Whenever there is a big tournament, there will be up and coming starlets waiting to make a name for themselves on the international stage – and this summer will be no different.
Part of what I love about football is watching this happen – when it’s been something you have been expecting since some of these guys were discovered at club level.
Below are 10 that I expect to make an impact at this summers’ World Cup – in some cases these players are well known, but have yet to show what they can do on the big stage.
I’ll start with a couple of players from the hosts, Russia:
Alexandr Golovin (Russia, 22)
Golovin has long been seen as the saviour of Russian football, with Alan Dzagoev not getting any younger and has stagnated in Russia rather than move to bigger and better clubs in Europe. Golovin has it all – often used as a deep-lying playmaker for CSKA, but also possessing some key defensive traits necessary to play that role.
The weight of expectation was too heavy at Euro 2016, but with two years experience and some impressive performances in the Champions League – I think he will be ready.
Anton Miranchuk (Russia, 22)
Miranchuk has a twin brother – one who stole the limelight from an early age so that Anton has never had a look in at Lokomotiv. However, after his loan spell at Levadia Tallinn, where he scored 14 goals in 30 games – he took his chance this season with 4 goals and 5 assists (and countless excellent performances) as Lokomotiv won the title!
He might not be a starter – but given how Russia may struggle, he should get some playing time and for me should impose himself on the starting 11.
Maxi Gomez (Uruguay, 21)
Gomez got his move to Europe last summer, and has impressively taken his shot. 18 goals in 36 games for Celta Vigo – he has already drawn comparisons with his countryman, Luis Suarez. Standing at 6ft 1 inch – and starting his career so prosperously – you can see why!
He might not get too much time with Cavani and Suarez in the starting 11, but he should get a sub appearance or three.
Goncalo Guedes (Portugal, 21)
Guedes shocked many when he moved to PSG for around £25m, but then stagnated a little as he got very little playing time. However, a year-long loan spell at Valencia has shown what he is capable of. 5 goals and 9 assists in 33 games at Los Che, he has earned his Portugal call-up – and win 3 goals in 10 games for the senior side – he should be in or around the starting 11.
He has history with the national team, appearing in every category from Under 15’s to Under 21’s, and now the senior side. Future star!
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco, 25)
Now many will know of Ziyech – but I don’t think anyone will fully appreciate how good this guy is. He has been in Holland for years now – starting off in the Heerenveen youth setup. In 166 games in Holland, he has nearly 60 goals and 67 assists, and at 25 – he get’s his first chance at a World Cup!
Last season, 9 goals and 17 assists for Ajax – and that has earned him a move to Roma by the looks of things. The attacking midfielder possesses it all – the long shooting, pinpoint passing and stunning free kicks. If Morocco are to qualify, this will be the man to lead the charge!
Andrej Kramaric (Croatia, 26)
Another slightly older player included – but one worthy of a mention.
It’s come out recently that he stood up to jailed Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic, who pressured players into signing contracts that benefitted him to the tune of millions from transfer fees that should have gone to the club, not him.
A later developer due to being hampered by Mamic – he earned a move to Leicester but never really got a chance. However, since a move to Hoffenheim under Julien Naglesmann – he has prospered with 36 goals in 83 games – and offers something a little different to the ageing Mario Mandzukic.
With the likes of Perisic, Modric and Brozovic around him, I think he will prosper!
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia, 23)
As a Newcastle fan myself, I can tell you much about the talented Serbian. But since his move, through a mix of his temper and missed chances when it mattered – he finds himself on the verge of a move away from the North-East.
I like him – he’s nutty as a fruitcake but certainly deadly. His record is excellent, 12 in 17 at Fulham in the latter half of the 17/18 season – but thanks to earlier antics, getting sent off numerous times and missing a lot of chances in the season Newcastle were relegated – he will probably be off.
In terms of this summer – he is Serbia’s main man. A hat trick in a friendly the other day has grabbed the attention of many (and hiked his price up) – and should Serbia do as well as I think they will, Mitrovic will be a key part.
Keita-Balde Diao (Senegal, 23)
Once part of the famed Barcelona academy, Keita-Balde has had a good start to life outside of Barcelona. Lazio took him on, and he impressed greatly – scoring 16 in 31 league games before surprisingly departing to Monaco for nearly £30m. In his first season at Monaco, 8 goals in 23 games from the wing is a decent return, but on the international stage alongside Sadio Mane is where he could really hit the headlines this summer.
With blistering pace and an eye for goal, a good performance could see him reunited with Mane at Liverpool, or better still somewhere bigger!
Hirving Lozano (Mexico, 22)
Another who needs to control his temper – Hirving Lozano.
One season in at PSV, he bagged 19 goals and 8 assists in 34 games but was sent off twice. For Mexico – he is their prized star. Certainly someone who will cause Joshua Kimmich all sorts of problems – but he just has to learn to control his fiery temper!
Timo Werner (Germany, 22)
This is a potential Golden-Boot winner!
Werner, converted to a striker after his move to Leipzig from relegated-Stuttgart – has prospered since. 42 goals in 77 games for the Bundesliga’s big spenders, and 8 in 14 for the Germany senior team. Much like Guedes, he has featured in the U15’s, 16’s, 17’s, 19’s and 21’s – and now the main team.
He is a rarity for Germany – a striker with blistering pace! Looking back they’ve always struggled to produce them, usually playing with a big man, or a false 9 with the likes of Muller, Mario Gomez, Close, Podolski, Kiessling…all the way back to the likes of Oliver Neuville and Oliver Bierhoff!
With this added to Germany’s already-stacked array of talents, this could see them win the tournament once more and become the first team in…maybe ever – to retain the trophy!
This next month has a lot of promise, and the starlets above could provide the magic!