The World Cup, since its inception, has always been a platform where several young players have announced themselves on the global stage.
From Pele for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup to Kylian Mbappe for France in 2018, the quadrennial tournament has always produced young heroes who step up for their teams at the grandest stage.
With the 2022 edition set to conclude in Qatar, here is a look at five young players who made their mark in this World Cup.
Aurelien Tchouameni (France)
In the plethora of talented players France has at its disposal, midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni has been a revelation for Les Bleus in the Qatar World Cup.
The 22-year-old midfielder, who plays for Real Madrid, was anticipated to be one of the most exciting youngsters to watch out for in this World Cup, along with his Madrid teammate, Eduardo Camavinga.
With the absence of France’s midfield stalwarts, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, due to injury, Tchouameni came into the tournament with a fair bit of attention. It is fair to say that the youngster has coped with the attention fairly well.
Tchouameni has a solid presence in France’s midfield. He has been adept in controlling proceedings and has been a crucial reason behind cutting out opposition attacks in the bud. He has created six chances from open play till now. In the defensive phase, he has 35 recoveries to his name, which speak volumes about this work rate.
He scored his first and only goal of the tournament in the quarterfinal tie against England - a brilliant long-ranger that beat keeper Jordan Pickford comprehensively.
It is safe to say that France has a gem in its hands, and Tchouameni will have a vital role to play in the Les Bleus midfield for many years to come. His immediate attention would be Sunday’s final, where he would need to be at his best to help France defend its title against Argentina.
Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Croatia’s 20-year-old centre-back Josko Gvardiol played every minute of his country’s World Cup campaign in Qatar. Starting as the player who was noticed for the mask he was wearing on his face (as a precautionary measure for an injury he suffered while playing for RB Leipzig against SC Freiburg), he left the World Cup as one of the best players in the tournament.
Gvardiol’s towering presence in the heart of Croatia’s defence was a major reason why the Vatreni conceded just three times in five matches.
The left-footed ranks third in the tournament in terms of most clearances (46). Gvardiol is a no-nonsense defender who does not shy away from tackles. He has been equally adept in winning balls in the air and on the ground. Apart from his defensive solidity, what makes Gvardiol such an asset is his excellent understanding of positioning, which is crucial in anticipating attacking threats from the opposition. Gvardiol can also be an attacking threat as he possesses the ability to find the forward line with long balls from defence.
Gvardiol’s World Cup campaign concluded with a 3-0 defeat against Argentina in the semifinals.
Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)
The 21-year-old Enzo Fernandez has been one of Argentina’s most crucial players on its road to the World Cup final.
The Benfica midfielder did not start Argentina’s opening game against Saudi Arabia, where La Albiceleste lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets.
However, head coach Lionel Scaloni started him against Argentina’s second group match against Mexico, and he has not looked back since. He announced himself in style, scoring his first World Cup goal against Mexico with a wonderful finesse shot to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Fernandez has been mainly playing the role of an anchor in midfield for Scaloni’s team. His presence upgrades Argentina’s transition play from defence to attack. His vision and game-reading abilities have also proved to be useful for his nation in this World Cup.
One of Fernandez’s biggest assets is his mentality. Despite conceding a late own goal against Australia, he soldiered on to help his team maintain the lead. He also put in, a brilliant shift in Argentina’s semifinal match against Croatia.
Apart from his goal, he also assisted Julian Alvarez in the group stage match against Poland, which Argentina won 2-0, securing qualification for the knockouts. He has created five chances for his team till now and has 28 recoveries to his name.
He is most likely to feature for Argentina in the World Cup final match against France on Sunday.
Jude Bellingham (England)
After making countless records at the club level, English youngster Jude Bellingham etched his name in the record books for England after becoming the second youngest scorer for his country at a World Cup - he scored in England’s 6-2 win against Iran in the group stages. In the Round of 16 match against Senegal, he became the first teenager to assist in the knockout stages of a World Cup since the active collection of data.
The 19-year-old midfielder, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, is one of the hottest prospects in global football right now. His vision, skill on the ball and technical aptitude for the game is very rare for someone at such a tender age. Despite being in the early stages of his career, it is Bellingham’s mature approach to the game that makes Bellingham such a special talent.
Apart from his one goal and assist each, Bellingham created five chances throughout the campaign. Bellingham however, is not just an attacking threat. He has 31 recoveries to his name, which is impressive, to say the least.
Bellingham’s World Cup campaign ended after England’s 2-1 loss to France in the quarterfinal.
Jamal Musiala (Germany)
Germany had a World Cup to forget as it failed to qualify for the knockouts for a second-successive edition. However, in a World Cup of mostly negatives for Germany, Jamal Musiala stands out as one of the good things to have happened for the four-time world champion.
The 19-year-old midfielder, who plays for Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich, caught everyone’s attention with his football at the Qatar World Cup.
Musiala was hyped to be one of the best young midfielders in the world ahead of the World Cup and was compared to the likes of Bellingham, Pedri and Gavi ahead of the World Cup. But, the youngster marked his individual identity with his creativity and skill in the German midfield.
Musiala created eight chances for Germany throughout the campaign. He could not score a goal but provided an important assist to Niclas Fullkrug, who scored in the 83rd minute against Spain to equalise for Germany. At the time, a point was crucial for Germany’s hopes of staying in the World Cup, which eventually ended despite securing a 4-2 win against Costa Rica in its last group match.
Musiala is an impressive dribbler of the ball, with a penchant for finding that killer pass in the final third that splits open the opponent’s defence. Unfortunately for him and Germany, the forward line was not impressive in this World Cup. There are aspects of Musiala’s game that need improving, like his decision-making for example, but he has ample time to sharpen his skill set.