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  • Date:2nd May 2018
  • Words:Ben Brown

Football goes in cycles. Right now, it seems we’re at the start of a new one.

The best players of the 2000s are either retired or in the twilights of their careers, and Messi and Ronaldo won’t be around forever. Fortunately, there’s a whole new generation of potential superstars coming through, and they’re all in a hurry to make their mark. So then, fancy a bit of armchair scouting? Here are five of football’s hottest prospects to keep your eye on in Russia this summer.



leon goretzka

The latest young German star to be snapped up by domestic giants Bayern Munich, Leon Goretzka is at a crucial point in his career. A good showing in Russia could see him immediately drafted into the Bayern first team when he officially joins on 1 July; a poor one, and he might have to settle for a place on the bench. Game time at this summer’s tournament is far from guaranteed, but if he’s able to force his way into Die Mannschaft’s starting XI, chances are he’ll do the same for Die Roten, given how many Bayern players are in the national team.

The former Schalke man is gifted in all the ways necessary to be a success in the modern game. Technically proficient, a natural athlete, and with a drive and determination rarely seen in one so young, it’s no surprise to hear of comparisons with Michael Ballack. Ballack, of course, never won anything with Germany – looking at the strength of the current squad, don’t bet against Goretzka beating that record at the first attempt.

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hirving lozano

Having made a blistering impact in his first year in Europe, PSV winger Hirving Lozano is already being linked with a move away from the Eredivisie. The Mexican’s blessed with the kind of pace that poses a threat to defences of any standard, and, should he perform to his potential at this summer’s tournament, those rumours of interest will quickly become concrete offers.

Mexico kick off their campaign against reigning champions Germany, so it’s straight in at the deep end for Lozano as he goes one-on-one with fellow youth prodigy Joshua Kimmich. Get the better of him and there’ll be a fair few scouts’ eyebrows being raised in the stands.

As can sometimes be the case with players of Lozano’s style – all-action, non-stop movement and aggression – the only concern is temperament. Two red cards in the Eredivisie this season point to a lack of discipline, and coming as they did – one for a flailing arm, the other for a studs-up stamping lunge – it’s clear the former Pachuca man’s emotional control isn’t quite of the same level as his command of the ball. Assuming he doesn’t press the self-destruct button, however, Lozano is more than a decent bet for breakout star of the tournament.

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sergej milinkovic-savic

You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic before this season. The Spanish-born Serbian international is enjoying a true breakthrough year, stepping up a level for club side Lazio to become one of the hottest prospects in Serie A. At international level, he’s already a world champion, having taken home the Bronze Ball for third-best player of the tournament as Serbia’s U20s triumphed in New Zealand three years ago.

In that 2015 final, Serbia faced Brazil, with Milinkovic-Savic and co edging out the likes of Danilo, Gabriel Jesus and Malcom 2-1 after extra time. Lo and behold, the two nations meet again in Group E of this year’s tournament, facing each other in the potentially decisive third round of fixtures. Will the 6ft 4in midfielder’s unique blend of physicality and attacking instincts be enough to see off the Selecao once again? It’ll be a bigger ask at senior level, but if there’s one player who has a habit of making experienced, previously reliable defenders such as Brazil’s look like lost little boys, it’s Lazio’s Sergeant Savic.

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giovani lo celso

Back in January, PSG signed a 32-year-old Lassana Diarra to cover Thiago Motta’s frequent injuries in the defensive midfield position. On the surface it seemed an obvious solution: one experienced player replaced with another. But this was the same position a talented little Argentinian named Giovani Lo Celso had made his own since mid-December. Many young players would have been disheartened by such a move, the implication being that he wasn’t yet ready to be the lynchpin of a side with the ambitions of PSG.

But not Lo Celso. To the delight of coach Unai Emery, the 21-year-old simply trained harder, and played better, in order to keep his place in the team. Diarra would have to be content with a seat on the subs’ bench.

That’s the kind of attitude that gets you promoted to a senior international squad at an early age, even one as competitive as Argentina’s, and it was therefore not a huge shock to see him start all four friendly fixtures across the last two international breaks. If he does play at the tournament proper, it’s likely to be further forward than for PSG, giving him the chance to use his tight dribbling and exceptional balance to an even greater degree. Look out for his variety of left-footed “bing” passes – they’re fantastic to watch.

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timo werner

Probably the most well-known name on this list, Germany’s Timo Werner is on the verge of becoming a world star. Two seasons of excellent goalscoring form for RB Leipzig have already raised his price tag to elite-level, but suitors can expect another significant jump in value should the explosive forward make his mark in Russia.

To do that, however, he needs to be on the pitch, and that’s by no means a given, judging by recent fixtures. Head coach Joachim Low has granted opportunities to each of Werner, Gomez, and Wagner in the last six months, and they’ve all scored goals. It’s a dilemma, and there might be a case for a “horses for courses” approach, utilising Gomez and Wagner’s physicality or Werner’s pace depending on the opposition.

It’s that pace that makes Werner such a weapon, and, at 22, he’ll almost certainly be a mainstay up front in future years. As it is, if he gets off to a good start in the group stage, he could end up being not just Germany’s primary striker, but the best striker at the tournament full stop.

timo werner wears the adidas Nemeziz 17.1 FG BUY NOW

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