Some of the greatest moments in World Cup history have come from the breakout stars. They’re the youngsters who dare to dream, who grab the moment, and produce a moment of absolute magic on the biggest stage of all.
Pele did it, Michael Owen did it and somebody will grab the world’s attention this time around, too. So who should you look out for?
1. Kylian Mbappe
Calling Mbappe breakout star might seem strange. He is one of the world’s most expensive footballers after PSG snapped him up from Monaco. But he is still just 19. This is his first World Cup and he finally gets to lead the line for France.
At PSG, he plays with Neymar and Cavani, and he still electrifies the crowd. Given the freedom to boss the front line, with his ridiculous pace and sublime control, Mbappe could really take the World Cup by storm.
He’s already a star but he could emerge from the World Cup as a legend in the making. Watch him in action and you’ll see he has the potential to ghost past pretty much anybody in the world. And turn a game on its head.
If the likes of Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba can combine well, France will be a tour de force in Russia. Out the three of them, Mbappe is by far the most exciting to watch.
The Shalke 04 midfielder is the top scorer for his team and could be the man to inject some creative magic into the supremely efficient German footballing model. He scored three goals in the Confederations Cup and the same amount in the World Cup qualifiers. One of them was a cheeky backheel that made headlines round the world.
The 22-year-old has a chance to truly stand out for the reigning champions and potentiall ignite a bidding war for his services by the biggest teams in Europe. He’s strong, he’s clever and he’s fast, which will make him invaluable to one of the best teams in the tournament.
3. Hirving Lozano
The winger arrived in the Dutch top flight from Mexico this season and has taken the league by storm. From the wing, he scored 10 goals in his first 11 league matches for PSV Eindhoven and the fans have already suggested he
might be better than club legends Romario, the original Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelroy.
He is just 22-years-old and he’s showing all the signs of becoming one of the greatest footballers in Europe. He seems to have another gear and has made entire defences look ordinary in Holland. If he can do that in Russia, against the best defenders in the world, then everybody will pay attention and start calling his agent.
4. Goncalo Guedes
The 21-year-old could be the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo. This supremely talented winger is showing the same precocious talent for dancing past defenders and whipping in a deadly final ball.
A move from Benfica to PSG may have come too soon, but he is now on loan at Valencia. He’s enjoying his football in Spain and he could stake his claim to a bigger, brighter future on the biggest stage of all.
5 Amine Harit
The Moroccan has been hailed as the next Zinedine Zidane, which is lofty praise indeed.
Now the 20-year-old is lighting up the pitch at Shalke 04. Before that he spent a season at Nantes, where the fans still miss his unbelievable skills.
He’s a creative midfielder who can dribble past defenders and score a spectacular goal or two. He will have to carry his team, which is a big ask for such a young player, but he could still make an impression with some individual brilliance.
6. Karol Linetty
Poland is the dark horse in Russia. It has a powerful squad with the likes of Robert Lewandowski leading the line.
Karol Linetty is the midfield conductor, the maestro who sprays the passes out and keeps the team moving. He has been compared to Andres Iniesta and he currently plays for Sampdoria in the Italian league.
A big World Cup, though, could have Europe’s big guns come calling for the 23-year-old midfielder.
7. Denis Zakaria
The 21-year-old powerhouse is a defensive midfielder with the physical presence and passing range to change a game. That makes him a seriously valuable acquisition for any club in Europe.
He doesn’t have the best team around him, but Zakaria can still shine in Russia. Right now, he’s playing for Borussia Monchengladbach, but as he has been hailed as the next Patrick Vieira, he might be looking for a bigger stage soon.
He doesn’t quite have the silky control of some of the others, but he makes up for it with brute force and tenacity. He also has an eye for a clever long ball so he can split defences open in a heartbeat.