Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)
When Argentina came into this World Cup on the back of a 36-match unbeaten run, Enzo Fernandez, who had three international appearances under his belt, was a relatively unknown quantity and was not expected to be a key player.
But all that changed when the team struggled to connect defence to attack in the opening two games. While he scored a stunning goal in the win over Mexico, Enzo’s attributes were better served as the sitting midfielder in front of the defence.
His passing and ball progression allowed Argentina’s talisman Lionel Messi to cause havoc in the final third of the pitch. The 21-year-old started the last five games in Argentina’s run to the title and had the most successful passes (77) and tackles (10) in the final.
With the ‘Best Young Player’ award, the Benfica midfielder has thrust himself into the spotlight and will soon have suitors queuing up from among the best in Europe.
Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol has undoubtedly been one of the best revelations of the Qatar World Cup.
The 20-year-old left-footed centre-back of RB Leipzig caught everyone’s attention with his solid and no-nonsense approach to defending.
Playing every minute of his country’s World Cup campaign, Gvardiol was initially noticed, because of his facemask (as a precautionary measure for an injury). Come to the end of Croatia’s World Cup campaign, Gvardiol has stood out as one of the best youngsters in this World Cup.
In terms of statistics, Gvardiol has been impressive. He had 44 recoveries — a tournament-leading figure. He had eight interceptions and ranks second behind the Netherlands’ Jurrien Timber, who had 10.
Gvardiol is a balanced defender, evident in his efficiency in aerial and ground tackling. This, along with his excellent understanding of positioning, allowed him to anticipate attacking threats from the opposition.
He also scored in Croatia’s 2-1 win against Morocco in the third-place match, where he netted the first goal with a diving header, becoming his country’s youngest-ever World Cup scorer at 20 years and 328 days.
Aurelien Tchouameni (France)
Defending FIFA World Cup champion France faced several injury woes before the tournament began in Qatar, including the Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema. But Didier Deschamps’ most important task was to find replacements for its midfield maestros Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
This is where Real Madrid’s new recruit, Aurelien Tchouameni came in. The 22-year-old replaced Kante in the midfield and had started every match for Les Blues in the World Cup.
Against England, he decided to put his foot on the gas and struck a stunning long ranger to find the bottom-left corner, giving France the lead.
Up to the final, defensively, the midfielder had the most interceptions in the World Cup (12) — according to Opta — followed by Declan Rice (11) and Jurrien Timber (10).
France may have missed out on defending its crown after losing 2-4 to Argentina on penalties, but Tchouameni will be a testimony of France’s bright future and squad depth in the years to come.
Julian Alvarez (Argentina)
Julian Alvarez will probably tell his grandkids about 2022. Having already completed a headline transfer to Manchester City in the summer, the 22-year-old found a spot on Argentina’s squad to Qatar for the winter World Cup.
The ticket to Qatar, however, was only for a second-choice striker, a deputy to Lautaro Martinez. Lautaro was the go-to man for La Albiceleste. He was the senior and had been part of the Copa America triumph.
But Lionel Scaloni, adamant on refreshing the permutations with his lineups at the quadrennial event, gave Alvarez a start in the last group stage game against Poland. That was all Alvarez needed. He scored against Poland, then against Australia, then the Netherlands and another one against Croatia.
By the time the final beckoned Argentina, Alvarez had scored four and was contending for the Golden Boot. Though he could not extend his tally in the final against France, Alvarez proved an able deputy for Lionel Messi.
He not only forged a place in Argentina’s starting XI but also guided its progress with crucial goals. For his exploits at the World Cup — poise in finishing and ability to shoulder responsibility — Alvarez might just become a mainstay in the Blue and White colours.
Jude Bellingham (England)
In 2020, a lot of eyebrows went up when Birmingham City retired its No. 22 jersey worn by a 16-year-old, who was moving on to a German side.
“In such a remarkably short space of time, he has become an iconic figure at Blues, showing what can be achieved through talent, hard work and dedication,” the club said.
The teenager — Jude Bellingham — has gone on to prove his former club right with a stirring performance on the European stage for Borussia Dortmund and at the World Cup, as England’s youngest player in Qatar.
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With a goal in England’s 6-2 mauling of Iran in the group stage, he became the second-youngest scorer for his side in World Cups.
Despite crashing out to France in the quarterfinals, the English side had a lot of positives to take in, with the brightest being the performance of Bellingham.
Slotted in the midfield role, the 19-year-old was all enterprise as he went on to dominate the midfield for the Three Lions, with no player making more tackles and interceptions for England than Bellingham.
With Declan Rice, too, in its ranks, England has a young midfield platform to build its future sides upon.