The underlings’ turn to shine

Age is just a number for these young talented stars. Russia 2018 will see a plethora of youngsters lining up to steal the sunshine from their more experienced brethren.

Teen genius: France's Kylian Mbappe is fast, has a bag of tricks, and is good with both feet.   -  AP

We’re only a month away before the focus of the football world turns to Russia. A lot of big names have missed the bus and for a few it could be a swansong. But there are a few youngsters who could take the world by surprise in this World Cup. Age may be just a number when talent is concerned. It stands true for this lot…

Kylian Mbappe [19, France]

Yes, he’s already established and has been the subject to numerous transfer rumours, but you cannot forget that Kylian Mbappe is just 19. The youngster has had two exceptional seasons with Monaco and then PSG, where he held his own in a team full of stars. The French national team isn’t going to be any different. While at Monaco, Mbappe broke two records held by Thierry Henry – becoming the club’s youngest ever debutant and also the youngest ever goalscorer. The kid is fast, has a bag of tricks and is good with both feet, but, most importantly, he’s intelligent. His maturity in picking out the right pass more often than not sets him apart. He will have a big role to play in France’s Russian quest.

Andreas Christensen [22, Denmark]

The fact that Christensen got his first U-21 Danish call up when he was just 17 says a lot about him. The youngster, a central defender, slots in effortlessly in different positions in defence and it’s his elegance on the ball that stands out. He has an impressive pass-completion rate, is accurate and precise with his interceptions and has been a key player at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea believes it finally has a man who can take over the mantle from club legend John Terry. Denmark has France, Australia and Peru in Group C and Christensen will have an important role in the underdogs’ charge to book a place in the knockout stages.

Wunderkid: Leipzig’s Timo Werner has twenty-goal for the second season in a row and will be a leading light for defending champion Germany.   -  AP


Timo Werner [22, Germany]

Timo Werner is fast, has oodles of energy, is wily and could really play a big part in Germany’s quest for a title defence. The RB Leipzig striker is coming off a 20-goal season for a second straight year and has everything going for him as the defending champions step into Russia. What’s special about Werner is his ability to make things happen with and without the ball. He’s always harrowing defenders with runs off their shoulders. Werner loves scoring, but I like his ability to create chances for those around him. Werner was called up for Germany’s Confederations Cup campaign in Russia last year and left with the Cup and the Golden Boot. He’s come a long way in a short time and just to remind you, it all started with a hat-trick on debut for the Germany U-15s.

Leander Dendoncker [23, Belgium]

Is Belgium the best team on paper? Probably, yes. But team sheets don’t win you games and Roberto Martinez will need every one of his players to turn up. Key among those would be young Leander Dendoncker. The defensive midfielder, who is the heart of all things at Anderlecht, could very well be the player to watch out for. He’s a fantastic passer of the ball, both on the wings and through the middle. More importantly, Dendoncker refuses to lose possession easily and his tall and strong frame helps the cause. His versatility means he can be drafted into the centre of defence or even as a fullback. Belgium don’t have issues in attack, but it’s the midfield that could do with some solidity. Both Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini aren’t consistent and Dendoncker could fix that problem.

Complete player: Gabriel Jesus is quick, uses both his feet effectively and doesn’t shy away from tackles in the air.   -  AP


Gabriel Jesus [21, Brazil]

Brazil needs a resurrection in Russia and who better than Jesus to lead it? He’s all of 21 but Jesus is already hailed as the complete striker. The Manchester City player is quick, asks for the ball, closes the opposition down with pace, uses both his feet effectively and doesn’t shy away from tackles in the air. What I fancy about Jesus is his work rate even in defence. He wants to do everything to help his team-mates win the ball back.

It isn’t easy when you’re coming on to do what Sergio Aguero does, but Jesus offered Guardiola that and maybe more in City’s triumphant run to the EPL title. Brazil has got more than just a point to prove. It has to make amends for 2014 and Jesus will definitely be central to that plan.

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