This year’s World Cup could mark something of a changing of the guard. Many of the game’s biggest superstars are about to pass their peak. Cristiano Ronaldo (33), Lionel Messi (turning 31 in June), and Robert Lewandowski (29) might all play again in 2022, but they’re unlikely to be right at the very top of their game. It’ll certainly be a last World Cup for Andres Iniesta (34).
While these players still have a lot to offer, it means that it is time to think about who can step into their shoes as the game’s next big superstars.
Here are five players at this World Cup who could well stake a claim to push on to the next level and take their place at football’s top table.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Serbia
The strong, skillful Serbian has already featured heavily in transfer gossip columns, with the prospect of a big money move proving likely after a fantastic season for Lazio. The 6ft 4in midfielder is capable of creating and scoring – and is known as Il Sergente for his dominant displays in a Lazio shirt. Ex Serbian coach Slavoljub Muslin’s sacking wasn’t help by his refusal to utilise Milinkovic-Savic and it’s unlikely that Mladen Krstajic will make the same mistake. With games against Brazil, Costa Rica and Switzerland providing the ideal platform to showcase his skills, his rumoured price tag could well nudge over £100 million by the end of the tournament.
Pione Sisto, Denmark
The Celta Vigo winger is exactly the sort of talented attacker who could catch the eye in a World Cup. He’s already enjoyed an impressive La Liga season, with only Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Pablo Fornals laying on more top flight assists in Spain, and showed his skills on the international stage by setting up two goals in the qualifying play-off win over Ireland. A talented dribbler with an eye for goal – netting his first for Denmark in a recent friendly against Panama – he’s a good bet to be picked up by a bigger side after the tournament.
Timo Werner, Germany
The one weakness in the German side after the retirement of Miroslav Klose was meant to be the lack of an out and out goalscorer. But in Timo Werner Joachim Low might well have found the man to add the finishing touches to his finely tuned team of stars. The 22-year-old Leipzig man has seven international goals to his name already, from just 13 caps, and given that he’s playing for the 2014 champions he well be a very decent bet for top scorer of 2018.
Marco Asensio, Spain
It’s time for the 22-year-old attacker to step out of the shadows and star for Spain. He’s had to be patient when it comes to starting chances for Real Madrid – but he does have a Champions League final goal to his name and has shown maturity beyond his age when called upon by Zinedine Zidane. Quick and incredibly technically gifted, Asensio is likely to start as one of a fluid front three for Spain in Russia. With the tournament’s best goalkeeper, defence and midfield behind him, he’ll have the perfect platform from which to shine.
Hirving Lozano, Mexico
If anyone can catch Germany cold in their first group game, it could well be Mexico’s emerging star Hirving Lozano. The versatile winger netted 17 goals in 29 games for PSV Eindhoven this season, so is in great form going into the tournament. He’s also taken to international football well, with seven goals in 27 caps for El Tri. A strong dribbler and accurate crosser, it’s unlikely that Lozano’s stay in Holland will last long as scouts from top clubs get ready to watch him closely in Russia.
All five of these rising stars are in a great position to take to the stage in Russia and showcase their skills. A good tournament could be the making of any one of these players – and mark a maturity from the ‘promising’ to ‘superstar’ bracket.