Young guns get a shot at superstardom at the World Cup

Timo Werner in action. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty
Timo Werner in action. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty
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At the last World Cup, Colombia forward James Rodriguez became one of the stars of the tournament with his trickery and eye for a spectacular goal. Expect others to step up at this year’s tournament.

Here’s a look at some young players hoping to make a big impact in Russia.

Benjamin Mendy

When France won the World Cup in 1998, they were formidably effective down the left flank. Playmaker Zinedine Zidane would wait for left back Bixente Lizarazu to push up and they would swap passes with devastating speed.

France has a left back in the making in Benjamin Mendy.

Quick, powerful and skilful, the 23-year-old excelled for Monaco when they won the French league and reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2017. That earned him a move to Manchester City, where a serious knee injury curtailed his progress. He recovered to play in City’s last few games of the season.

Mendy is also quick enough to track back when moves break down.

Marco Asensio

Marco Asensio runs with the power and grace of former Brazil midfielder Kaka. The 22-year-old Spain midfielder likewise possesses a ferocious shot from outside the penalty area, excellent close control and endless stamina.

Asensio has a full passing range, too, either quickly to feet when playing it short, or hit with a golfer’s precision so the ball drops perfectly when playing it long.

Asensio has shown his tactical versatility when playing for Real Madrid, and is lethal on counter-attacks with quick one-twos.

Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were the heartbeat in Spain’s midfield when they won the 2010 World Cup. It could be Asensio’s time to shine.

Ousmane Dembele

Dembele is even quicker than France team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

The 20-year-old forward makes lethal runs from deep and is near-unstoppable when in full flow.

Dembele, pictured above, displayed his vast repertoire in a Spanish league game for Barcelona against Villarreal recently. Receiving the ball near the halfway line with his back to play, he flicked it with his heel and beat three players before passing for Philippe Coutinho to score.

Dembele also scored a superb solo goal: a mixture of strength, skill and speed. Turning again from midfield, he took the ball past several players and dinked it over the goalkeeper.

His exquisite finish had a touch of former Brazil great Ronaldo about it.

Timo Werner

Timo Werner overcame injury and a mid-season slump to reaffirm his status as Germany’s leading striker.

The 22-year-old is virtually assured of his starting place in the national team after helping Leipzig claim a Europa League place. He finished strongly with two goals and two assists in his last two games.

Werner scored 21 goals in all competitions this season. He has explosive pace, strength and the ability to open up space and create opportunities for himself and team-mates. The hard-working forward has scored seven goals in 12 appearances for Germany.

Gabriel Jesus

Brazil has always produced superb forwards: Pele, Romario, Ronaldo and Neymar to name but a few. Now, Gabriel Jesus hopes to emulate them.

The 21-year-old striker, left, is a predator like Romario. He is also extremely hard-working but that doesn’t affect his finishing, and he remains a penalty-box threat. He has good pace and skill but his strongest attribute is his mobility. Jesus does not stop moving, thereby disrupting defenders constantly.