As the 2022 World Cup kick-started last Sunday, most eyes have been on the established players to give fans excitement and memorable experience. But there are youngsters who have been phenomenal for their respective clubs this season who could overshadow the big names.
Stars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar Junior may be pushed to the back seats by these exciting youngsters.
Some of them have already shown the stuff they are made of in the first round of matches and they can only get better as the event progresses.
Below are 12 youngsters that are capable of helping their respective teams compete for the trophy in Qatar:
1. Timothy Weah, USA
Timothy Tarpeh Weah, born February 22, 2000, is an American footballer who plays as a winger for Ligue 1 club Lille and the United States national team.
He is the son of Ballon d’Or winner and President of Liberia, George Weah. In March 2018, Timothy made his senior debut for Paris Saint-Germain and earned his first senior international cap for the United States.
In addition to the United States, he was eligible to represent France, Jamaica, and Liberia, through residency and his parents’ citizenship. He stated that his decision to represent the United States “wasn’t hard at all” and was based on his love of the country and his teammates. He reportedly turned down offers from the French Football Federation to join the French programme.
He scored for the USA in their first match of the ongoing World Cup in Qatar against Wales and many pundits feel he will be one of the standout players at the end of the football fiesta.
2. Vinicius Junior, Brazil
Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira Júnior, 22, commonly known as Vinícius Júnior or Vini Jr. is a Brazilian winger at Real Madrid and his national team. Considered one of the best players in the world, he is known for his dribbling skills, high pace and shooting.
Born in São Gonçalo, Brazil, Vinícius began his professional career at Flamengo, where he made his senior debut in 2017, at age 16. A few weeks later, Vinícius was the subject of a transfer to La Liga club Real Madrid, which he joined at a £38 million deal, a national record for an U-18 player.
The transfer was made effective after his 18th birthday, with Vinícius debuting for the club in 2018–19. By his fourth season, Vinícius had established himself as a prominent member of Real Madrid’s squad, helping the club win the 2021–22 La Liga title and scoring the winning goal in Real Madrid’s 2022 UEFA Champions League final.
In a team boasting stars like Neymar Junior, Vinicius may be the player to propel Brazil to their much-awaited triumph at the world cup since 2002.
3. Ansu Fati, Spain
Anssumane “Ansu” Fati Vieira (born 31 October 2002) is a Spanish footballer who plays as a forward for Barcelona and the Spain national team.
He was born in Guinea-Bissau but chose to represent the Spain national team after gaining citizenship.
He is widely considered one of Spain’s most exciting football talents, and one of the best young players in the world.
He scored his first goal in his first international start on 6 September 2020, scoring Spain’s third goal against Ukraine to be the national team’s youngest-ever goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 311 days; hence, breaking the 95-year record of Juan Errazquin, aged 18 years and 344 days.
He also became the youngest player to start a match in the UEFA Nations League, breaking the previous record of Welsh player Ethan Ampadu in 2018, aged 17 years and 357 days. Both these records were beaten by his teammate at Barcelona Gavi on 5 June 2022.
Fati’s development has been slowed down by injuries, but the forward, considered the biggest talent from Barcelona’s academy after Lionel Messi, has all it takes to announce himself to the world.
4. Eduardo Camavinga, France
Eduardo Celmi Camavinga, born 10 November 2002, is a French midfielder for Real Madrid and the France national team.
Camavinga was born in a refugee camp in Cabinda, Angola in 2002, to Congolese parents.
His family moved to France when he was 2. They moved to Fougères, where he grew up. He practised judo for some time, before giving it up to focus solely on football.
In 2013, the Camavingas’ house was burnt down and most of the family’s property destroyed. Camavinga stated that this was a source of motivation that pushed him to pursue a career in football and help his family.
On 7 October 2020, Camavinga made his first start for France in a 7–1 win against Ukraine where he scored his first international goal, opening the scoring with an overhead kick. This made him the youngest goalscorer for France since Maurice Gastiger in 1914.
On 25 June 2021, Camavinga was named in Sylvain Ripoll’s 18-man France squad for the Summer Olympics in 2021. However he was later removed from the squad after his club, Rennes, objected.
The midfielder is seen as one of the youngsters that will light up the 2022 World Cup.
5. Bukayo Saka
Bukayo Ayoyinka Saka, born 5 September 2001, is a Nigerian-born English footballer who plays as a winger, left-back, or midfielder for Arsenal and England.
Saka is known for his attacking incisiveness and creativity and is often considered one of the best young football players in the world.
Saka has spent his entire first-team club career with Arsenal, where he has won an FA Cup and an FA Community Shield, progressively becoming one of Arsenal’s most prolific and influential players
Following the 2020–21 and 2021–22 seasons, he was named Arsenal’s player of the season.
Saka represented England at various youth levels before making his debut for the senior team in October 2020. He was part of England’s squads at UEFA Euro 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
He has already scored two goals in England’s group opener against Iraq and is expected to cause a lot of havoc on opposing teams at the football fiesta.
6. Gavi, Spain
Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, born 5 August 2004 and known as Gavi, is a Spanish central midfielder, playing for Barcelona and Spain.
Gavi has represented Spain at under-15 and under-16 levels.
On 30 September 2021, Gavi received a surprise call-up to the senior Spain national team by the manager Luis Enrique. He made his debut in their UEFA Nations League semi-final win against Italy on 6 October, becoming the youngest player to ever represent Spain at the senior level.
On 5 June 2022, he scored his first senior goal in the Nations League away against the Czech Republic, becoming the youngest player to ever score representing Spain at the senior level.
Graham Hunter of ESPN hailed Gavi as a highly promising young player in 2021, comparing him to former Barcelona midfielders Xavi and Andrés Iniesta due to his qualities as a footballer, including his dribbling, anticipation, intelligence, vision, passing, first touch, close control, change of pace, and ability to turn quickly to get out of tight spaces and initiate counter-attacks.
He was phenomenal in Spain’s group opener against Costa Rica on Wednesday and scoring his first World Cup goal in the 7-0 massacre of their opponents. He is one of the youngsters expected to propel Spain to lift their second World Cup trophy this time around.
7. Youssoufa Moukoko, Germany
Youssoufa Moukoko, born 20 November 2004, is a German footballer who plays as a striker for Borussia Dortmund and Germany.
He is known for his scoring ability at younger age levels.
Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Moukoko played for the German national U16 team for the first time on 11 September 2017, in a 3–1 victory over Austria. Two days later, in his second match against the same opponent, he scored both goals for Germany in a 2–1 victory.
At that time he was the youngest player in the U16s. In order to protect Moukoko from too much media attention, BVB and the DFB decided not to continue using him in selected teams for the time being.
He later made his debut for the U21s on 2 September 2021, in a 6-0 win over San Marino, to which he contributed two goals. Moukoko thus became the youngest-ever player and (double) scorer for the German U21 team.
In November, he received a call-up for the German national team for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He is expected to be among the goals.
8. Gabriel Martinelli, Brazil
Gabriel Teodoro Martinelli Silva is a 21-year-old forward for Arsenal and Brazil.
Born and raised in Guarulhos, Martinelli began his senior club career playing for Ituano, prior to signing for Arsenal in July 2019, aged 18.
At the international level, Martinelli represented the Brazil under-23s. He helped Brazil win an Olympic Gold in men’s football at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
He was named in the 25-man senior Brazil squad on 11 March 2022 for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia.
Martinelli made his international debut when he came off the bench for Vinícius Júnior to play the last 14 minutes of Brazil’s 4−0 win over Chile at the Maracana Stadium.
On 7 November 2022, Martinelli was named in the squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, beating Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino to a slot.
Many people have questioned his inclusion in the team but his dynamic and explosive style of play had no doubt attracted the attention of the national team crew. For his agile and effective movement, Martinelli is capable of dribbling past multiple opponents to create or score goals and he’s seen as one of the weapons Brazil will be unleashing on opponents at the World Cup.
9. Jude Bellingham, England
Born on 29 June 2003, Jude Victor William Bellingham is a midfielder for Borussia Dortmund and the England. He is one of the youngsters to look out for at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Bellingham joined Birmingham City as an under-8, became the club’s youngest-ever first-team player when he made his senior debut in August 2019, at the age of 16 years, 38 days, and played regularly during the 2019–20 season.
He joined Borussia Dortmund in July 2020, and in his first competitive match became their youngest-ever goalscorer.
He represented England at under-15, under-16, under-17 and under-21 levels. He made his first appearance for the senior team in November 2020 and represented the country at UEFA Euro 2020.
Bellingham was runner-up to Pedri of Barcelona in the 2021 Kopa Trophy, awarded to the best under-21 male player as voted by previous winners of the Ballon d’Or.
In November 2020, Bellingham was called up to the England senior squad for the first time. He made his debut in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley on 12 November, replacing Mason Mount after 73 minutes of a 3–0 win.
At 17 years, 136 days, he became England’s third-youngest full international; only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney had appeared at a younger age.
Bellingham scored his first senior international goal on 21 November 2022, opening the scoring with a headed flick from a cross in a 6–2 win over Iran in England’s opening game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Many pundits believe the midfielder who has netted 9 times in 22 matches for his club side this season will be one of the standout performers at the end of the football fiesta.
10. Jamal Musiala, Germany
Born on 26 February 2003, the 19-year-old Nigerian-German plays as a midfielder or winger for Bayern Munich and Germany.
Born in Germany to a Nigerian father and a German mother, he was raised from the age of seven in England. Musiala represented both Germany and England at the youth level and eventually pledged his allegiance to the Germany national team for future games in February 2021.
He subsequently received his first call-up to the senior team for 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in March 2021, making his debut on 25 March 2021 as a 79th-minute substitute in a 3–0 win against Iceland and scoring his first goal in a 4–0 win over North Macedonia on 11 October.
On 19 May 2021, he was selected to the squad for the UEFA Euro 2020. On 23 June 2021, he became the youngest German player to feature in a major tournament in a 2–2 draw with Hungary in Euro 2020, aged 18 years and 117 days.
During the match, Musiala set up Leon Goretzka’s late equalizer which sent Germany through to the Round of 16. In doing so, he received praise from pundits and fans worldwide.
He has been phenomenal for Bayern this season, netting 9 goals in the league in the 2022/2023 season already. It is believed that he will bring the same form to the world cup for Germany.
As a versatile player, Musiala plays both on the wings and at all positions of the midfield. According to Hansi Flick, who gave Musiala his debut at FC Bayern Munich, “He has a great eye and feeling for choosing the right spaces. He is very confident on the ball and can play well between the lines.”
11. Moises Caicedo, Ecuador
Moisés Isaac Caicedo Corozo was born on the 2nd of November 2001. He is a midfielder for Brighton & Hove Albion and Ecuador.
Caicedo debuted for the senior Ecuador national team in a 1–0 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying loss to Argentina on 9 October 2020.
He scored the opening goal in a 4–2 home win over Uruguay on 13 October 2020 at the Estadio Rodrigo Paz Delgado, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to ever score in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
On 14 November, Caicedo was named in Ecuador’s 26-man squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup alongside Brighton teammates Pervis Estupiñán and Jeremy Sarmiento.
He is one of the shining lights in the Brighton team and his combative nature and passing ability will no doubt help Equador to create a balance between the attack and defence.
He was in the engine room of his team when they hammered the hosts 2-0 in the opening match of the world cup.
12. William Saliba, France
William Alain André Gabriel Saliba (born 24 March 2001) plays as a centre-back for Arsenal and France.
Saliba began his football career at six, coached by the father of Kylian Mbappé. He eventually moved south to Saint-Étienne in 2016.
After signing for Arsenal in 2019, he returned to Saint-Étienne for the season. He also had time at Nice and Marseille before he made his Arsenal and Premier League debut on 5 August 2022 in an opening-day fixture away to Crystal Palace.
Arsenal won the game 2−0 with Saliba’s performance being described by the BBC as “unruffled and virtually faultless”. He scored his first goal for the club two weeks later in a win over AFC Bournemouth, with a curled shot from the edge of the box.
On 21 March 2022, Saliba received a call-up to France’s senior squad for the first time as an injury replacement to Benjamin Pavard to play in friendlies against the Ivory Coast and South Africa.
His form this season has propelled Arsenal to sit comfortably at the summit of the Premier League ahead of the World Cup break. Although he’s not expected to be a starter, the young defender will certainly take his chance to shine.