Asensio to Sterling – who will shine brightest at the World Cup?

A host of youngsters will be traveling to Russia, but who among them could set the tournament on fire?

The World Cup for some younger players to steal the limelight on the global stage   -  AFP

The World Cup offers a chance not just for senior stars to reach the pinnacle of their career, but for some younger players to steal the limelight on the global stage.

The 2018 tournament will be no different. A host of youngsters will head to Russia, some of them bright talents with a point to prove, while others are already leading figures in their respective teams. But which of the World Cup's young guns will impress the most in these huge four weeks?

 

MARCO ASENSIO (SPAIN)

Marco Asensio scored Real Madrid's 6,000th LaLiga goal against Real Betis on February 18th, but that was just a footnote for his spectacular career so far.

A two-time Champions League-winner by the age of 22, Asensio has become increasingly important to Madrid in the last two years.

He made 32 La Liga appearances in 2017-18, scoring six goals and registering as many assists. He also created 52 chances for team-mates and completed nearly two thirds of his 52 attempted dribbles.

A winger with lightning pace, Asensio is undeniably a threat to defences when charging down the left or right flank, but forcing him infield and away from goal is hardly any safer. He scored four long-range goals in all competitions last season, more than any other Madrid player. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (12) scored more than his total of six during Zinedine Zidane's time in charge.

 

GABRIEL JESUS (BRAZIL)

It takes something special to keep Roberto Firmino out of a starting line-up, but that is just what Gabriel Jesus is doing.

The 21-year-old enjoyed a season to remember in 2017-18, spearheading Manchester City's attack as it claimed a spectacular Premier League and EFL Cup double.

The striker scored 13 goals in 29 top-flight appearances, with his 'Expected Goals' rating of 0.76 surpassing anyone else in the league, including Mohamed Salah. In other words, he was the most ruthless forward in the division.

It is that sort of clinical finishing – only Jamie Vardy had a better shot conversion rate last season out of Premier League players with more than 10 goals – that has seen Jesus become the likely starting number nine for Tite's Brazil in this years finals.

 

KYLIAN MBAPPE (FRANCE)

Kylian Mbappe will become the second most expensive player in history if Paris Saint-Germain finalise its €180million deal for him this year. It is an investment that already seems good value.

He scored 21 times last term, the most of any player under the age of 21 (level with Timo Werner) while also recording 16 assists. In fact, only Edinson Cavani, Florian Thauvin and Radamel Falcao have contributed to more goals in Ligue 1 in the last two seasons than Mbappe (44).

The forward is the youngest player in 40 seasons to reach 25 goals in France's top flight. He is also the only player under the age of 20 to have been involved in more than 11 goals across all of Europe's top five leagues in 2017-18.

Only three months ago, he became the youngest man to score at least two goals in a single France match since World War II. Those efforts came against Russia, no less. Teams across the country will be on alert when the World Cup gets underway.

 

RAHEEM STERLING (ENGLAND)

Often seen in the press for unfair reasons, Raheem Sterling can let his football do the talking when England start their campaign against Tunisia on June 18.

Arguably City's most improved performer in its record-breaking second season under Pep Guardiola, Sterling managed 18 goals and 11 assists in 33 league games, outstripping his previous best tallies by some distance (nine goals and four assists).

Those 29 goal involvements were bettered only by Harry Kane (32) and Mohamed Salah (42), and only four players with at least 10 goals or assists managed a better average than Sterling's one every 89.4 minutes.

Still a wing-wizard at heart, who created 55 chances and completed nearly half his 133 attempted dribbles last term, the 23-year-old will be crucial to any hopes England have of going far in the tournament.

 

LUCAS TORREIRA (URUGUAY)

The fact Lucas Torreira is the only player in our list who is not an attacker, or a player at one of Europe's top clubs, highlights just what a talent he is.

The Sampdoria man, who has been tipped for a big-money move before or after the tournament, is best known for stopping goals than scoring them. He managed 101 tackles in Serie A in 2017-18 (only two players had more), and he was joint-fifth for interceptions on 72.

That said, the 22-year-old boasts an accomplished creative mindset, too. A dangerous free-kick taker, he was in the top 10 for the most passes completed in Serie A last term and sharpened his eye in attack, too, with four goals and one assist. He did not manage a single one in either category the last season.

Uruguay will expect to get out of their group, not least with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in attack, but its hopes of bringing down more dangerous opponents in the knockouts could rest on Torreira.