Five unknown youngsters set to shine at the World Cup

Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller, James Rodriguez; the FIFA World Cup often serves as a platform for the beautiful game’s most talented youngsters to shine, and this year’s iteration will be no different.

Dias, Lozano

Benfica's Ruben Dias (L) and Hirving Lozano of PSV Eindhoven Source: Getty Images

While fans and pundits alike have become well-acquainted with today’s standout young talents, such as Kylian Mbappe, Timo Werner and Gabriel Jesus, some hidden gems remain.

Here are five virtually unknown young players that could achieve household-name status in Russia:

Pione Sisto (Denmark)

Pione Sisto

If keeping Christian Eriksen in check at the World Cup wasn’t already a hard ask for the Socceroos, Pione Sisto’s presence poses an entirely different challenge.

The 23-year-old’s rapid rise with La Liga club Celta Vigo has seen Denmark coach Age Hareide reward the left-winger with numerous starting berths since 2017 – including in both legs of their qualifying play-off against the Republic of Ireland.

Sisto amassed five goals and 10 assists for Celta across all competitions this past season and will look to add to that tally when Denmark kick off their World Cup campaign against Peru on June 17.

With Premier League outfit Southampton reportedly weighing up an offer for the speedy and skillful flyer, an impressive campaign in Russia could see Sisto seal a deserved move away from the Balaidos.

Ruben Dias (Portugal)

If the emergence of then-18-year-old Renato Sanches at EURO 2016 wasn’t proof enough, the inclusion of Ruben Dias in Portugal’s 23-man squad once again reiterates Fernando Santos’ strong belief in youth.

With Pepe almost assured of a starting berth in Russia, 21-year-old Dias finds himself in a favourable battle with ageing veterans Bruno Alves and Jose Fonte for the other half of central defence.

Dias broke into Benfica’s first team at the start of the 2017-18 season and featured in 24 league games as the Eagles finished second in the Primeira Liga.

A tall and athletic centre-back, Dias could shine as the only uncapped member of Portugal’s squad for Russia and could see continued game time should the European champions progress further into the tournament.

Cristian Pavon (Argentina)

Cristian Pavon

While Mauro Icardi’s omission from Argentina’s final 23-man World Cup squad shows just how tough the competition for places really is, nobody bothered telling Cristian Pavon.

Since his appointment last June, coach Jorge Sampaoli has struggled to accommodate the likes of Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala alongside Lionel Messi, but it seems Pavon could be the answer.

The 22-year-old self-confessed Messi fan links up with the national team following a successful season with Argentine champions Boca Juniors, where he produced seven goals and 17 assists across 31 games.

With pace, power and confidence on the ball; the versatile winger will pose a serious threat off the bench in Russia as Sampaoli and co. aim to better their second-place finish of 2014.

Hirving Lozano (Mexico)

With 25 caps already to his name, Hirving Lozano is one of Mexico’s most important players.

After spending four seasons with Liga MX side Pachuca, the 2017-18 campaign saw the 22-year-old earn a move to Dutch giants, and newly crowned Eredivisie champions, PSV Eindhoven.

If a starring role in Pachuca’s CONCACAF Champions League triumph didn’t highlight Lozano’s quality last season, his goal-laden feats with PSV certainly did.

The winger produced a team-high 17 goals and 11 assists in 29 league games and appears primed to replicate such performances for his national team in a group that features defending World Cup champions Germany, South Korea and Sweden.

Despite Everton being favourites to land the youngster’s signature, and Valencia closely trailing, Lozano’s maiden World Cup may well see him sign for even stronger opposition.

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)

Aleksandr Golovin

A disappointing EURO 2016 campaign saw Russia appoint Stanislav Cherchesov in a bid to promote attacking football, and Aleksandr Golovin could soon reap the rewards.

At just 21 years of age, Golovin has already established himself on the international stage, having featured at the aforementioned Euros, as well as the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.

It is the central midfielder’s ability dribble past defenders, thread a pass and drop back in defence that have made him one of CSKA Moscow’s most prized assets, and one of Arsene Wenger’s last reported transfer targets before announcing his decision to step down as Arsenal manager last April.

Golovin – playing within a revamped Russian midfield, and a system suited to his strengths – could prove pivotal in propelling the hosts out of a World Cup group containing Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and into the knockouts for the first time since 1986.

Honourable Mentions

Nahitan Nandez

Club: Boca Juniors

Country: Uruguay

Renato Tapia

Club: Feyenoord

Country: Peru

Oghenekaro Etebo

Club: CD Feirense

Country: Nigeria

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4 min read
Published 5 June 2018 at 5:30pm
By Jonathan Bernard