There’s something special about a first experience, and there’s no second chance for a first impression. We can continue citing clichés but the bottom line is that ahead of every World Cup, there are the select players we’re looking forward to seeing making a debut. Looking forward to Qatar 2022, the list of superstars that will step on the big stage feels more significant than usual. Thomas Müller’s performance, scoring five goals at the age of 20 in the 2010 World Cup, significantly boosted his career. The same can be said about Kylian Mbappé’s spectacular showdown against Argentina four years ago in Russia.
5. Alphonso Davies –
Club: Bayern Munich
The Bayern star’s World Cup debut coincides with Canada’s return to the big stage for the first time since 1986, and that’s no coincidence. Arriving in Canada as a child refugee and receiving his citizenship only five years ago, Davies was pivotal in the surge of local football. The winger/left-back scored five and assisted eight goals in The Reds’ qualifying campaign, and he doesn’t want to stop there. Playing in one of the biggest clubs in the world, he’s accustomed to winning, which will be a challenging task playing for an underdog in a group with Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco. One of the reasons Davies made this list is because unlike the next four players and his situation at Bayern, he is not surrounded by a huge pool of talent, making it more interesting to see how far he can take Canada.
4. Jamal Musiala
Club: Bayern Munich
Moving on to Davies’ teammate. In a squad full of names that have been around for years, Musiala is one of the players that Die Mannschaft fans are looking forward to seeing the most in Qatar. With 10 goals and 8 assists in all competitions so far this season, the wonderkid shows that he’s not afraid to carry that weight.
His performance in the Nation’s League draw with England at Wembley left Three Lions fans imagining what could’ve been if he would’ve chosen to play for them over Germany. Already in the group stage he’ll take on Spain and Gavi, the fresh Kopy trophy for best young player winner. The Bayern midfielder “only” came third, much to the dismay of many football fans. On the 27/11 he’ll get a chance to prove them right.
3. Jude Bellingham
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Musiala may not wear the England shirt anymore, but luckily for the Three Lions supporters, they have other promising stars to cling to. At the age of 19, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder will arrive at the World Cup with more than 90 Bundesliga and Champions League appearances to his name. Gary Lineker already drew comparisons to Bryan Robson, with Rio Ferdinand going as far as to say that Bellingham is better than Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Vieira, and Keane were at his age. England will come in with hig expectations building up from their last two big tournament performances, and Bellingham might be the missing, fresh piece they need to take one step further and lift the trophy.
2. Virgil Van Dijk
VVD’s inclusion in this article is what differs it from all the “young players to look out for” going around the internet. He’s 31 years old and the first game of the group stage will be his 50th cap for his country, but none of them have been in a World Cup. Unlike his counterparts on this list, the center-back was a late bloomer. In 2014, his success at Celtic went unnoticed by Louis Van Gaal, who preferred to trust local prospects such as Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, and Daryl Janmaat to lead the Dutch defense in Brazil. It so happened to be that his rise to become one of the best in his position in the world, coincided with a poor generation of Dutch players around him, resulting in the Netherlands failing to qualify to the 2018 World Cup. In Qatar, the Liverpool skipper will want to put a bad start of the season on club level behind him. Alongside fellow debutants like De Jong, De Ligt, and Bergwijn, he will want to show Oranje fans that this generation can wipe the shame of 2018 and live up to expectations in the post Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie era.
1. Federico Valverde
Club: Real Madrid
At this point we need to apologize to all those who narrowly missed their spot on this list. Players such as Vinicius Jr., Rafael Leão, Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Gavi, Pedri, and Phil Foden were all considered. Now it is time to give praise to the player in arguably the best form at the moment. Last time around, Valverde was left out of the 23-player squad representing La Celeste in Russia. Four years later, he is making sure there’s no ignoring him.
La Liga’s September player of the month can defend, pass, dribble, and shoot, all at the highest level. His goal catalog this season has been out of this world. Uruguay can hardly be considered as favorites to go all the way in this tournament, but Valverde will want to make the most in his only chance to feature with country legends such as Suárez, Cavani, Muslera, and Godín playing their last World Cup.