There is a certain elegance to watching a footballer play at his best. Every twist and turn looks spectacular, like they are figure skating across the pitch. This holds especially true for young players, or ones the media lacks to cover. You don’t know how they think yet, how they’ll react a silly challenge or change the game with an extraordinary piece of skill. It’s edge-of-your seat, tightrope walking, eye-engaging excitement.
James Rodriguez was a testament to that heart-racing feeling in Brazil 2014. The Colombian international could do no wrong, scoring 6 goals and the Golden Boot in the process. He showed magnificent skill for a 23-year-old including his rocket of a shot against Uruguay when he controlled pass off his chest and buried it from outside of the box on the volley.
There is a “James” in every big stage competition it seems and Russia 2018 should be no different. So who should you watch out for? Here are 3 players who can become stars overnight this summer.
1. Hakim Ziyech
Blessed with an incredibly-gifted left foot, Morocco’s talisman Hakim Ziyech is almost a blast from the footballing past. At 25-years-old, the Dutch-born player shows an air of confidence that seems unwarranted, having only played in Dutch Eredivisie all his career, and a particular chip on his shoulder, possibly because of the Netherlands national team not thinking he was good enough for a single cap. But, the attacking midfield has more than earned his self-assurance, often taking on opponents with his quick feet, drawing a foul or flying past them completely when he sends them the wrong way. He’ll start on the left flank for Morocco in order to whip in his dangerous crosses with his favored foot, but there is no stopping the Ajax man from moving all around the midfield and being the focal point of every attack for Morocco.
2. Gonçalo Guedes
Gonçalo Guedes struggled to make any sort of impact at Paris-Saint Germain under former manager Unai Emery, but a loan to Valencia this season saw the 21-year-old find his feet of old. The Portuguese forward score 6 goals and 11 assists on Spain’s east coast, playing down the left flank most of the year. Portuguese manager Fernando Santos will elect to play two up front with Cristiano Ronaldo’s striking partner is still in question. André Silva originally looked poised to secure the spot, but Guedes has a case for himself, performing well for the national team in their 3-0 win against Algeria and showing he can be a positive playmaker and scorer for Portugal. The former Benfica man will be looking for any game time this summer, but if he doesn’t start, you’d imagine he will easily be the first name off the bench, ready to pounce on opportunity the same way he does on the pitch, quickly and crisply.
3. Keïta Balde Diao
Leading into this World Cup, Senegal is being touted as potential underdog coming out of Group E because main man Sadio Mané. Although, the Liverpool man’s supporting cast isn’t half either, with Keïta Blade at the forefront of them. The 23-year-old is a force to be reckoned with down the left flank, mixing his robust physicality with alarming pace and skillful feet. Balde has an eye for goal as well, using his innate physical abilities to wrestle his way in front of goal and blast it into the net. With Mané most likely to get all the attention on the field, Keïta will be vital to The Lion’s attack for both creating, scoring and keeping possession, making sure Senegal’s weak midfield have less to do.
With plenty of talent dispersed among all 32 nations, there are likely a dozen more players to keep a watchful eye on. Every player in Russia this summer is craving the chance to lift that trophy, and if they happen to be the cog that boosts their side, then it’s all the better for them in the future.