Suman Chakravorty: The FIFA World Cup 2018 will as usual be an event which will produce the future superstars of world football. Here goes the top youngsters, who www.xtratime.in believes have the quality to steal the show in Russia.
Marco Asensio, 22, Spain
The attacking midfielder of Real Madrid is one of the many youngsters that have a chance to be the face of the Spanish national team for years to come. Asensio can be used on both flanks, but for Spain’s U-21 team, he found himself deployed on the left side of the attack with the green light to roam and search for space in other parts of the field so that he can test the keeper from deep.
Timo Werner, 22, Germany
The Red Bull Leipzig forward is well ahead of his time and is rapidly developing as one of the most prolific German scorers. Werner made his international debut in March of 2017 and is part of the new wave of fresh, young talent for Germany. He was one of three German players (Leon Goretzka and Lars Stindl) to finish as top goalscorers during last year’s Confederations Cup. He is coming of a 34-goal campaign for RB Leipzig, including debuting in the European stage, scoring three goals in six Champions League appearances. Werner already has seven goals in 12 national team appearances. Look for coach Joachim Low to slot the youngster up top, with Leroy Sane on the left wing, Mesut Ozil at center mid and Thomas Muller on the right. Werner should have plenty of goal-scoring chances behind a healthy mix of seasoned veterans and young up-and-comers on the roster, especially if Germany reaches the World Cup final, as many expect.
Paulo Dybala, 25, Argentina
Lionel Messi deserves all the praise in the world for his accomplishments, and if this list wasn’t limited to under-the-radar names he’d obviously be featured. The World Cup title is the missing piece of the puzzle for Messi, and the young Juventus forward could be the one to form a dynamic tandem to help lead Argentina to glory. Wouldn’t that be something? The problem is they play the same position, which makes it difficult for two to feature together regularly on the national team. Even when Messi wasn’t fit to play in friendlies against Italy and Spain in late March, Dybala was not called up. In mid-May, Dybala was included in the provisional World Cup roster. It will be up to Jorge Sampaoli to unlock Dybala’s potential and a lineup that features his two best players this summer. If that happens, we may see Dybala score his first career international goal in Russia.
Bernardo Silva, 23, Portugal
You’re obviously going to have your eyeballs glued to Cristiano Ronaldo every time Portugal plays this summer in Russia, but don’t sleep on the young Manchester City midfielder. It’ll be Silva who will be in charge of softening the load with his fancy footwork and dishing out great left-footed passes for Ronaldo.
Silva played an important role on Portugal’s second-place finish in the U-21 Euros in 2015 where he was named in the starting 11 of the tourney. He’s been on and off the senior squad since 2015, scoring just twice in 23 appearances. Silva has the upside of eventually becoming a traditional No. 10, but under manager Fernando Santos, he’ll likely be slotted as the right midfielder in a 4-4-2 or on any side up in the front three under a different formation. Silva has worked under Pep Guardiola at City, one of the greatest Premier League sides we’ve ever seen, which has made him a better player and that can rub off on his Portuguese colleagues.
Gabriel Jesus, 21, Brazil
Brazil manager Tite declared Gabriel Jesus the front-runner for the starting job over Firmino heading into training camp for the World Cup. Not to mention, Firmino will be a little busy with Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Kiev in late May. Jesus has been a lethal presence, potentially a talent who can carry the torch of the legendary center-forwards of the football-crazy nation. He played incredibly well for Man City in whatever chances he got under Guardiola and will be a force to reckon with in Russia.
Dele Alli, 22, England
The Tottenham midfielder was not featured in England’s two friendlies back in late March, and although he’s a strong contender to start in the World Cup, there are whispers that he could start the tournament on the bench. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if the 22-year-old youngster gets leaves his mark as a super sub early on and eventually forces his way back into the starting lineup to help England climb out of a tricky group that features group favorites Belgium, Tunisia and first-time participants Panama. It will be interesting to see how Alli will fit in Gareth Southgate’s picture. My guess is that it’ll depend on how effective Jesse Lingard can be in the attacking third, and if that’s the case, then I like my chances with Alli.
Sadio Mane, 26, Senegal
The Liverpool forward has the potential of powering the Lions of Teranga into the knockout stage if he catches fire the way he does on a consistent basis for his club. He’s coming off an exceptional club campaign where he formed one of the most dangerous scoring tridents since the days of Messi, Suarez and Neymar at Barcelona. Together with Roberto Firmino and the incredible Mohamed Salah, the three attackers teamed up for 57 goals and 32 assists, with the Senegalese involved in 17 goals (seven assists and 10 goals). Manager Aliou Cisse will slot the speedster on the left wing, with Diafra Sakho up top and M’Baye Niang on the right. Look for Mane to control the pace and cause chaos to the back lines of Japan, Colombia and Poland. If he can take over and find the net in the opener against Poland — the highest-ranked team in the group, according to FIFA — and set the tempo right off the bat in Russia, don’t be surprised with Senegal makes a surprise run into the knockout stage.