The business end of the FIFA World Cup 2022 tournament will commence tonight with Neymar’s Brazil taking on the 2018 finalists Croatia in the first quarter-final fixture.
While the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Robert Lewandowski grabbed most of the attention, the group-stage fixtures also saw numerous youngsters making a mark on the world stage.
Breakout stars are keenly watched at every World Cup as these players usually go on to build successful careers both in domestic and international football – Kylian Mbappe with France is perhaps the best example.
Let’s take a look at five breakout stars from the group stages of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
#5: Josko Gvardiol
Croatia have emerged as this World Cup’s best defencive side, conceding just two goals in four fixtures in their run-up to the quarterfinals.
Luka Modric has emerged as a capable leader of the new heavyweights of Europe, with Croatia looking to replicate their success from the last edition of the World Cup once again.
As the anchor of their defencive unit, Josko Gvardiol has grabbed the spotlight as one of the tournament’s best defenders. His last-ditch attempt to save Croatia from elimination in the game against Belgium has garnered widespread praise, even if that meant that the 20-year-old now has to continue for the rest of the tournament with an injury.
With brilliant timing and masterly possession of the ball, Josko Gvardiol has utilised the opportunity given to him by his national side to near perfection. The RB Leipzig defender has evinced interest from numerous clubs already and is likely to be a hot transfer target during the summer window.
#4: Enzo Fernandez
Enzo Fernandez announced his arrival on the world stage with impeccable performances in the midfield for Argentina in the group stages.
The 21-year-old wasn’t even a first-choice selection in Lionel Scaloni’s squad for the World Cup, with much more experienced players from the side that won the Copa America last year considered favourites.
But Enzo Fernandez’s move to Benfica this summer boosted his profile – with Benfica now above Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in the UEFA Champions League group stage table.
That experience with European football helped him land a place in Argentina’s final squad. He was not the primary choice in their first game against Saudi Arabia but quickly claimed a midfield role with his brilliant goal against Mexico in the second game after coming in as a substitute.
With that goal, Enzo Fernandez became the second youngest player to score for Argentina at a World Cup, only behind Lionel Messi.
With an own goal in Argentina’s Round of 16 fixture against Australia, Enzo Fernandez also holds the infamous record of being their youngest own-goal scorer.
With many stalwarts of Argentina likely retiring after the current World Cup, the rise of young stars like Enzo Fernandez is a good development for the South American side – with Lionel Scaloni giving them full support in the current tournament.
#3: Mohammed Kudus
Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus has emerged as one of the finest stars from Africa in the current World Cup. The 22-year-old midfielder was the anchor of Ghana’s side right from the start of the tournament, showing both aggression and defensive tenacity according to the requirements of the team.
Considered Ghana’s Golden Boy, the rise of Mohammed Kudus from the academy to international football is widely celebrated across the nation. His move to Ajax in 2020 grew his stature as he is considered one of Europe’s finest young players in the last two seasons.
In the World Cup, Mohammed Kudus brought much-needed experience and mentality to a lacklustre team, helping them stay in the tournament for much longer than they deserved.
With two goals in the game against South Korea, Mohammed Kudus helped Ghana secure a crucial 3-2 victory, keeping them in the competition for a bit longer.
Borussia Dortmund have already expressed interest in signing the star for the next season with a potential transfer likely in the summer.
#2: Tyler Adams
The United States Men’s National Team could not make it to the quarter-finals, but they put on one of their finest World Cup performances in recent history in Qatar. At the helm of their extraordinary group stage run is their captain and Leeds United star Tyler Adams.
A homegrown talent for the United States, Tyler Adams was named the captain of the squad before the tournament – making him the youngest captain in the competition. He had the task of leading an inexperienced but versatile squad and did so with great composure and maturity.
Under his leadership, the United States held Gareth Southgate’s England to a draw, dominated Wales and won their final fixture against Iran to advance to the knockout rounds.
Fiorentina have already expressed an interest in the Leeds United star, but a January move seems unlikely given Serie A’s registration rules. A potential offer from either Manchester United or Chelsea can also be under the radar for the American captain by the end of the season.
#1: Cody Gakpo
Cody Gakpo has not only emerged as the best breakout star from the tournament but is closely trailing Kylian Mbappe in the race for Golden Ball. The Dutch forward has become the first player to score in all three group-stage games for the Netherlands, singlehandedly helping the European nation qualify for the knockout rounds.
A PSV academy graduate, Cody Gakpo excelled at home last season, claiming the Dutch Footballer of the Year award with 21 goals across all competitions. The 23-year-old is well on his way to breaking that record, already scoring 13 goals so far this season in 24 games.
Cody Gakpo has become the key man for the Netherlands in the World Cup with the rest of the team failing to impress at key moments. While the Netherlands could brush aside the challenge from the United States in the Round of 16 without his help, they would need him to play a central role in tonight’s game against Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
With an impressive performance to boast of, Cody Gakpo is unlikely to remain at PSV by the season’s end – with Manchester United likely to be his next home.
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