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11 New International Stars to Watch at Russia 2018


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With the World Cup in full swing, pundits and predictions are starting to go into overdrive trying to find future stars or hidden gems who might pop up out of nowhere to lead their side to glory.

That said, check out our starting eleven of names you might not have heard of before, but might not be able to forget after the tournament ends. 

For this article, New Internationals means either players who have less than five caps for their country or under the age of 24. Also, there is a maximum of one selection per nation to ensure we get a good balance of countries covered across the squad. 

Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford (England) - Age 24, 3 Caps

England's No. 1 arrives at the tournament after a stellar debut season at Everton scooping numerous personal accolades including the club's Player and Young Player of the Year awards. He appears to have settled well despite his £25m price tag and he is an assured pair of hands behind the youthful England back line. His reflexes are his best asset and he is capable of some terrific diving saves using his reach to the full, but at times his concentration can lapse, much to his detriment. He might be young, but Pickford has almost 200 senior appearances under his belt and if England is to do well, you'd imagine he'll be putting in the work in between the sticks. 

Right Back: Alvaro Odriozola (Spain) - Age 22, 4 Caps

Comfortable anywhere on the right-hand side, there is a reason why Real Madrid and Barcelona are both looking with interest at the Real Sociedad starlet. Having made 50 senior appearances for the San Sebastian outfit after being promoted to the Senior squad from their academy in 2016, Odriozola offers a blend of pace and skill typical of the top class modern full back. His defensive skills have improved immensely this year despite Sociedad's struggles and he has been rewarded with recent caps for his country, scoring his first goal with a stunning strike against Switzerland earlier this month. Odriozola is part of the new guard for a Spanish side in transition, but looks like one who will be there to stay for a long time. 

Centre Back: Benjamin Pavard (France) - Age 22, 6 Caps

After a great pair of seasons for Stuttgart, culminating in a solid mid-table Bundesliga finish and being in contention for the team of the year, Pavard has rightly moved into Didier Deschamps plans for Les Bleus for Russia 2018. His versatility is one of his best assets, capable at playing either in full-back or centre-back, but his most effective international performances have seen him rotating with Benjamin Mendy at left-back. He reads the game very well defensively, whilst his eye for a pass has seen him notch a number of assists and his aerial prowess makes him a threat in both boxes. Although he might not be a starting choice for one of the tournament favourites, he is a very handy option to rotate in. 

Centre Back: Ruben Dias (Portugal) - Age 21, 1 Cap

Voted revelation of the season this year for his performances for Benfica, Ruben Dias looks like following in the footsteps of Bruno Alves and Pepe in becoming a top-class defender for Portugal. Tall and imposing, Dias blends classic no-nonsense powerhouse defending with top-level athleticism and a real hunger for the ball. He has come through the renowned Benfica academy to feature over twenty times for the first team and he has proved to be a goal threat too, already notching three goals for the Eagles. Although he isn't the most experienced squad member going to Russia with the Euro 2016 Champions, he might become one of the most important members - especially if Pepe or Alves picks up a knock, or more likely a suspension. 

Left Back: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Age 19, 10 Caps

If you are trusted by Zinedine Zidane to provide cover for Dani Carvajal at just the tender age of 18, chances are you are a very talented young footballer. This especially rings true for Achraf Hakimi, a modern full-back who appears to have everything in his locker. With strong defending abilities and excellent tracking, he thrives driving forward, supporting wide players and whipping in vicious crosses. He shouldn't be underestimated as a goal threat either, having already scored twice for Los Blancos and also getting his first Morocco goal. He also has experience in the Champions League, making two appearances this year as Real retained their title. Madrid has a number of top-class fullbacks and soon they will need to make a decision on long-term futures, otherwise, they risk losing as talented a young defender as Hakimi for a very poor fee. 

Midfield: Lucas Torreira (Uruguay), Age 22, 3 Caps

Torreira might be making a £25m move to Unai Emery's Arsenal this summer and from his performances for Sampdoria, you can understand why Arsenal want the young box-to-box midfielder. Blessed with near infinite energy, he can keep running for days and is tough in the tackle, providing the essential bite needed in front of the defence. Rather than just being an enforcer, Torreira also has an eye for a pass, often linking up the play between midfield and attack for Sampdoria and then moving forward to contribute himself on the fringes of the final third. He also has an eye for the spectacular, with a hammer of a right foot, leading to the net bulging from long-range strikes. Cavani and Suarez might be the headline names for La Celeste as they look to do well this summer, but the likes of Torreira might just threaten to steal some of the limelight, given a chance. 

Midfield: Albert Guðmundsson (Iceland), Age 20, 5 Caps

One of the least recognisable names on the list, and possibly one of the best-kept secrets in world football, Guðmundsson has terrific footballing pedigree with his whole family steeped in Icelandic footballing history. He looks set to potentially write his own chapter into the legacy, having developed over the past few years with PSV Eindhoven, making over 50 appearances for Jong PSV and scoring over 20 times during that period. Blessed with the uncanny ability of arriving in the right place at the right time, Guðmundsson also has a burst of pace and blend of flair that allows him to glide past other players and create chances, or take them himself. Whilst this World Cup might come a little bit too early for him, he is certainly one to watch for the future and Iceland might have just found their next top class star in Albert Guðmundsson.

Midfield: Érick Gutiérrez (Mexico), Age 22, 9 Caps

With over 125 senior appearances for his club side Pachuca, including over 50 as Captain despite his tender years, Gutiérrez occupies the heavily underrated, but extremely important role in the engine room of the midfield. Capable of getting up and down the pitch for the whole ninety minutes and beyond, Gutiérrez's consistent if not spectacular performances in the Clausura and Apertura in Mexico have resulted in a whole host of sides from European football casting glances his direction, but none have been willing to take the bite yet. Although he is by no means the complete package, the potential is clearly there along with the drive to succeed and Russia 2018 might give him the perfect platform to showcase this. Although he wasn't originally in Juan Carlo Osorio's 23 man squad, an injury to Diego Reyes has given Gutiérrez a chance to show what he can do, and he will be keen to take it.

Forward: Ismaïla Sarr (Senegal), Age 20, 11 Caps

When Stade Rennais signed Ismaïla Sarr in 2017, he turned down a transfer to FC Barcelona who signed ex-Rennes winger Ousmane Dembele a few weeks later. When you compare the two, it is clear to see why Barcelona tried first for the bargain option. £17m seems a steep transfer fee for any teenager, but Ismaïla Sarr has trickery and pace in abundance and is a nightmare for any full-back due to his dazzling quick feet. He's improved his end product immensely as well and started to add goals to his game, notching five goals in 24 appearances for the usually conservative Rennais outfit and looks set to be a key part of Senegal's attack in Russia alongside Liverpool star Sadio Mane. With defenders focused on trying to stop the former, Sarr might find himself able to operate in far too much space and expect to see defences punished if they allow this to happen. 

Forward: Sardar Azmoun (Iran), Age 23, 33 Caps

One of the most experienced and the third oldest member of the team, Sardar Azmoun will be a name familiar to fans of FIFA and Football Manager, Azmoun is the talisman of Carlos Quieroz's Iran outfit and rightly nicknamed the Iranian Messi for the way he leads the line. A prolific finisher, he is comfortable on both feet and very effective in the air. He is clinical inside the box, but can also contribute to attacks with excellent close control and dribbling, meaning he is often the target for cynical fouls from defenders. Having already scored over 20 international goals for Team Melli, Azmoun will be used to playing in Russia, having plied his trade for Rubin Kazan and FC Rostov since 2013, but a good World Cup and maybe Azmoun will finally get his dream move to the Premier League, having been the subject of interest from many sides in the past. Although Iran might struggle to get out of the group stages, Azmoun as their first goalscorer looks a worthy outside bet.  

Fahad Al-Muwallad (Saudi Arabia), Age 23, 45 Caps

Rounding off the side of new names to watch, Al-Muwallad is one of the most exciting footballing talents in Asia and although a bizarre loan deal to Levante did not work out well for the jet-heeled winger, he is one of the stars of an interesting Saudi outfit at Russia. Blessed with lightning pace, Al-Muwallad also has excellent close control and dribbling, but even if it does let him down, he has usually sped away from the defence already and it doesn't matter. He does have something of an eye for goal, having scored ten times already for his country, including most famously the goal which qualified them for the World Cup. Although his end product can sometimes be disappointed, like every winger, at times he can be absolutely unplayable and unbeatable- and when that happens, he is a joy to watch. Al-Muwallad may not be a household name in European football yet, but a good tournament and transfer after, and who knows what might happen? 

Honourable mentions who didn't quite make the starting eleven, but make a formidable bench:

Nigeria's No. 1 Francis Uzoho, the youngest foreign goalkeeper to debut in La Liga and he kept a clean sheet too. The Super Eagles are in safe, if inexperienced hands. Age 18, 6 Caps

Belgian defender Leander Dendocker, a classy centre-back who sweeps up and drives forward to great effect. Can be deployed in central midfield for extra steel. Age 23, 5 Caps

Peru's Renato Tapia, a solid sturdy energetic midfielder who is built to last and leads by example. Can slot in at the back if required too. Age 22, 23 Caps

Polish midfielder Karol Linetty, capable of doing the simple things well and sitting in front of the back four to protect them. You don't notice his influence until he is missing. Age 23, 20 Caps

Tricky Serbian playmaker Adrija Živković, the youngest ever Partizan Belgrade captain and youngest ever debutant for The Orlovi. Another young star for Benfica as well. Age 21, 10 Caps

South Korea's left winger Lee Seung-Woo; the man who Barcelona were willing to get a transfer ban in order to sign. Although it didn't quite happen, he is still a precocious talent. Age 20, 4 Caps

Egypt's attacker Kahraba; all eyes might be on Mo Salah but he is plenty capable of doing damage himself with pace, trickery and a cool finish. Age 24, 19 Caps

WILDCARD: Daniel Arzani: The youngest player at the World Cup, possibly Australia's secret weapon. He was named A-League Young Footballer of the Year, completed 89 dribbles, has over 50 senior appearances and already has his first international goal. With pace to burn, fast feet and growing composure when under pressure to deliver, Russia might be the birth of a genuine footballing superstar if Arzani gets a chance. Age 19, 2 Caps

Top image shows Benjamin Pavard. Image above shows Lucas Torreira. Main Image shows Sardar Azmoun. 

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons.

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