10 breakout World Cup stars to watch

Daniel Storey selects 10 young players who can propel their careers to the next level during the World Cup.

Rodrigo Bentancur (Uruguay)

 

Turns 21 during the tournament, but Bentancur has already won two league titles in Argentina, left Boca Juniors for Juventus, won a league and cup double during his first season in Italy and played over 100 senior matches. He’s not a certain starter in Russia, but Oscar Tabarez’s ageing team could do with a smattering of youth and vitality. In central midfield, Bentancur would offer both in spades.

Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)

Morocco are probably within their rights to feel the most hard done to by the World Cup draw, the reigning African champions in a group with European champions Portugal and resurgent Spain.

Hopes of causing an upset in Group B are fuelled by the brilliance of Ziyech. He’s Ajax’s best player, has been strongly linked with a move to Roma and is happiest shooting from anywhere. Even if Morocco’s stay is short, Ziyech will make sure it’s a good time.

Álvaro Odriozola (Spain)

When Dani Carvajal left the Champions League final in tears, we presumed that he would be out of the World Cup entirely. In fact the Real Madrid right-back is in Spain’s squad, but Carvajal’s recovery has given Real Sociedad defender Odriozola a chance to shine. Julen Lopetegui had demonstrated a willingness to try new names, and Odriozola might be the pick of this new bunch. New boss Fernando Hierro may opt to take a gamble on the youngster. A big intra-La Liga move to follow?

Pione Sisto (Denmark)

Scored twice for FC Midtjylland against Manchester United in the Europa League in 2016, a display that at least partly persuaded Celta Vigo to part with €5million in the summer of that same year.

Sisto is an out-and-out winger, one who is most comfortable when sprinting at a full-back (and usually getting past him). That makes him the perfect partner for the measured and deliciously creative Christian Eriksen. If Denmark can find a reliable centre-forward to take advantage of such service, they should pip Peru.

Dries Mertens (Belgium)

OK, Mertens is hardly a breakout player but he remains largely unheralded despite scoring an astonishing 46 Serie A goals in the last two seasons. Such is the lot of a second striker in an attack that also features Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. Mertens has been far less prolific for Belgium than Napoli - 13 goals in 68 caps - but he could be the perfect foil for Lukaku in Russia. At 31, this will probably be his last major international tournament. Anything less than semi-finals, given the talent in the squad, should be considered as a failure.

Timo Werner (Germany)

 

Germany’s recent results have been slightly underwhelming, but there’s still a perfectly reasonable argument to say that the reigning world champions are actually better in 2018 than when they won the tournament four years ago. That’s partly due to the emergence of a centre-forward to replace Miroslav Klose, who has been part of every Germany World Cup squad post-France ’98.

Werner has scored seven times in only 13 internationals having impressed for RB Leipzig, but just as important is the way in which he allows Thomas Muller to find space in between the lines behind him.

With a gentle route to the quarter-finals, Germany mean business again.

Corentin Tolisso (France)

Yes, just another young and brilliant French central midfielder. Tolisso earned a big-money move from Lyon to Bayern Munich last summer and has slotted into their central midfield beautifully. The ludicrously strong competition in France’s team means that Tolisso will have to wait for his chance - N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi make up the ‘3’ in Didier Deschamps’ 4-3-3 - but there are already rumours that Pogba’s place could be under threat. Expect Tolisso to take it all in his stride at the age of just 23.

Cristian Pavon (Argentina)

 

It will hardly come as much of a shock that Argentina are reliant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi, but their total dependence is a cause for embarrassment and panic. Messi will play behind Gonzalo Higuain (no international goal since 2016) and between Angel di Maria and perhaps Paulo Dybala, in Manuel Lanzini’s absence. Both of those like to drift infield, leaving Boca Juniors winger Pavon as the only natural winger in the squad. At 22, impressing in Russia is likely to lead to a move to Europe.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)

The player in demand at the moment. Manchester United are credited with serious interest in an attacking midfielder that can do the lot. Unfortunately, such is Milinkovic-Savic’s style that he demands a team being built around him. Until now, Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic has resisted the temptation to do exactly that, meaning a magnificent young talent is yet to play a competitive game for his country. That will surely change in Russia - this is the shop window.

Hirving Lozano (Mexico)

Twenty-five league goals and assists as a winger at the age of 22 is enough to excite anyone, even if it is necessary to insert the ‘in the Dutch league’ caveat. He’s lightning quick, loves hanging on the shoulder of the last defender to spark a counter-attack and already has 26 caps for his country. Mexico have reached the last-16 in each of the last six World Cups, and Lozano might be the difference-maker in that streak continuing. Having already been linked with a move to West Ham or Everton, expect the profile of those suitors to increase if things go well in Russia.


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