2018 World Cup: Top 10 Young Players To Watch
If you're El-Hadj Diouf, you'll know full well that the FIFA World Cup can be the perfect shop window for little-known talent. For the rest of the world, they could take a leaf out of the Senegalese forward's book. Of course, the world has changed a lot since 2002 and it has sure as hell got a lot smaller. As a result, the hidden gems and the wonderkids are fewer and further in between. But it wouldn't be the World Cup without a surprise or two in store and despite every casual football fan or Football Manager addict appearing to masquerade as a world scout, there is still a lot to learn about the top 10 youngsters that will grace Russia this summer.
Kylian Mbappe (FRA)
The Paris-Saint Germain forward is only 19-years-old and he has won the Ligue 1 title, scored 47 goals in his last 90 games and has been bought for €145 million plus €35 million in add-ons. Quite the record for someone who can't legally drink in the U.S. and his current teammate Neymar thinks he will go on to be the best player in the world: "He is already a top player, and he can become much better, because of his qualities and his game. If he continues in this way it is sure he will be the number one." Mbappe's frightening pace is one thing, but his def control and balance make him elite. Surrounded by an ultra-talented French team, he could set the World Cup on fire.
Marcus Rashford (ENG)
It's about time England had a player on this list, right? Manchester United's own Marcus Rashford is only 20-years-old, but the Mancunian has already become an important part of a huge club. Like Mbappe, Rashford's electric pace underpins his overall talents, but he has also shown himself to have vision and technique beyond his years. He also has a habit of scoring on his debuts with goals in his first Premier League game, Europa League game, Champions League game, League Cup game and on his full England international debut. Could he score in his first-ever World Cup game, too?
Ousmane Dembele (FRA)
If it wasn't enough that France had one wonderkid in Mbappe, how about Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele? The left-footed right winger started his career with Rennes in his native France before securing a move to Dortmund. In his one season in Germany, Dembele scored eight goals and recorded 18 assists - in addition to destroying England in a friendly - and that prompted Barca to €105 million on the 21-year-old in a bid to replace Neymar. Dembele's first season at the Nou Camp was hampered by injuries, but his searing pace and direct dribbling is a nightmare for any defender and his stats show he already has an end product, too.
Hirving Lozano (MEX)
The 22-year-old made a big name for himself in his homeland of Mexico playing for Pachuca where he won the CONCACAF version of the Champions League. A right-footed inverted winger, Lozano has become famed for his hammer right peg when cutting in from the left and is the kind of player that is fast with or without a ball. While some South Americans take their time adjusting to Europe, Lozano moved to PSV in Holland last summer and proceeded to net 19 goals en route to the Dutch title. It's only a matter of time before 'Chucky' secures himself a mega-money move to one of Europe's elite and Manchester City have long been considered his likely home.
Trent-Alexander Arnold (ENG)
The Liverpool full-back has been called up to England's senior squad for the first time for the World Cup and after catching the eye during his breakthrough season at Anfield, Three Lions fans are beginning to get excited. The 19-year-old has played for the Reds 32 times this season and has a date with Real Madrid in the Champions League final yet, but the confidence, pace and remarkable vision he plays with is ridiculous. His crossing and balls from deep make him, arguably, the best ball-playing full-back in England already and with Gareth Southgate looking to deploy wing backs in Russia with Kyle Walker in the back three, it could suit Alexander-Arnold down to the ground.
Breel Embolo (SWI)
When 6'1" Breel Embolo made his Switzerland debut shortly after his 18th birthday three years ago, all of Europe's top clubs formed a less than orderly queue to snap up the then-Basel forward, but it was German side Schalke who won the race. Since then, there have been some growing pains for the talented forward and he has only scored six goals in the past two seasons. Embolo is extremely powerful with great composure and technique on the ball, but he has been deployed deeper by club and country in recent years to make the most of his attributes. If Embolo can move from right wing to his normal spot up top, Switzerland can cause a surprise or two.
Kasper Dolberg (DEN)
The Ajax forward is another youngster on this list that has already caught the attention of Europe's true heavyweights, but a bit of a down season this term has stalled his stock somewhat. In two years with Ajax, the 20-year-old has scored 32 goals in 77 games, but 23 of those came last season. Standing just under 6'2", Dolberg has a fine mix of physical attributes mixed with good mobility and predatory instincts. Although he only has four caps and one goal to his name thus far, Russia could be the coming out party the Dane truly needs to capture the world's attention.
Youri Tielemans (BEL)
Youri Tielemans became the king of the long-range goals during his time with Anderlecht in his native Belgium and his goals seemed to litter Twitter last season. Since then, Monaco splashed around €25 million to help him stem their exodus and whilst not spectacular, the 21-year-old impressed in France. He scored 18 goals from midfield in his final season with Anderlecht, was chosen as the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year in 2017 and he is the youngest Belgian to play in the UEFA Champions League, making his debut in the competition at the age of 16 years and 148 days. Considering Belgium boss Roberto Martinez snubbed Radja Nainggolan from the World Cup squad to take him, you can see how highly he is valued.
Gabriel Jesus (BRA)
It's actually kind of crazy that Manchester City's goal machine is still only 21, isn't it? In 18 months with the Cityzens, Jesus has scored 24 goals in 53 games and lifted the Premier League title this season, seamlessly adapting to life in the physically demanding Premier League. Now, he leads the line for Brazil alongside the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho and already has nine goals in 15 caps. Jesus is an old-fashioned forward who is good at pretty much everything, but his movement and finishing instincts are second to none. With the supply line Brazil have behind him, he's bound to be in with a chance at the Golden Boot.
Marco Asensio (SPA)
When Real Madrid signed Marco Asensio from Mallorca in 2014 for €3.9 million, nobody could have expected the young Spaniard to blossom into one of the most exciting talents in the world a few short years later. Asensio has already won the La Liga title and the Champions League during his tenure at the Bernabeu and he tore up the Under-21 Championships last summer. Now, with Andreas Iniesta winding down his career, Asensio has the chance to assert himself on a Spanish side littered with stars that will go deep in the tournament. Asensio has a cannon of a left-foot and the ability to glide past players like they are not there. He'll get you off your seat when you watch him.
Alexsandr Golovin (RUS)
The home nation isn't the powerful force they represented just 10 years ago with a lot of their stalwarts now retired and precious few gems unearthing in the process. However, Alexsandr Golovin represents a glimmer of hope for the Russians and the likes of Arsenal and Paris-Saint German linked to the CSKA Moscow midfielder. At 21-years-old he already has 17 caps for his country and while the team has many industrious, physically strong players, Golovin is the bit of genius that can win them a game that they have missed for so long. The home fans will be dying to see him get on the ball and pull strings.