The World Cup is upon us, which means it’s time to gather together as a global community and enjoy The Beautiful Game. Or, well, just blow off work and watch some soccer.
In anticipation of this thing, I wanted to make a list of a group of players who I feel you might fall in love with this tournament. My criteria for this list is, well, I don’t know. It sorta shifts. Basically: Players I don’t think a lot of casual soccer fans know about who are also extremely dope. Also, there are no defenders on this list, because people tend not to fall in love with defenders, except that one World Cup where we all decided to talk about Fabio Cannavaro for the entire tournament for some reason.
Before I dive into these potential breakout stars, I should probably also include a list of players you could fall in love with if you have never watched soccer at all. Here are some of those people: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, Isco, Antoine Griezmann, and Paul Pogba.
If you haven’t heard of any of those guys, I implore you to go and Google them. Watch their highlights. They are all exceedingly good at soccer!
OK, let’s get to the hipster shit now.
Hirving Lozano — Mexico
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano not only has one of the best nicknames in world soccer, he’s also just 22 years old and had a huge breakout season as a winger for PSV, where he scored 17 goals in just 29 appearances for the club. Look for Mexico to try and create space for Lozano to work in the attacking third, and don’t be surprised if he puts the ball in the net. Also some club is going to pay a goddamn truckload of money for in a couple years.
Saîf-Eddine Khaoui — Tunisia
Khaoui doesn’t have quite the worldwide attention on him as some of the other players on this list, but I’ve watched a few Tunisia friendlies and I really, really like this kid. Just 23, playing an attacking winger or pure 10 role, Khaoui doesn’t possess truly elite speed or skill, but what I will say about him is: He tries shit. Tunisia builds their team on the counter, and what I love about Khaoui is he always seems eager to get the ball and try something creative. That’s a real skill.
Son Heung-min — South Korea
I’m certain the soccer-heads are all scoffing at this pick, because they all already know Son — a flashy and exciting winger and striker for Tottenham Hotspur — but there are some of us out there who don’t wake up early every Saturday morning and ignore our families to watch Spurs play West Ham.
Anyway, Son is exciting, and if his South Korea team can maintain possession in these games and get him in attacking spaces, he can make stuff happen against just about any defender in the world.
Kylian Mbappé — France
Another one the soccer-heads know, another one that good lord if you haven’t seen Kylian Mbappé play drop everything you’re doing and watch this kid play soccer. He’s just 19 years old, and in a team that features Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, it’s entirely possible that France builds their attack around him. He’s 19!
Goncalo Guedes — Portugal
Just 21, Guedes is already being set up to play the complementary role to Cristiano Ronaldo in this World Cup. That’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s easy to get overshadowed by one of the greatest to ever play the game. But Guedes is bright, skilled, and eager, and if he and Ronaldo can work out some chemistry, the PSG-owned winger could see himself vaulted into the worldwide spotlight.
Christian Cueva — Peru
Peru is good. PERU IS GOOD. Look at this shit:
Peru's goal against Croatia in March. Watch out for them in the World Cup— Troll Football Media (@Troll__Footbal) June 2, 2018
( : @NikolaJanjic291 )pic.twitter.com/fqp6TxzpiG
That’s 26-year-old Christian Cueva with that incisive pass to spring the striker in that run of play. The No. 10 currently plays for Sao Paolo in Brazil, and plays well for them, but if Peru makes any sort of run in this tournament, and Cueva plays like I think he’ll play, the big European clubs are going to come calling.
Timo Werner — Germany
Germany has like 75 world-class players, so it’s hard to get excited about one over the other, but you should really get excited about Timo Werner. The 22-year-old RB Leipzig attacker is already being linked to some of the top clubs in the world, and with good reason. It should say something that for all the talent Germany has at its disposal, it looks like Werner will be one of the focal points of its attack.
Hakim Ziyech — Morocco
Ziyech is just 25, but when you play for Ajax, that makes you one of the elder statesmen of the team. The Moroccan attacking midfielder likes to dribble people and score free kick goals. If either of those are your things, you will probably like him, and perhaps ... love him.
Gabriel Jesus — Brazil
He’s young, he’s Brazilian, he plays for Manchester City, and he’s going to score a lot of goals this tournament. If you follow soccer, you probably know him already. If you don’t know him for some reason, get ready to.
Sergej Milinković-Savić — Serbia
Milinković-Savić, a 23-year-old Serbian midfielder, is being linked to Manchester United and other top clubs after impressing for Lazio over the last two seasons. A pure box-to-box midfielder, Milinković-Savić’s Wikipedia page compares his play to Zidane’s, which makes me think maybe Milinković-Savić has been editing his Wikipedia page. Kidding. Sort of. He’s extremely good, though, and if Serbia puts it together for a run, he will be important in them doing so.