The next generation of superstars traditionally announces itself at the grand stage of the World Cup Finals. From Pele to Ronaldo, Maradona to Muller, elite footballing talent has a knack of making itself apparent at the Finals. Here are the (relatively) fresh faces to watch this year in Russia.
The best teenager playing the game, and perhaps the best since the Brazilian Ronaldo, Mbappe led AS Monaco to their first league title in 17 years in the 2016-17 season, earning him a starting place on the French national team and a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. As part of a deadly trio including Cavani and Neymar at Paris, Mbappe has continued to develop his allround game. Expect him to play a big role in a lethal French attacking line, alongside Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial.
The RB Leipzig striker has answered Germany’s prayers for a reliable finisher, following the retirement of the prolific Miroslav Klose. The 22-year old announced himself as an international prospect with three goals in the 2017 Confederations Cup, as he claimed the Golden Boot. At Liepzig, he has scored 63 goals in his first two seasons, quickly becoming one of Europe’s most-desired striking properties. Expect the young Werner to embarrass some teams with the help of stalwarts Muller and Ozil up front.
At 20, Gabriel Jesus is already Brazil’s preferred No 9, netting nine goals in 15 appearances for the Selecao so far. He has also claimed the starting striker role at Manchester City, displacing none other than Sergio Aguero for most of the season, and has been an integral part of their recordbreaking season, with 20 goals in 39 games. With Neymar Jr. and Willian expected to give Jesus company in a dynamic front three, the young striker could be in for a breakout goal tally.
Salah has turned from risky signing to a household name in one year, as he broke the record for Premier League goals in a season and claimed the Premier League Footballer of the Year award in his debut campaign with Liverpool. Leading a promising squad, Salah combines pace, decisiveness and dribbling ability, to create a complete attacking package. Expect him to not only net a few, but to also draw defenses away from his countrymen, allowing them space to score on their own.
All of 24, Kane is the only genuinely world-class player in the England squad, with 106 goals in 146 league appearances for Tottenham already. He has scored 20 goals in each of his last four seasons, establishing himself as one of the most soughtafter prospects in the world. For England, he has 12 goals in 23 appearances, and has the chance to add significantly to that tally as part of an attack. Watch out for deft link-up play with Raheem Sterling and Tottenham teammate Delle Alli.
On current form, the 26-year old Belgian is probably the best central midfielder in the game. The Manchester City man has dominated the Premier League this season, starring with imaginative creative play and powerful finishing from outside the box. Even though this is his second World Cup, after reaching the quarter-finals in 2014, De Bruyne now has his best chance at further honours, based on his current form and the quality of the players around him.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Captain of the 2016 Euro Cup winning national team, CR7 has set the standard for commitment, consistency and big-game mentality over the last decade, for both club and county. He has reversed his early season difficulties to find scintillating form this calendar year, driving Madrid to the Champions League Final.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Messi is probably the finest footballer to have laced up a pair of boots. While playing as the greatest creative force at FC Barcelona this season, he has still managed to outperform every striker in Europe. Argentina is heavily reliant on Messi, and he will probably drop back to take a deeper role than he does at the club level. While he brings his A-game to the national team, dragging them to several cup finals, he is yet to translate his killer instinct from Barcelona to the international stage.
Neymar Jr. (Brazil)
After his move from Barca to Paris SaintGermain, he showed everyone that he was capable of carrying a team on his own. Even Brazil plays better when he is on the field, and most attacks flow through him. Because of the focus in defense opposition teams will maintain for him, he may choose to play a more creative role, drawing players toward him to create space for his teammates.
Thomas Müller (Germany)
Mr World Cup himself. Still only 28, Muller has hammered 10 goals in 13 World Cup appearances, a remarkable return considering he plays behind the main striker. He has shrugged off injury concerns and hit his stride leading up the Finals. His ability to come good at key moments has not diminished, as evidenced by his stunning strike against Spain in the hotly contested friendly earlier this year.