It may only seem like the European Championships and Copa America has only just passed, which is true, but the countdown to the World Cup in Russia is well and truly underway. Across the world in the past week, nations have been playing in their latest qualifying matches in the quest to reach the pinnacle of football competition.
Of course, two years is still a long time in football and there’s a lot of work to be done. During the next two years, you can expect to see new faces making their breakthrough on the international stage, potentially increasing their nations chances of glory, and that’s what we’ve decided to focus on today!
We’d identified some of the top young talents currently in world football and we expect them to be ones to watch in two-years time at the 2018 World Cup, especially if they continue with their fantastic performances that they’ve shown so far in the early days of their careers.
Tonny Vilhena: Netherlands
The 21-year-old has already accumulated over 100 Eredivisie appearances for PSV Eindhoven since making his debut four years ago, aged just 17, and was first called up to Holland’s senior squad in 2013. However, he had to wait until this year to make his debut. Now, with the Netherlands in a transitional period having failed to qualify for the 2016 European Championships, Vilhena has the chance to make a spot in the midfield his own.
What isn’t known though is where Vilhena will be playing come the 2018 World Cup, as a hot of top clubs have been chasing his signature but he turned down their advances this summer.
Hachim Mastour: Morocco
Never has there ever been so much hype about a young African player but, having signed for AC Milan at the age of 14 for a fee of €500,000, a lot of attention has been paid to the young Moroccan. Representing Italy at youth level, Mastour switched his national allegiances and became the nation’s youngest ever player in 2015- his only senior cap to date.
Currently on-loan at Dutch side PEC Zwolle, you can expect to see the young attacking midfielder making his breakthrough at AC Milan in the coming years. Remarkably, he’s only 18.
Timo Werner: Germany
After three years with VFB Stuttgart, where he became the club’s youngest ever player at the age of 17 and amassed 95 Bundesliga appearances, young striker Timo Werner moved to newly-promoted, and highly ambitious, outfit RB Leipzeig this summer for a fee of €10m- making him the club’s most expensive player.
Having made a solid start with his new side, scoring three goals in his first five Bundesliga matches, Werner will be looking to push himself into Joachim Lowe’s plans in the next two years. He’s featured for every Germany youth side from U15 level and, with the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski now retired, there’s a chance for the 20-year-old to stake his claim for a starting spot.
Marco Asensio: Spain
Real Madrid’s latest golden boy, who has forced himself into Zinedine Zidane’s side this season and has appeared in every La Liga game so far this term, Marco Asensio will now be looking to establish himself in Spain’s midfield and prove himself to be a successor to Andres Iniesta- which is no easy feat.
However, having made two senior appearances for Spain so far this year, Asensio is certainly on his way to securing his spot with his nation at the World Cup- where Los Rojas will be looking for redemption after an early exit in 2014. Still, playing regular football will be vital and when you’re competing against the likes of Isco and Luka Modric for starting opportunities, nothing is guaranteed.
Quincy Promes: Netherlands
The second Dutch player on this list, Quincy Promes can be considered a veteran when compared to the other names we’ve featured. Aged 24, Promes should be approaching his prime when the World Cup comes around in two-years time and Promes should be a central figure in the Netherlands set-up.
With 14 appearances thus far, and two goals, the Spartak Moscow winger has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, especially given Holland’s failures in recent years, and following the likes of Arjen Robben is not going to be easy- but Promes has the ability to shine.
Daniele Rugani: Italy
Daniele Rugani has been incredibly patient with his development at Juventus, spending valuable time on-loan with Empoli- where he made 75 Serie A appearances, but Rugani has finally established himself within the Serie A champion’s squad in the past two seasons. Currently injured, Rugani should see a lot of football this season.
Scoring in a 4-0 home win against Cagliari back in September, Rugani was sidelined four days later and will be unavailable until November. Come 2018 though, he could be a central figure for club and country- especially if a Premier League giant snatches the signature of Leonardo Bonucci.
Tin Jedvaj: Croatia
With four appearances for Croatia’s senior side to date, 20-year-old Tin Jedvaj can expect to increase that tally, and his worth, in the coming seasons. Playing first-team football with Bayer Leverkusen will be invaluable to the young Croatian and he’s had those appearances so far, featuring in three games this season.
He also played the entirety of Croatia’s thrilling victory over Spain at the European Championships, which should cement his status on his country’s senior set-up, and by 2018 he’s expected to be a key-part of the side.
Charly Musonda: Belgium
Belgium have a whole host of talented stars, boasting the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but they’v still struggled at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships. 2018 sees the Red Devils approach the date they targeted for success when those aforementioned players were bled into the side as youngsters, so there’s a fair amount of pressure.
Looking at the squad, the midfield is undoubtably the weakest area in the side but Charly Musonda, owned by Premier League giants Chelsea, could fix that. The 19-year-old is a regular fixture for Belgium’s U21 side and, with two years ahead of him, Musonda could establish himself in Roberto Martinez’ plans.
Gabriel Barbosa: Brazil
Unfortunately for Brazil, their struggles in front of goal at their own World Cup two years ago proved to be their undoing and, when Neymar was injured against Colombia, the side took a big hit. The famous nation aren’t as strong as they were a decade ago and they certainly need more stars- and Gabriel Barbosa can be one of them.
Dubbed the ‘next Neymar’, Barbosa was a key figure in the Olympic Gold Medal winning side at Rio this summer and now has four senior appearances for his nation, scoring two goals. In the next two years, that tally should increase further and with Gabigol now in Europe with Inter Milan, he could be a superstar by 2018.
Alessio Romagnoli: Italy
The second young Italian centre-back on this list unfortunately means that one of Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani may see their advances into Italy’s national squad halted by the other. Given the fact that Italy boast the likes of Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, it’s unlikely both of Italy’s young talents will be starters by 2018.
Romagnoli may hold the advantage over Rugani though as, at 22, he’s an established member of AC Milan’s squad. He’s featured in six of Milan’s seven Serie A games this season and made his debut for Italy’s senior squad last week in a 1-1 draw with Spain.
Jonathan Tah: Germany
The World Cup champions lost a wealth of experienced names after their success in 2014 but, fortunately for them, they have young talent in abundance. Bayer Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah could be the next big thing in their defence, (pun intended after Per Mertesacker’s retirement), having made his debut for the senior squad against Italy earlier this year and being called up to the Euro 2016 squad after Antonio Rudiger pulled-out through injury.
A fringe player at the moment, Tah has two years to get ahead of the likes of Rudiger, Shkodran Mustafi, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in the pecking order but he has the talent to do so.