20 Unknown Players Who Could Star at the 2018 World Cup
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup barely in the books, we turn our attention to the future.
Russia are due to host the next tournament—a far-cry from the warm climates, sunny shores and beaches of Brazil—but who is in line to star?
We run through 20 top prospects who have a chance, should their progression and development continue, of really making an impact at finals.
We've tried to stray toward the unknown players, though it's inevitable you'll have heard of some. Ten points for each you recognise!
Dan Crowley, England
Dan Crowley is the future of England's midfield, and if all goes to plan in the Arsenal academy over the next few years he'll be challenging Jack Wilshere for dominance at both club and country level.
The central midfield playmaker was poached from the Aston Villa academy at just 16 years of age and stands 17 still, but has captained England up to an U-18 level already.
His passing, poise and technique ooze quality.
Hachim Mastour, Italy
The hype surrounding Hachim Mastour is incredible, but once you catch a glimpse of him in action you'll understand why.
The 16-year-old will be part of Milan's first-team squad this season as he steps up his remarkable football career to date, and if he settles quickly and bulks out a little he could see action by the end of the season.
Italy love a playmaker and they're not afraid to use them.
With Dante 30 years of age it's difficult to believe he'll play another FIFA World Cup, so attention turns to the youth ranks and Doria springs to the forefront.
He's playing superbly with Botafogo and shows exceptional ability in central defence for one so young, stepping out calmly, dominating aerially and passing well.
Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Dede, Doria and David Luiz—what a stock of CBs for Brazil!
Tonny Vilhena, Netherlands
Tonny Vilhena will hit the century-mark for appearances for Feyenoord this coming season despite standing just 19 years of age.
Any grumbles about a lack of Oranje midfield talent—and of an inability to play through the middle of the park—will surely cease when this man rises to take the mantle in the Netherlands midfield.
Timo Werner, Germany
Timo Werner, the youngest player to score a brace in Bundesliga history at 17 years of age, is gradually moving toward his natural position of centre-forward.
He played out on the left with regularity for Stuttgart in his debut season and saw plenty of action, starting 16 of his 30 games in 2013-14. Soon he will be looked at as a serious replacement for Miroslav Klose.
Jonathan Tah, Germany
With Michael Mancienne sealing a move to Nottingham Forest, per Sky Sports, Jonathan Tah's path to the Hamburg first-team has been completely cleared.
HSV were a bit of a ship-wreck last season but Tah, 18, was one of the few bright spots. He collected 14 Bundesliga starts from centre-back and showed massive promise.
With Mats Hummels and Benedikt Hoewedes somewhat injury prone and Per Mertesacker on his last legs, Tah looks a serious option for 2018.
Davy Klaassen, Netherlands
What were we saying about a lack of Netherlands midfield talent?
Davy Klaassen, like Tonny Vilhena, has the ability to run a game and drift forward with the ball at his feet. His finishing is sharp in patches and he's a skillful technician; serious coaching over the next two years will coax a world-class footballer out of the woodwork.
Lucas Silva, Brazil
Brazil's central midfield is in disarray, with only Luiz Gustavo really impressing during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Paulinho and Hernanes, among others, will come to the end of their tethers, and instead of relying on the likes of Romulo (who hasn't lived up to his potential), Lucas Silva is a decent option moving forward.
He's strong in possession and very calm on the ball.
Donis Avdijaj, Germany
Donis Avdijaj is the second potential German forward in our 20, and if his 2012-13 season tallies are anything to go by, he stands a good chance of making the grade.
Gabriel Barbosa, Brazil
Gabriel Barbosa, nicknamed "Gabigol" affectionately after the legendary Gabriel Batistuta, is one Brazil have very, very high hopes for.
At age 17 he's already playing regularly in Santos' first team and has managed more than 15 professional goals in all competitions.
Is he the answer in the wake of Jo and Fred's woeful 2014 campaign?
Quincy Promes, Netherlands
The 2014 FIFA World Cup came just too soon for Quincy Promes, but if he keeps up the same level of performance over the next four years he'll be a star.
He got the Go Ahead Eagles promoted in his maiden first-team campaign and earned a move to FC Twente as a result. His 11 goals and eight assists last season, per WhoScored.com, helped the side mount a title run.
With Dusan Tadic gone, he's the main man.
Luciano Vietto, Argentina
Luciano Vietto is Racing Club's brightest star, and having debuted under Diego Simeone before he left for Spain, the young hybrid attacker has collected more than 60 appearances for the club.
With questions surrounding Argentina's depth up front, Vietto is someone who could leap into the conversation if he nails his next move.
Richairo Zivkovic, Netherlands
Life after Robin van Persie may not be so difficult if Richairo Zivkovic lives up to the promise surrounding him.
Like Luis Suarez before him, the Serbian-born Dutchman will move from Groningen to Ajax to start the 2014-15 season, and he's expected to impress from the off.
Bruno Zuculini, Argentina
Bruno Zuculini has joined Manchester City from Luciano Vietto's Racing Club and will learn from some of the very best.
Manuel Pellegrini can spot a talent a mile off and, providing Bruno is not a false dawn like his brother Franco Zuculini was, Argentina have a sturdy midfielder to rely upon once the current crop drop away.
Learning from Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. Incredible.
Jonathan Silva, Argentina
Argentina need a left-back to challenge Marcos Rojo for the spot in 2018.
The Sporting centre-back stood in on the left for Alejandro Sabella this summer and played well, but his back-up option, Jose Basanta of Monterrey, is very average.
Step forward, then, Jonathan Silva of Estudiantes; he's the most promising left-back in Argentine football right now.
Tin Jedvaj, Croatia
Croatia need a long-term replacement for Vedran Corluka and partner for Dejan Lovren, and AS Roma have just the man for them.
Tin Jedvaj, heralded as one of the next great central defensive Baltic prospects, is embarking on a long-term loan deal with Bayer Leverkusen to gain experience, and the Vatreni will hope he moves through the gears very quickly indeed.
Charly Musonda, Belgium
Belgium are a few key parts away from a stellar XI, and central midfield was an issue that arose in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Marouane Fellaini doesn't cut it and Mousa Dembele/Nacer Chadli were even worse. Marc Wilmots will look, hopefully, to Charly Musonda's progression through the Chelsea ranks and look to incorporate his mazy, game-breaking style.
Daniele Rugani, Italy
There must be life after Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, and Italy fans hope that comes in the form of Daniele Rugani.
He's already on Juventus' books, though on loan at Empoli at the moment, and at 20 years of age looks just about the brightest prospect the Azzurri have...
Alessio Romagnoli, Italy
...that is, of course, unless you've seen Alessio Romagnoli in his sporadic appearances for Roma, who gives Rugani a real run for his money.
Romagnoli was played out of position last season at times, mainly at left-back, as he continues his rapid footballing education. He's a little soft in the air at the moment, but Azzurri training camp will soon knock that out of him.
Patrick Roberts, England
There's a real chance we see Patrick Roberts challenging for a spot in Fulham's first team next season; the club's relegation from the Premier League could be the thing that makes his career.
He's a remarkably talented, quick-witted technician, at home in the No. 10 role, but he can play out wide or just off the front man too.
His partnership with Moussa Dembele in the youth teams last year was fruitful to say the least.