Like James Rodriguez in 2014, each World Cup gives a shot of stardom to a breakout star – here’s five to watch at Russia 2018
Marco Asensio – Spain
One of the potential future Ballon d’Or winners, at 22 Marco Asensio has yet to fully take off as a star. Yes, he scored in last year’s Champions League final and in this season’s semi-final, but the World Cup could be the final step into maturity: from interesting, talented youngster, to regular, consistent starter for Spain and Real Madrid. If he confirms what we have seen so far, Real Madrid might not have to find replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo in the transfer market.
Alisson Becker – Brazil
The best goalkeeper in the world? Maybe not yet, but just because he needs to prove himself over a longer period of time. Over the past season, nobody has been like him, both with the national team and with the Roma shirt, helping the Giallorossi to a historical Champions League semi-final without ever conceding at home until the last game with Liverpool.
The Brazilian went from being almost unknown to being the most desired keeper in Europe. Everyone will be looking out for Neymar or Philippe Coutinho, but if Brazil go all the way in Russia it could be thanks to this man.
Simy Nwankwo – Nigeria
From almost saving Serie A minnows Crotone from relegation, to playing on the biggest stage in the World representing his national team. Called up in the roster for Russia 2018 without ever having played for Nigeria, Simy Nwankwo could be one of the big surprises of this competition.
With seven Serie A goals to his name, this season he has lifted his game, including scoring some wonder strikes like the bicycle-kick to hold Juventus to a 1-1 draw. He is physically strong and boasts decent technique: one to look out for.
Kylian Mbappe – France
Gone a bit off the radar this season after becoming the second most expensive transfer ever in the summer of 2017. The move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain has been more of a media affair than a proper on-the-pitch change: yes, he’s done ok, but nothing extraordinary.
Mbappe is only 19, to be fair, and this is his first of probably many competitions with France. Like Asensio, he could be a Ballon d’Or winner very soon, and a World Cup can be the perfect stage to show everybody that despite a quiet season, the forward is still the next big thing in world football.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – England
Can you believe it? From making his European debut with his club, to scoring the first goal, getting the first Three Lions call up, and then being included in the World Cup squad. Simply phenomenal by the 19-year-old Trent, who made the most of having a coach like Jurgen Klopp – amazing at getting the best out of his players and unique in developing full backs’ abilities – and turned into one of the finest in his position. There aren’t many full backs good at both defending and attacking, and consistent over time. The position is in crisis, so Alexander-Arnold truly represents one of the best. England can and should make the most of it.