World Cup 2018: Young players to watch in Russia - including 'El Chucky', 'The Sergeant' & 'The Bull'

By Chris BevanBBC Sport
Hirving Lozano, Andre Silva, Breel Embolo, Youri Tielemans, Maxi Gomez, Cristian Pavon
Clockwise from top left: Hirving Lozano, Andre Silva, Breel Embolo, Youri Tielemans, Maxi Gomez and Cristian Pavon are among the young stars to watch at the 2018 World Cup
World Cup 2018 on the BBC
Host: Russia Dates: 14 June - 15 July
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We already know about the superstars who could light up the 2018 Fifa World Cup, but what about the next generation of talent?

Few of the 736 players who could feature in Russia can be classed as total unknowns but there will still be some unfamiliar faces looking to announce themselves on the global stage.

Here, BBC Sport's TV and radio World Cup commentators pick out the 15 young players from outside the Premier League who are worth watching out for this summer.

1. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)

Age: 22Position: WingerClub: PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
Hirving Lozano
Lozano was given his nickname 'El Chucky' as a child, when he would hide under the bed and try to frighten other boys. He hit four goals in Mexico's qualifying campaign and was named one of Fifa's young stars of 2017

Steve Wilson: With 19 goals and 11 assists in 34 games, Lozano's statistics in PSV's Eredivisie-winning season - his first campaign in Europe - show the potential he showed at Pachuca is now being fully realised.

Having played his way into Mexico's Confederations Cup team last summer, he scored in a 2-1 win over Russia before the semi-final defeat by Germany. His brace in a 3-3 draw in Belgium in November was another headline-grabbing performance from a forward who can play on the right or left of a central striker.

Jonathan Pearce: Lozano is a brilliant, fiery prospect and could well light up these finals - he has searing pace and loves to roll in off the left to score with his favoured right foot.

As well as his goals at club level, he has seven strikes in 27 senior internationals for Mexico, which is a good return for a young player.

There's a catch - he was sent off twice for PSV this season and for Mexico at the 2016 Olympics - but he seems determined to make an impact one way or another.

2. Cristian Pavon (Argentina)

Age: 22Position: WingerClub: Boca Juniors (Argentina)
Cristian Pavon
Pavon loves to cut in from the left on to his right foot and is showing a promising understanding with Lionel Messi. Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli says: 'Cristian is a player who has very special characteristics for communicating with Messi. He goes to space, he is offering all the time and he has an important dynamic'

Guy Mowbray: With such a stellar list of names ahead of him in the Argentina side, the Boca Juniors prospect might not get any game time in Russia - but if he does get off the bench it's a chance to show he will soon belong in the best company.

Pavon looks set for a move to Benfica, following the European path trodden by Angel di Maria - an obvious player for comparison, and one who might soon make way for the young pretender.

3. Aleksei Miranchuk (Russia)

Age: 22Position: Attacking midfielderClub: Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)
Aleksei Miranchuk
Miranchuk, who can play on the right wing or up front, scored seven goals to help Lokomotiv Moscow win the Russian Premier League for the first time since 2004. His twin brother Anton is a midfielder

Conor McNamara: I am commentating on the opening game of the World Cup, so I've been keeping a close eye on Russia's build-up. There is a lot of pressure on the hosts, who will be hoping Miranchuk steps up as one of the stars. He could be their creative inspiration.

Listen to McNamara's commentary of Russia v Saudi Arabia (kick-off 16:00 BST) on BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday, 14 June.

Steve Wilson: Russia are desperate for someone to galvanise the team to at least a respectable showing as hosts.

That someone may yet be the long-lauded Aleksandr Golovin, who went to Euro 2016 with great expectations that seemed only to prove a burden - or it may be the slightly older Miranchuk, who has just helped Lokomotiv win the Russian title along with twin brother Anton, who is also in the squad.

An attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Aleksei has developed well since his brief appearance in last summer's Confederations Cup.

4. Breel Embolo (Switzerland)

Age: 21Position: StrikerClub: Schalke 04 (Germany)
Breel Embolo
Embolo was born in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, and lived there until he was five. After a year in France, he moved to Basel and has had a Swiss passport since 2014. He is a favourite of the Switzerland fans, who sing 'Oh Embolo! Oh Embolo!' (to the tune of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight')

Ian Dennis: I first saw Embolo play four years ago when his FC Basel side beat Liverpool in the Champions League. As a teenager, he was raw but had electrifying pace to trouble defenders.

He left Switzerland in the summer of 2016 to move to Schalke but an ankle injury that October ended his first season in Germany prematurely.

Embolo still needs to add goals to his game but he's a powerful striker and still only 21.

5. Renato Tapia (Peru)

Age: 22Position: Midfielder, centre-half, right-backClub: Feyenoord (Netherlands)
Renato Tapia
Tapia left Peru aged 16 for a trial with Liverpool in 2011 after they spotted him in the World Youth Cup but, in an interview he gave to Dutch magazine Voetbal International in 2016, he claimed the Reds told him he was too short - despite him being 6ft tall at the time. He has now grown an extra half-inch.

Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray: Renato Tapia is a rising star, and a versatile one too. He has been schooled in Dutch football since he moved to Europe to join FC Twente in 2013 and is now at Feyenoord. Despite his age, he is an important part of a Peru team going to the World Cup with form and confidence - and is viewed as a future captain of Los Incas.

6. Sardar Azmoun (Iran)

Age: 23Position: StrikerClub: Rubin Kazan (Russia)
Sardar Azmoun
Known as 'the Iranian Messi' - for his dribbling ability - and 'the Iranian Zlatan' for his quality in the air, Azmoun was heavily linked with Liverpool in January 2016 but a transfer never materialised

Alistair Bruce-Ball: Azmoun scored 11 goals in 14 games in qualifying and has a fantastic strike rate of 23 goals in 32 international appearances.

Iran are very good defensively - Carlos Queiroz's side kept nine consecutive clean sheets in their final round of qualification games - but, if they're going to progress in Russia, they will have to score with the few chances that come their way. A lot of that will be down to Azmoun.

7. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)

Age: 19Position: Full-backClub: Real Madrid (Spain)
Achraf Hakimi
Hakimi was born in Getafe, Spain, but both his parents are from Morocco and he made his debut for the Atlas Lions at the age of 17, before he made his senior debut for Real Madrid

Steve Wilson: At 19, Hakimi already has winner's medals from the Club World Cup and Champions League. He played at right-back in both Real's matches against Spurs in the latter competition this season - and made 17 first-team appearances in all - but may start at left-back for Morocco in Russia.

Former Real boss Zinedine Zidane liked him so much he was happy to sell Brazil international Danilo to Manchester City. Enough said.

8. Andre Silva (Portugal)

Age: 22Position: StrikerClub: AC Milan (Italy)
Andre Silva
Silva, who has scored 12 goals in 22 games for Portugal, joined AC Milan from Porto for £33m in the summer of 2017

Conor McNamara: Silva is still finding his way at AC Milan and was mainly used as a substitute last season in Serie A, but he was given more of a chance in the Europa League and scored six goals in eight starts in that competition in 2017-18.

So far in his international career he has averaged a goal every three shots, and apparently Wolves and Huddersfield are interested in bringing him to the Premier League next season.

Wherever he ends up playing his club football, Cristiano Ronaldo has already said Silva can be his long-term successor as Portugal's main goalscorer.

9. Rodrigo Bentancur (Uruguay)

Age: 20Position: MidfielderClub: Juventus (Italy)
Rodrigo Bentancur
Juve provisionally signed Bentancur in 2015 as part of the deal that saw Carlos Tevez move to Boca Juniors. He eventually joined the Italian side for £8m in July 2017

John Murray: Good things are expected of this tall, two-footed midfielder who has just finished his first season with Juventus and only made his senior international debut in October 2017.

I'm expecting Uruguay to do well and, if they do, Bentancur could well get his chance to shine.

10. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Iran)

Age: 24Position: StrikerClub: AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Jahanbakhsh scored 21 goals and made 12 assists for AZ Alkmaar and became the first footballer from the Middle East or Asia to finish as top scorer in a major European league

Guy Mowbray: It would be a surprise if Carlos Queiroz can guide Iran out of the group stage above either Spain or his native Portugal, but in AZ striker Alireza Jahanbakhsh he has a player of quality who's being linked with a move to the Premier League.

Sure, the Eredivisie isn't the top level these days, but to finish as top scorer is still no mean feat - he's following some major players to the honour.

A goal against one or both of the big guns in Group B might not get Iran through to the last 16, but it might get his Dutch club side a few more million euros later this summer.

11. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)

Age: 23Position: MidfielderClub: Lazio (Italy)
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Nicknamed the Sergeant, Milinkovic-Savic stands 6ft 4in tall. His mother was a professional basketball player and tall genes run in the family - his younger brother Vanja is 6ft 8in is a goalkeeper who signed for Manchester United in 2014 but left after failing to secure a work permit.

Steve Wilson: Born in Spain, Milinkovic-Savic has been a great success for Lazio - scoring 14 goals from midfield last season - and is reported to be on Manchester United's shopping list.

The 23-year-old has won both the Under-20 World Cup and the Under-19 European Championship with his country and is vying with Andrija Zivkovic of Benfica for the title of Serbia's brightest young thing.

Alistair Bruce-Ball: He only has three caps for his country because the former manager Slavoljub Muslin didn't pick him, much to the chagrin of the Serbian fans. Russia could be his chance to shine.

12. Youri Tielemans (Belgium)

Age: 21Position: MidfielderClub: Monaco (France)
Youri Tielemans
Tielemans says playing judo from the age of four has helped him in his football career, explaining: "It taught me a lot because you have to think. You have to use your strength and play with the weakness of the opponent. You have to use your head and then there is this culture of work."

Ian Dennis: This 21-year-old midfielder might go under the radar behind Belgium's big names, only four appearances in qualifying but has clearly been noticed by a lot of scouts.

I watched him play against Manchester United in the Europa League last year, when he was being tracked by Premier League clubs prior to his move to Monaco from Anderlecht. It is easy to see why - he has all the attributes, technique, vision and provides real drive from midfield.

13. Ismaila Sarr (Senegal)

Age: 20Position: ForwardClub: Rennes (France)
Ismaila Sarr
Sarr is from the same 'Generation Foot' academy in Senegal that produced Liverpool's Sadio Mane. As well as claiming he rejected Barcelona, Sarr was linked with Newcastle and Borussia Dortmund before joining Rennes last summer

Steve Wilson: A left-sided attacker who is drawing inevitable comparisons to countryman Sadio Mane, Sarr has fought back well from a serious tendon injury in September 2017 to make the £15m Rennes paid Metz for him look like money well spent.

Sarr chose Rennes and regular football ahead of a move to Barcelona, which must have been a tough but level-headed choice. If he does as well as many expect in Russia, then another queue for his signature will be forming.

14. Uros Spajic (Serbia)

Age: 25Position: Centre-backClub: Krasnodar (Russia)
Uros Spajic
Spajic joined Anderlect for £2m from French side Toulouse in 2017, after spending a year on loan with the Belgian side

Ian Dennis: Spajic turned 25 this year so is a little older than most on this list, but remains an excellent prospect and I was surprised he recently headed east - he's just signed for Russian side Krasnodar for 7m euros from Belgian side Anderlecht.

A dependable, brave centre-back who is good in the air, he is a player who is alert to danger and also happy to put his body on the line.

15. Maxi Gomez (Uruguay)

Age: 21Position: StrikerClub: Celta Vigo (Spain)
Maxi Gomez
Nicknamed 'the Bull', Gomez scored 18 times for Celta Vigo in the season just finished - including strikes against both Barcelona and Real Madrid

Steve Wilson: With Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez around, getting playing time for Uruguay is going to be the problem for Gomez, who has been a huge success in his first season in Europe with Celta Vigo.

A big-money move to Beijing Guoan which would reportedly have increased his wages tenfold stalled in January as Gomez got cold feet about China. He was wise to think twice - further fame and fortune are just around the corner.


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