisputable starter in the French team,” he added. While this World Cup might come too soon for Kimpembe, he looks to have a bright future.
Julian Brandt (Germany)
The player who made the squad over Manchester City’s Leroy Sane. Why? “You have to look at the big picture so we have a variable and well-balanced team prepared for all eventualities,” said Germany boss Joachim Low. “It was a tight race between Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt. Both have big qualities, both are good in the one-on-one duels. Julian Brandt was at the Confederations Cup, had some strong games there, and put in good shifts in the training camp too. Leroy Sane is a huge talent, no doubt, and he will be back with the team in September.” Brandt scored 12 goals and made seven assists for Bayer Leverkusen last season.
Albert Gudmundsson (Iceland)
PSV’s Gudmundsson has football in his family. His mum and dad both played for Iceland’s national team and his great grandfather, also named Albert, played for Rangers, Arsenal and AC Milan. Gudmundsson only started once in the Eredivisie for champions PSV last season and is unlikely to be included in the Iceland starting XI. However, with three goals in four international games, the 20-year-old winger could play a role from the bench.
Goncalo Guedes (Portugal)
Guedes heads to the World Cup on the back of an impressive campaign on loan at Valencia from Paris Saint-Germain. There has also been talk that the attacking midfielder could head to the Premier League, with Wolves a reported destination. Guedes does look as though he could be on the move as PSG look to avoid FFP sanctions, and he will be looking to improve his stock with a strong showing in Russia.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)
A box-to-box midfielder at Lazio, Milinkovic-Savic has reportedly attracted interest from Manchester United and Juventus. He is strong, powerful and at 6’4″ he is an imposing and physical presence in the middle of the pitch. He has already tasted success at international level with Serbia as he was part of the sides that won the European Championship at U19 level in 2013 and the U20 World Cup in 2015. He looks set to be a key player for Serbia this summer.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (England)
A year ago it would have seemed unlikely that Alexander-Arnold would make the England squad, but after a remarkable season with Liverpool, which included starting in the Champions League final, he has been included. He made his international debut against Costa Rica last week and could be set for further action at the World Cup at right-back.