World Cup 2022: Eyes on ten new players – including Little Pep & the Liberator of Arsenal

To see young players at the World Cup

host nation: Qatar Events: 20 Nov-18 Nov December Cover: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Daily TV ListsFull coverage details

France’s Kylian Mbappe was the star of the 2018 World Cup but who will make their mark in Qatar 2022?

The 22nd edition of the tournament features more players than ever before, totaling 832 across the 32 teams.

Among them are many established global superstars, but there are also many lesser-known faces looking to shine on football’s biggest stage.

Here, BBC Sport TV and radio World Cup commentators Guy Mowbray, John Murray and Vicki Sparks have handpicked 10 players outside of the Premier League worth keeping an eye on this winter.

1. Daichi Kamada (Japan)

Age: 26 Position: midfield Association: Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
Japan's Daichi Kamada
Kamada has been dubbed the “liberator of Arsenal” in a cheeky Wikipedia edit after his two goals for Frankfurt at the Emirates Stadium in 2019 spelled the end of Unai Emery’s tenure as Gunners boss. The entry was changed soon after, but his performance – and nickname – is always pulled whenever he is linked with a move to England, including when Tottenham were reportedly interested last summer

Guy Mowbray: He’s not exactly a young contender but Daichi Kamada is a player we could soon see in the Premier League, with Everton reportedly leading English interest.

Kamada is enjoying a stellar season in the Bundesliga and Europa League after toiling after moving to Frankfurt from Japan in 2017. An all-round midfielder whose greatest strengths are on offense but who can play deeper and likes to tackle tackles too.

Shinji Kagawa was just ‘ok’ for Manchester United and we never saw the great Hidetoshi Nakata at his peak for Bolton – could Kamada be the first Japanese star to really shine here?

Or, with his contract expiring at the end of the season and Borussia Dortmund keen, he could even be the key to Jude Bellingham ‘coming home’ to the Premier League.

2. Pedri (Spain)

Age: 19 Position: midfield player Association: Barcelona, ​​Spain)
Midfielder Pedri of Spain and Barcelona
How good is Pedri? Barcelona coach Xavi said in February: “There is no player in the world with as much talent as Pedri – and he’s only 19.”

Vicky Sparks: Already established in Barcelona midfield, Pedri has 100 first-team appearances for the side he supported as a boy despite missing four months last season with a hamstring injury.

An intelligent player who says he’s trying to fool his opponents because he’s not physically strong has already made an impression in a major tournament.

He was a semi-finalist with Spain at last season’s European Championships, but was also named Young Player of the Tournament and included in the Team of the Tournament.

Will his first world championship match that?

3.Antonio Silva (Portugal)

Age: 19 Position: centre-back Association: Benfica (Portugal)
Portugal's and Benfica defender Antonio Silva
Silva celebrates his first Champions League goal after scoring the opening goal in Benfica’s thrilling 4-3 win over Juventus on 25 October, five days before his 19th birthday. Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris-St. Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all said to have haunted him

Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray: Antonio Silva’s star has risen very quickly this season with his breakthrough to the first-team at undefeated Portuguese leaders Benfica and won his Champions League group ahead of Paris St-Germain.

New Benfica manager Roger Schmidt turned to Silva when he was injured and the teenager was impressed at how much he’s landed a new contract with a €100m release clause. In less than three months he went from first-team debut to World Cup squad.

4. Noah Okafor (Switzerland)

Age: 22 Position: Forward Association: RB Salzburg (Austria)
Noah Okafor from Switzerland and Red Bull Salzburg
Manchester City and Liverpool are among the clubs linked with a move to Okafor in January

Vicky Sparks: Noah Okafor is a versatile forward who can play down the middle or down the outside line. Noah Okafor has scored ten times in 22 games in all competitions for his club this season.

Including three goals in the Champions League, with Red Bull Salzburg drawing with their goals against Chelsea and AC Milan.

Okafor also scored an important goal for his country when he scored the opener in the 4-0 win over Bulgaria that secured Switzerland’s place in Qatar and he is attracting the attention of some big clubs across Europe.

5. Pedro (Brazil)

Age: 25 Position: striker Association: Flamengo (Brazil)
Brazil striker Pedro
Pedro only played four times in Serie A for Fiorentina in the 2019/20 season without scoring a goal

Guy Mowbray: How do you celebrate being selected for the biggest World Cup nation? In Pedro’s case, by proposing to his girlfriend right away! A noble note from a noble player.

Let’s face it, to be included in a squad with as many attacking talents as Brazil, you have to have something special.

Since returning to Brazil after an unsuccessful short game at Fiorentina in 2019-20 (just after knee surgery), he has been a regular goalscorer, winning 12 in the Copa Libertadores en route to Flamengo last month – including four in a round of 16 game against the Colombian club Deportes Tolima.

He’s not fast, but he’s an excellent finisher. A prominent replacement role is waiting when the Selecao needs something else.

6. Gavi (Spain)

Age: 18 Position: midfield player Association: Barcelona, ​​Spain)
Spain and Barcelona midfielder Gavi
In September, Gavi signed a new contract with Barcelona that runs until 2026 and includes a €1bn (£865m) buyout clause

Vicky Sparks: Certainly no surprise that he’s included in this list – he’s already made 66 appearances for Barcelona despite only turning 18 in August – but could Gavi be one of THE stars in his first major tournament?

The midfielder is no stranger to breaking records – he is Spain’s youngest debutant and youngest goalscorer – and has proven his young shoulders can shoulder the burden of senior-level responsibility. You don’t make your La Liga debut just weeks after your 17th birthday, followed by your Spain debut in the Nations League semi-final against Italy when you’re not up to the challenge – and he continues to do so with aplomb.

7. Jewison Bennette (Costa Rica)

Age: 18 Position: Forward Association: Sunderland (England)
Jewison Bennette from Costa Rica
Bennette, who celebrates Costa Rica’s World Cup play-off win over New Zealand here, has scored in nine substitute appearances for Sunderland

Vicky Sparks: He is yet to make his full Sunderland debut after signing in the summer but Jewison Bennette has certainly settled in at the Stadium of Light.

The left winger is a fan favorite for his raw speed and first touch – and the fact that he takes the bus to training with his dad, who was also a Costa Rica international.

Bennette became the youngest Costa Rican player in their history when he made his debut against El Salvador in August 2021 and quickly became a key player. He set up Joel Campbell’s winner against New Zealand in the play-off that sealed their place in Qatar.

8. Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)

Age: 20 Position: centre-back Association: RB Leipzig (Spain)
Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol
Gvardiol is known as Little Pep due to the similarities in their surnames in reference to Manchester City manager Guardiola

Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray: There was concern in Croatia earlier this month when Josko Gvardiol broke his nose and suffered a swollen eye in RB Leipzig’s game against Freiburg. The relief when the central defender was released for the World Cup shows how highly he is rated.

As a 19-year-old, Gvardiol was in the starting XI in all Croatian games at the European Championship last year, last season he won the German Cup and the DFB Cup with Leipzig and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League.

He finished sixth in this year’s Kopa Trophy ranking for the best players under 21 and scored his first Champions League goal in Leipzig’s 3-2 win over Real Madrid last month.

9. Garang Kuol (Australia)

Age: 18 Position: Forward Association: Central Coast Mariners (Australia)
Australia striker Garang Kuol
Garang Kuol made his international debut against New Zealand in September aged 18 years and 10 days, becoming the youngest Australian debutant since Harry Kewell in 1996

Vicky Sparks: It’s been a full year for Garang Kuol. He made his senior debut last December, signed his first professional contract in June and in September agreed a move to Newcastle United in January.

He was called up to Australia’s World Cup squad before making his debut in the A-League but his stats as a substitute are as spectacular as his progress in his young career, scoring four goals in his first seven appearances for Central coastal sailors.

Kuol was born in Egypt and came to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan. He hasn’t played for Australia either – his only cap so far also came as a substitute – but he’s definitely a player to watch out for in Qatar.

10. Bilal El Khannouss (Morocco)

Age: 18 Position: midfield player Association: Genk (Belgium)

Moroccan midfielder Bilal El Khannous

Guy Mowbray: El Khannouss is one of those potential World Cup jewels – an undisputed teenage talent.

The midfielder has been rewarded for becoming a regular at Genk this season and has the technical skills to be a real player. Playing in an attacking midfield role, he’s slowly gaining confidence to back what he’s got with numbers – assists and goals.

That would best manifest itself in Morocco’s second group game – against their native and home country Belgium.

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