ONES TO WATCH AT THE 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP
A YOUNG PLAYER TO WATCH FROM EVERY NATION AT QATAR 2022
Ths year is a World Cup year! To celebrate it, we’ve picked out a player from every (more coming soon) competing nation that could make an impact in Qatar. Below, you’ll find brief profiles summing up their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses, while providing links to where you can find out more about them.
You can find our best and most detailed reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional features and interviews also included.
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Charles de Ketelaere
Charles de Ketelaere is one of the most interesting young attacking prospects emerging in European football. Tall and lanky but quick and flighty, his movement off the forward line his excellent. Despite his eye-catching size, he ghosts into dangerous positions across the final third. Once in them, he has the technique and composure to pick out a supporting attacker at test the goalkeeper with a solid finish.
The 21-year-old has the potential to be an impactful player at this year’s World Cup for Belgium. It seems unlikely that he’ll start, the crucial games at least, but he will come off the bench.
Not long ago it might have seemed unlikely for Antony to play a part in Brazil’s World Cup in 2022, but an Olympic gold medal and a breakout season at club level with Ajax will do magical things to a player’s national team hopes.
Expect the winger to feature mostly as a sub, where his energy will be used to impact the games both as a dribbler in transition, but also to add presence off the ball – even if his defensive contributions can lack a bit of diligence. But most importantly, he brings a genuine final third threat both as a goal scorer and as a creator that is effective against all sorts of defensive blocks, using either his speed on the break, or his dribbling quality to unlock set defensive structures.
At just 20, Joško Gvardiol is on a path to more than a decade of dominance. He already has over 100 senior appearances to his name at both centre-back and left-back, an extraordinary number at his age, especially for a defensive player.
While becoming a regular for Croatia at the end of his time with Dinamo Zagreb, Gvardiol has seamlessly transitioned into playing for a top-level European club: RB Leipzig.
Playing as the left-sided centre-back in a back three, Gvardiol’s athleticism and excellence in possession have been standouts, though expect him to prominently feature as a left-back for Croatia, just as he did at the Euros last summer.
You will all know plenty about Aurélien Tchouaméni. Far from an under-the-radar prospect, he has ascended quickly over the last couple of seasons, becoming one of the most talked about players in Ligue 1.
For good reason, as well. Tchouaméni is a tour-de-force in midfield. He is an all-purpose midfielder that can contribute to every phase of play, predominantly in winning the ball back then progressing it up the pitch. France have a couple of question marks in midfield with Pogba’s situation and Kanté’s form; Tchouaméni has the quality to answer them.
After a breakout season at SC Freiburg and milestone transfer to Borussia Dortmund, Nico Schlotterbeck has a strong chance of being a key starter for Hansi Flick’s Germany at Qatar 2022.
He has everything a modern centre-back needs: a dynamic defensive skillset equipped with mobilty and adaptability, he’s strong in aerial duels, and he is adept at progressing possession with his passing off his left foot and aggressive ball-carrying. Moreover, he has proven that he can operate to a high level in back-two and back-three systems, offering Flick the option to switch systems fairly flexibly.
Kamaldeen Sulemana is electric. Since flashing onto our radar at FC Nordsjælland, the wide attacker has made a big move to Stade Rennais in Ligue 1 and become an established member of Ghana’s senior international squad.
But Kamaldeen Sulemana really is electric. He twists and turns at an incredible speed, then dribbles and drives at defences just as quickly. Furthermore, he’s a clever mover off the ball and can attack the box in different ways – dribbling and combining mainly – as he slices inside off the left wing. He has the raw ability to pose a lot of problems in Qatar.
From bit-part player to indispensable starter, Ao Tanaka has emerged as a key member of Japan’s team under Hajime Moriyasu as they escaped the claws of an intercontinental play-offs to qualify directly for November’s World Cup.
Tanaka played a vital part of the resurgence two, starting six of Japan’s final seven World Cup qualifiers, as the team won all six. He also kickstarted the resurgence of their stuttering campaign with an important goal in a 2-1 home win over Australia.
Once shoehorned as a deep-playing midfielder, Tanaka has blossomed into a creative final third player that takes up interesting positions in pockets of space and shows good penalty box nous as a creator and goal scorer.
Jurriën Timber adds both versatility and quality to the Dutch national team. Capable of playing effectively in both two and three-man defences, or as a right-back, Timber now looks like a certainty to play a key role for the Netherlands in Qatar, just as he did at the Euros following his breakout season with Ajax.
As an athletic centre-back, Timber is an excellent decision-maker defending in transition. He struggles a little more as a man-marker, affording attackers more space than he needs to when considering his own physical qualities.
On the ball, he is a diligent player that is happy to defer to better ball-players (think Daley Blind, Lisandro Martinez) or take on the responsibility himself when required.
It may have taken a little while, but Rafael Leão is now a widely-appreciated young player. His breakout is a result of him powering AC Milan to title tilts.
It’s also a result of him pulling the different aspects his dynamic skillset together on a more consistent basis. Leão poses a scary attacking threat for defenders to deal with; he combines an athletic frame with a smooth but sharp change of speed, which he uses to glide past defenders as a dribbler or runner – all with the end goal or creating a shot, for himself or others. Portugal will have a difference-maker in their squad that would start for most nations.
Little known outside of European circles, Akram Afif might just be Asia’s best player. But unlike many of his team-mates, he has European experience, featuring in La Liga and Belgium’s Pro League with Gijon and Eupen, before returning to Qatar with Xavi’s Al Sadd.
Since then, he has become a dominant attacking force. His performances at the Asian Cup were a sight to behold, registering 10 assists and a goal in just seven games as Qatar lifted the trophy.
While deprived of chances to shine in World Cup qualifying, Qatar’s participation at CONCACAF’s Gold Cup and the FIFA Arab Cup have underscored his dominance as an wide forward that can both create and score with ease.
He starred at last summer’s Euros, and there is no reason why Pedri won’t do the exact same thing at the World Cup. He will still be a teenager by the time the tournament starts, but the Spaniard is already one of the most feared midfield players in the world, with his combination of excellent passing, movement, and an unbelievable engine.
Watch for his combination play with whoever starts at left-back for Spain. Pedri loves to drift into the left channel to create overloads that allow his left-back to get to the by-line and into cut-back territory.
At the same time, Pedri’s own creativity from the centre of the pitch can’t be ignored, especially given the freedom he has to roam and break down the opposition midfield and defensive structures.
Darwin Núñez is a name on many people’s lips. The striker has exploded his season, despite SL Benfica’s underwhelming form, to announce himself as one of the most sought-after young players around.
He has some issues, click the link below to find out about them, but he also has his idiosyncratic virtues. His size and speed makes him difficult to stop once he gets going, especially when driving into space. His movement in and around the box is excellent as well, and he’s also an explosive ball-striker that can score from any angle and most distances. Uruguay have a strong striking pedrigee. Darwin carries it on.
Kylian Mbappé is the best player of them all. After him, there’s two standouts, Phil Foden and Pedri. Then there’s a strong group of players that includes the likes of Jude Bellingham, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Nico Schlotterbeck, and so on.
Beyond the obvious ones like Aurélien Tchouaméni and Jude Bellingham, keep close tabs on the likes of Kamaldeen Sulemana, Akram Afif and Piero Hincapié. There’s Joško Gvardiol and Gianluca Busio as well.
There are some standout candidates. Brazil have been exceptional in qualifying, dominating their way to Qatar. France and England have a strong team, as do Spain under Luis Énrique. Don’t underestimate Portugal either, even if Fernando Santos hinders their quality.