There will be plenty of superstars competing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this month, but there will also be a lot of younger players that could introduce themselves to a global audience in a big way at the tournament. Before the World Cup kicks off on Thursday, Def Pen takes a look at 10 players that could potentially be breakout stars at this year’s tournament.
Gabriel Jesus, Brazil
A player who has long been touted as a star of the future, the likes of Real Madrid battled to bring Jesus to Europe, but Manchester City won the race and have been reaping the rewards since. He’s already scored 20 goals for his club and will be asked to play second fiddle to Neymar for Brazil, where he has scored 10 goals in 17 international appearances. He’s so good and so well-regarded that he’s keeping the more experienced Roberto Firmino out of Brazil’s starting lineup. He has a chance to do some real damage in Russia this summer.
Timo Werner, Germany
Germany is filled with stars, but Werner isn’t quite among them yet. That may not last long. Just 22, he’ll be relied upon to do a lot of scoring for the defending world champions, who are tipped by many to have a good shot at winning again. Thus far, Werner has not disappointed, having scored eight times in 14 games for his country, including three at last year’s Confederations Cup that put him firmly on the map. Propelling Germany to further World Cup glory would certainly do a lot for Werner’s resume.
Ismaïla Sarr, Senegal
Following in the footsteps of Ousmane Dembélé, Sarr could be the next up-and-comer to make the step from French side Rennes to a European juggernaut. The 20-year-old chose a move to Rennes over Barcelona last summer with his own development in mind, but may not be able to keep bigger clubs at bay much longer with a good tournament. Sarr, alongside Keita Baldé and M’Baye Niang, is among Senegal’s wealth of young attackers who will need to step up in assistance of Sadio Mané if the nation is to get out of the group stage.
Kylian Mbappe, France
Mbappe might now be the world’s second-most expensive player, but he was virtually unknown until a few years. The teenager had a breakout season for Monaco in 2015 before moving on to Paris Saint-Germain on loan with the option to make the move permanent for a record transfer fee. He has made a name for himself at PSG, scoring 21 goals in 46 appearances. But at 19, Mbappe is still young and has netted just four goals in 15 appearances for France. Fast, creative and deadly in front of goal, the forward could establish himself as one of the world’s best while starring for a France team looking to make a deep run in the World Cup.
Marco Asensio, Spain
Often on the outside of the starting 11 on a crowded and deep Real Madrid squad, Asensio is a talented young attacking player that has the opportunity to prove himself with Spain at the World Cup this year. It might the platform he needs to show that he’s ready to be Real Madrid’s next big star.
Hirving Lozano, Mexico
Lozano has made a name for himself with Mexico fans over the last few years with strong performances on both the international stage and for Mexican club Pachuca. But he gained recognition outside of Mexico over the last year after moving to Dutch side PSV and netting 17 goals in 34 appearances. The speedy winger will be a fixture on the left flank for Mexico at the World Cup and has the opportunity to be a breakout star in Russia.
Ousmane Dembele, France
When Barcelona pay $160 million for a 20-year-old (even more with add-ons), you better sit up and rub your eyes in disbelief. A flying attacker of dizzying pace and superb technique, expectations have been high but progress has been slow for the Frenchman at Barca, and rumors surround his future – but there is no doubting his skill. Like Asensio, his age is likely to prevent him from being a starter but don’t be surprised if you see something special.
Dele Alli, England
Alli has already announced his talent to the Premier League, with some truly inspiring performances for Tottenham. An all-action attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Alli also has a bit of the devil in him, making him a likely candidate for England’s traditional foolish red card. But if coach Gareth Southgate can keep his fire under control, Alli has the pace and technical ability to link with club teammate Harry Kane and ignite England’s somewhat subdued hopes in Russia.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Serbia
Milinkovic-Savic will not be unknown for long, as a big-money transfer to one of Europe’s biggest clubs — Manchester United is frequently cited as a favorite — looks inevitable this summer. First, though, he has a chance to lead Serbia in the World Cup. He’s a true box-to-box player with an eye for goal, having scored 14 times for Italian side Lazio during the club season. That said, he’s rather inexperienced at this level. He’s a somewhat new entrant to the Serbia side, having made just four appearances for his country heading into the World Cup. He’ll be expected to assert himself quickly.
Hakim Ziyech, Morocco
Another unheralded player from the Dutch league, Ziyech will probably be one of the most gifted passers at the World Cup. Creating goals and opportunities for teammates is his bread and butter, and he’ll be relied upon to orchestrate much of Morocco’s attacking threat. Ziyech is likely to leave club side Ajax this summer, and a big World Cup could come with a very big move if he plays to his potential, even though he’s in a tough group with Portugal and Spain.