Golden Boys of FIFA World Cup 2022: Best young prospects to watch during the tournament

The most talented youth are keen to declare that their success is no accident

We are only a few moments away from the start of the Mundial. The kick-off whistle of the first official match will be blown on November 20 at 9:30 p.m. IST. The host country Qatar will welcome Ecuador on the pitch and try to snatch all three points to start this story positively. And to make the waiting easier, Parimatch News has prepared must-know info about the most notable youth talents at this very tournament. Perhaps you will find some additional gems to follow during the FIFA World Cup 2022.

To begin with, there are three talents directly linked with Arsenal. As the youngest team in the English Premier League, they are showing great football and have entered the international break staying in the first place, besting Manchester City by as much as 5 points. 

The following players have contributed the most to the current success of the Londoners.

William Saliba

  • National team: France
  • Club: Arsenal
  • Position: Central Defender
  • Age: 21 years old.
  • Current market value – $50 mln

Having acquired the Frenchman from AS Saint-Étienne in 2019, Arsenal had a very clear strategy on how to bring the 18-year-old defender into the starting line-up. By investing as much as $30 million, the management has made a very big bid for William, seeing in him a future CB for many years to come. And while the fans weren’t sure why such an obvious talent was loaned out to Ligue 1, Saliba was making unreal progress year in and year out. 

Finally, in the 2022/2023 season, Mikel Arteta decided to give the player a chance, and the defender immediately took advantage of it, starting to show a mind-bogglingly reliable game. 

The player has already become an integral part of the starting XI, also being widely admired by the fans – some even dubbed him the ‘new Virgil van Dijk’. Many sources are already boldly branding the defender as one of the best in the EPL this season. And lots of stats only confirm this. Possibly, such a superb form will earn him the chance to play for Didier Deschamps, who already had a closer look at the 21-year-old defender during the UEFA Nations League. Who knows, maybe the performance of the defender will prove instrumental for the French national team at this championship.

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Gabriel Martinelli 

  • National team: Brazil
  • Club: Arsenal
  • Position: Winger
  • Age: 21 years old
  • Current market value – $60mln

Martinelli moved to Arsenal in the summer of 2019 back when Unai Emery was at the helm, but the Spaniard was rarely counting on the Brazilian. Martinelli opened up last season with 12 points on goal+passes, but he could have done so even earlier – but injuries intervened.

Gabriel is a ferocious all-rounder, capable of closing down both wings as a winger and pushing through defences with his wily forward play. His contribution to Arsenal’s dominance in the EPL is huge – Gabi has scored 5 goals and assisted twice! If the Gunners miss out on the league title, they will have to listen to offers for Martinelli – Liverpool and Manchester City are ready to golden Arsenal by grabbing the young talent.

“I’ve been going crazy for the last few weeks! I won’t even lie to you. That’s what a call-up to the Brazilian national team does to you” says Gabi.

Alas, Martinelli has mighty competition on both flanks of the squad – the technically gifted Antony, the Real Madrid tandem of Rodrygo and Vinicius, and don’t forget about world-star Neymar. However, it is reported that Tite has been very impressed with Gabriel throughout training sessions, and the player will get his chance.

Brazil manager Tite spoke on Martinelli:

“We like Martinelli’s aggressiveness. He’s one of the top players at Arsenal, the first place in the Premier League. He’s good on 1v1, very rapid in transitions, he’s been keeping a good level.”

Bukayo Saka

  • National team: England
  • Club: Arsenal
  • Position: Winger
  • Age: 21 years old
  • Current market value – $90mln

It is not necessary to say much about the talent of the Arsenal academy’s finest product. Indeed, he has been a popular figure for many years now, and the player has already learnt some very valuable lessons in previous years, which has brought him to the forefront not only of the Red and Whites, but of the Three Lions as well. We all remember the penalty miss at Euro 2020, so Saka really needs to make up for it at WC. Now, he’s ready and mature enough to play a key role at the World Cup for the England national team.

Gareth Southgate, the coach, said:

“He is a very reliable player, which is a rare quality for such a young player. His ability to take the ball under pressure is very important for us.”

A very strong feature of the young talent is his versatility. In September’s defeat to Italy, he started as a left-back and a few days later stepped up to right-back to help England turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead against Germany. His opening runs, control, acceleration, awareness, quick passes between the lines and ability to shoot from two feet into the far corner make him a great attacking threat in Southgate’s 3-4-3 system.

He was voted by England fans as the 2021-22 Player of the Year and the Arsenal Player of the Season two years in a row.

Pedri (Pedro Gonzalez Lopez)

  • National team: Spain
  • Club: FC Barcelona
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 19 years old
  • Current market value – $100 mln

In recent years the world has discovered one of the most promising talents of the new era. At just 19, he’s already established himself as one of Barcelona’s brightest stars, and what’s more, Pedri represents one of Spain national team’s main prospects. He has already marked himself, being voted the best young player of the Euro 2020 and what’s more, he is now considered the natural heir to Andrés Iniesta.

Pedri claims his skill is due in part to his upbringing in the Canary Islands, saying it taught him patience and unpredictability.

Xavi once said:

“Pedri gives us that pause, he doesn’t lose the ball, he’s always well positioned, and he uses both feet. He has a great command of space and time: he’s an excellent player. If we’re talking about pure talent, he’s the best in the world.” 

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Rodrygo Goes

  • National team: Brazil
  • Club: Real Madrid
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 21
  • Current market value – $80 mln

Rodrigo is in great form for Real Madrid and was instrumental in winning the UEFA Champions League last year. With the likes of Neymar, Rafinha and Vinicius ahead of him, Rodrygo enters the tournament as a substitute rather than the core player.

This versatile striker can play in the front three, runs willingly, dribbles superbly and finishes well. He continues to score this season and is loved by his Brazilian teammates, especially Neymar, who believes he will one day take his No. 10 jersey.

Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach, said:

“He is a special striker because he can play in all positions. He’s quick, smart without the ball and effective when playing one-on-one.”

Jamal Musiala

  • National team: Germany
  • Club: FC Bayern Munich
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Age: 19
  • Current market value – $100 mln

Musiala has had a unique international career: the Bayern player played for England at the under-15 level, then for Germany at the under-16 level, and again for England at the under-21 level before finally choosing Germany to establish himself at the professional level.

With 12 goals and 10 assists this season, Musiala became the most prolific player on this list.

Born in Germany, Musiala moved to England at age 7 and played for the FC Chelsea and England youth teams before moving to Bayern at 16. At 17, he became Bayern’s youngest player in the Bundesliga and youngest scorer.

And so, the lean No. 10 with his silky dribbling and habit of appearing in front of the goal became the first German star created in England. Musiala now plays regularly under Hansi Flick, his former boss at Bayern, and is already a key part of the team and is seen as a long-term successor to Thomas Müller.

Nuno Mendes

  • National team: Portugal
  • Club: PSG
  • Position: Defender
  • Age: 20
  • Current market value – $60 mln

Nuno Mendes started out as an attacking midfielder but over the last two seasons, he has played at left back for two title-winning teams: Sporting in 2021 and PSG in 2022. Not bad for a player who just came out of his teens this summer.

Mendes was Sporting’s youngest debutant since Cristiano Ronaldo and, playing at left-back in a 3-4-3 system, played a crucial role in his first league title in 19 years. His forward bursts, dribbling around opponents, and excellent (and early) ability to transition in limited space were an important part of Ruben Amorim’s team.

He was named to last season’s Ligue 1 team and was nominated for the Copa Trophy from France Football, another award given to the best young player in the world.

Gavi (Pablo Martín Páez Gavira)

  • National team: Spain
  • Club: Barcelona
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 18
  • Current market value – $90 mln

Gavi made his debut for Barcelona at 16 and broke the record of 85 years ago for the youngest debut for the Spanish national team at 17 – and at the time he only played five league games for Barcelona!

Gavi has all the qualities of previous Barcelona heroes: first touch, body turn, sharp pass, constant scanning, and the ability to act in a limited space, to use it sensibly. He can play on either side in the midfield trio, and his movement, vision and passing sometimes look as if he is remotely controlled by Xavi.

Eduardo Camavanga

  • National team: France
  • Club: Real Madrid
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 20
  • Current market value – $50mln

Camavanga’s family fled the war in Congo, he was born in a refugee camp in Angola and moved to France when he was 2 years old. When he was 11, his house in Fougères burned down and the family was left with nothing. The next day, Kamawinga was at soccer practice. Even then, at such a young age, he was carrying the family’s hopes on his shoulders. And he lived up to those hopes.

Talking about his main traits, he is instrumental in regaining possession on high ground, coupling it with the ability to manage the game with aggressive passing. What’s more, he has the golden quality of breaking down lines to lead his team forward, and his pitch vision and speed are really helping to do so.

Jude Bellingham

  • National team: England
  • Club: Borussia Dortmund
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 19
  • Current market value – $100 mln

Bellingham is likely to become England’s most expensive player next summer as Real Madrid and Liverpool fight to acquire the elegant midfielder from Borussia Dortmund. Until then, he is likely to play in the England midfield after impressing on and off the field in warm-up matches.

Bellingham greatly possesses the ball, can intercept with great timing and is deceptively quick when moving forward. He has added timing to his game, bursting into the opponent’s zone in such a way that defenders don’t have time to spot him. He penetrates space in the attacking third of the field and gives off more passes than one would expect.

The midfielder had an impressive season, scoring nine goals and giving three assists in 22 games, and he even managed to score in four consecutive Champions League games so far.

Enzo Fernandez

  • National team: Argentina
  • Club: SL Benfica
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 21
  • Current market value – $35 mln

In our opinion, he is the main discovery of the Champions League group stage. It seems that Manchester City, Barça, Chelsea and Liverpool all have their eyes on him.

Enzo moved to Portugal in the summer and is suited perfectly to the pressing and bold Benfica: he covers all areas, plays well on interceptions and clings to any challenge. Right now it is hard to find any obvious weaknesses in him.

He was called up to the national team just before the World Cup – and played only three matches, all of them as a substitute. The same picture is expected at the World Cup, although we do not rule out that in the course of the tournament he will take his place in the starting line-up. Especially if we consider the injury of Giovani Lo Celso, Fernandez can get a real chance to establish himself in the starting line-up.

Being another River Plate academy product to move to Benfica, he became a key part of the Portuguese giant’s sensational start to the season – 13 straight wins to start the season and first place in the Champions League group with PSG and Juventus.

Benfica paid 18 million euros for him last summer. Now that valuation has tripled, Benfica again has the opportunity to make huge money on the player after this promising campaign. Now, coach Lionel Scaloni should not doubt his readiness.

Even Lionel Messi has admired the talent of the youngster:

“He has a great future. Enzo is very smart. He’s a player with great character, with a good pass. Impressive.”

Ansu Fati

  • National team: Spain
  • Club: Barcelona
  • Position: Winger
  • Age: 20 years
  • Current market value – $50 mln

Another Blagrana talent, Fati, is no stranger to breaking records. He is the youngest player to score for Barcelona, the youngest player to score for Spain and the youngest player to score in the Champions League (he did all three before he turned 18). And the fact that he inherited Lionel Messi’s No. 10 jersey at Barcelona suggests that confidence is not an issue.

Fati usually plays on the left flank and likes to break inside to strike with his right foot. His pace makes him almost impossible to intercept. His movement off the ball, his ability to create danger out of nowhere and his seeming steadfastness make him a hero expected by both club and country. But for someone who is so rushed, injuries have forced him to slow down. A knee injury ruined his 2020-21 season, and hamstring injuries cut into his appearances last season. This season, he’s slowly returning to form. If he’s at full strength, expect more accomplishments from him.

There are other notable talents worth mentioning as well.

Piero Hincapie, Jurrien Timber, Josko Gvardiol, Xavi Simons, Nicola Zalewski, Abde Ezzalzouli, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, Ivan Ilic – all these players also have a great chance of making their mark in a major football tournament. You can be sure you’ll come across these names again and again in the years to come.

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Indeed, the sophistication of modern scouting, coupled with the rapid dissemination of information available, means that the days when real stars suddenly emerged at the World Cup may be a thing of the past. But the tournament still offers incredible opportunities for young players. After all, Kylian Mbappe was already the French Ligue 1 champion when he became the first teenager since Pele to score in a WC final. Mbappé was already famous in 2018, but success at the Mundial has lifted him into a different stratosphere, a very different level.

The upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar brings another bunch of rising talent – here, players can attract serious attention and also spell a move to the world’s top clubs.