The usual suspects will emerge as tournament favorites and superstars from the most reputable leagues will take center stage, but what about the young stars you haven’t heard of?
Let’s take a look at five young chaps who could be impressing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer – and who may probably move to a major European league in the aftermath.
- Date of birth: 28 October 1998 (age 19)
- Nation: Nigeria
- Club: Deportivo La Coruna
- Position: Goalkeeper
As the sole goalkeeper on this list, Francis Uzoho could well be Nigeria’s number one following the retirement of Vincent Enyeama and subsequent illness to Carl Ikeme. With just two senior starts for Deportivo La Coruna, Uzoho is a newcomer to men’s football despite being a regular starter for the ‘B’ team in Spain’s third tier.
Reportedly impressing manager Gernot Rohr with a clean sheet in a recent friendly against Poland, the shot-stopper is a rare example of a young goalkeeper playing with athleticism and confidence beyond his years. The aim for 19-year-old Uzoho should be staking a claim for regular starts at Deportivo – and with a long and no doubt successful career ahead of him, the sky is the limit for The Super Eagles newest recruit.
- Date of birth: 24 October 1997 (age 20)
- Nation: Mexico
- Club: Club América
- Position: Defender
6 ft 3 Álvarez has been a mainstay in central defense for his national team since making his debut for El Tricolor in early 2017. As a 19-year-old, the tall center-back was bestowed with the honor of becoming the youngest every Mexican player to score during a gold cup tournament, and he continues to offer a definitive aerial threat from set pieces for both club and country.
Ajax are reportedly long-term admirers of the Mexican and a standout tournament could attract the attention of yet more world football heavyweights. Blessed with a great footballing intelligence and the physical attributes to match, it seems only a matter of time before Álvarez joins former Liga MX stars Hirving Lozano and Marco Fabian at a top European side.
- Date of birth: 10 April 1998 (age 20)
- Nation: Russia
- Club: CSKA Moscow
- Position: Forward
In a league swamped by big-money foreign talent it can often be hard for domestic players to shine, however CSKA forward Fedor Chalov had somewhat of a breakout season during the 2017/18 campaign. Moscow born and bred, the young striker has never played for Russia at full international level and came as a surprise selection to Stanislav Cherchesov’s provisional world cup squad.
An admirable record of 12 goals in 35 league games places Chalov amongst the most lethal finishers in the Russian Premier League – nothing to be sniffed at considering the pedigree of players such as Quincy Promes and Jefferson Farfán. Leading the line for a new generation of Russian talent, the tricky forward could write himself in folklore should he fire the host nation to success in this year’s showpiece tournament.
- Date of birth: 23 August 1994 (age 23)
- Nation: Japan
- Club: Portimonense
- Position: Forward
The oldest player to appear in this list at 23 years old, Shoya Nakajima may be a name unfamiliar to your average football fan – but that’s bound to change. Currently playing in the Portuguese Premier League for newly promoted Portimonense, Nakajima is an agile goalscoring winger with a trick or two up his sleeve. Similarly to Fedor Chalov, the Japanese prodigy’s international experience is Iimited (One cap yielding one goal), however, he seems a likely contender to start for his home nation in Mordovia considering his red-hot form.
Ten goals in 28 appearances for the diminutive wide-man in 2017-18 has seen him draw admiring glances from Portuguese heavyweights FC Porto and Benfica, and a good tournament could see gain attention from further afield. Could Nakajima be the next great Asian talent to grace the Premier League? Only time will tell, but rest assured that whatever happens, the skillful attacker will be making waves in a top European league very soon.
- Date of birth: 10 May 1999 (age 19)
- Nation: Poland
- Club: Legia Warsaw
- Position: Midfielder
Having only just celebrated his 19th birthday, breaking into the first team at Legia Warsaw bodes well for the future of soon to be Polish international Sebastian Szymański. Making his debut in 2016, Szymański is a newcomer to full international football and having only made his debut for the Polish Under-21 national team in 2017, the midfielder’s progression has been impressive.
Having his first taste of Europa league football as an 18-year-old and counting Robert Lewandowski and Kamil Glik as teammates just one year later, the next year could hold even more promise for the playmaker. A future regular starter for his national side, Szymański could be the man to lead an aging Poland side to glory after a period of transition and uncertainty.