With just under seven days until the World Cup officially kicks off, fans from all around the world have already begun their preparations for the biggest sports event in the world. While some are kicking down the hours by playing FIFA 18’s World Cup mode, others are making the most of their time by broadcasting their predictions and researching for hours every day for the “perfect” fantasy football team that they’ll care about for a few days before forgetting. Personally, I’m currently looking at which young footballers could take the tournament by storm, with the following article looking at the five under-23 players you should look out for, this summer.
5) Hirving Lozano | Nation: Mexico | Position: Winger | Age: 22
To kick off the list, PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano is one of the many players to keep an eye out for in the World Cup, this summer. The versatile Mexican is without a doubt one of the brightest prospects in the country and it’s plausible that some good performances in Russia could earn him a move to one of Europe’s top clubs.
In his debut season for PSV, the 22-year-old has been one of the standout players in the Eredivisie and has played a pivotal role in his team’s success in the league, where they lift the title for the first time since the 2015/16 season. Lozano contributed heavily in front of goal, scoring on 17 occasions whilst also producing a further 11 assists.
Throughout the season, Lozano has operated in a variety of roles in the final third that can be of great benefit to Mexico in the summer. While typically playing on either flank, PSV manager Phillip Cocu has also tested the Mexican in a more central role in the attack.
The 22-year-old will be one of Mexico’s best players, this summer. He’s a very tricky player who loves to cut inside and his speed and dribbling will pile on even more pressure for the opposition. If the proclaimed “Chucky” can replicate his numbers in front of goal like he has done with PSV Eindhoven, I’d expect him to be a stand-out player at the World Cup with a big move ahead of him.
4) Trent Alexander-Arnold | Nation: England | Position: Right Back | Age: 19
For the first time in a while, I’m very excited about the squad Gareth Southgate has chosen for the World Cup and how the players could fare. While I disagree with a few of the picks, there’s a solid balance between experience and excitement within the team. In regards to the younger players that have been announced for the squad, the one I am looking forward to seeing the most is Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The Liverpool-born defender is one of the most exciting players in his position currently and has enjoyed a successful season for Liverpool, where he featured more regularly for the first-team. His performances against Manchester City and Real Madrid have been some of his best across the season and are a perfect indication of what direction he’s heading in.
It has been revealed that he will make his senior debut for England tonight against Costa Rica in a friendly match, where he’ll be looking to make a good impression to increase his chances of playing at the tournament.
With the England manager typically deploying a three-at-the-back system with Kyle Walker operating as a centre-back on the right, Alexander-Arnold has a great chance to play regularly for the Three Lions and only faces competition against Kieran Tripper for the right wing-back spot.
3) Alex Iwobi | Nation: Nigeria | Position: Winger/Midfielder | Age: 22
In terms of Arsenal-related players going to the World Cup, the one player I’m most excited in watching is the versatile Nigerian Alex Iwobi. Overall, the 22-year-old hasn’t had the most successful season at the North London club but has still delivered some promising performances for the club. (against Chelsea at the start of the season to name an example).
The 22-year-old scored the crucial goal against Zambia, last year, to send Nigeria to the World Cup and is without-a-doubt one of his countries best players going into the tournament in Russia.
With Arsenal recently appointing Unai Emery as their new manager, it’ll be intriguing to see whether this has any impact on Iwobi during the tournament as he has a fantastic chance to show the Basque-Spaniard why he should be in his plans for the upcoming league season.
For the Gunners, Iwobi has played on both flanks in attack and has also played as a third/attacking midfielder on occassion. This versatility can be of great benefit for the Super Eagles, as Iwobi can contribute both out wide and more centrally in games if necessary. While he has played out wide more often in friendlies, I’m not sure if this is the position Iwobi should play in during the World Cup to get the most out of him and also his teammates.
2) Luka Jovic | Nation: Serbia | Position: Forward | Age: 20
As of writing, you could argue that Serbia is on the cusp of a golden generation with nine under-23 players featuring for the Eagles this summer. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Predrag Rajkovic, Andrija Zivkovic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Nemanja Radonjic, Milos Veljkovic, Marko Grujic, Nikola Milenkovic, and Luka Jovic are the young players boarding the plane to Russia this summer.
Out of all of the aforementioned players, Eintracht Frankfurt’s exciting forward, Luka Jovic, is the player I am excited about watching this World Cup.
The 20-year-old has been at the German club for just under a year after joining from SL Benfica on a two-year loan deal. Since his arrival, the young forward has improved his overall game at the club and has also matured significantly as a person. For a majority of the season, the forward has been used as a squad option but towards the end of the season played more of a crucial role at the club.
After scoring four goals in five games between March and April, Frankfurt manager Niko Kovac allowed Jovic to play in the crucial DFB-Pokal semi-final against Schalke. The forward made the most of his opportunity and scored a fantastic spinning-heel goal in the 75th minute that would eventually send the club to the final against Bayern Munich.
While the Serbian didn’t feature in the final against the German giants, the 20-year-old still deserves applause for his performance against Schalke and firing the club to the final, where they would eventually lift their first piece of silverware since being promoted to the Bundesliga in the 1997-98 season.
Despite his squad option role under Kovac, the forward still managed to score eight goals in the 22 appearances he made across the entire Bundesliga season, averaging a goal every 116 minutes. While I’d expect the more experienced Aleksandar Mitrovic to lead the line for the Eagles in a majority of fixtures this summer, Jovic is a great option to have and has shown he can make an impact when brought on later in the game.
1) Rodrigo Bentancur | Nation: Uruguay | Position: Midfielder | Age: 20
Last but not least, out of the 736 players that will feature in the World Cup, the one player I’m hoping will stand out amongst the rest is Juventus’ exciting midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. The 20-year-old is one of the youngest players to travel to Russia for the tournament and is the youngest player within Oscar Tabarez’s 23-man squad.
The midfielder has made a good impression on the Bianconeri this season but hasn’t been able to play consistently as a result of the fierce competition at the club amongst the midfielders. However, while he has been able to appear in 20 league matches across the season, a majority of these have come from brief cameos off the bench.
Considering the fact that Bentancur is likely to get consistent game-time for his country, this summer, he has the perfect opportunity to show his manager, Massimiliano Allegri, why he should be playing more often for Juventus. Assuming he starts, it’ll be interesting to see who the 20-year-old plays with, in midfield, during the tournament.
Bentancur is the type of player that can work very well in a variety of different systems with the right coaching. For Uruguay, this will be a massive benefit as the 20-year-old can perform well regardless of the system Tabarez chooses to implement. Along with his versatility, the midfielder has a good passing range, is confident on the ball on both feet, and has a good engine.