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World Cup 2022: Ten new players to watch – including Little Pep & the Liberator of Arsenal

Young players to watch at the World Cup
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: 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. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

France’s Kylian Mbappe was the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup, but who will make a name for themselves at Qatar 2022?

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

Among them are many established global superstars but there are plenty of less familiar faces looking to shine on football’s biggest stage.

Here, BBC Sport’s TV and radio World Cup commentators Guy Mowbray, John Murray and Vicki Sparks pick out 10 players from outside the Premier League who are worth watching out for this winter.

1. Daichi Kamada (Japan)

Age: 26 Position: Midfield Club: Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
Japan's Daichi Kamada
Kamada was dubbed ‘the Liberator of Arsenal’ in a cheeky Wikipedia edit after his two goals for Frankfurt at Emirates Stadium in 2019 spelt the end of Unai Emery’s stint as Gunners boss. The entry was changed soon afterwards but his performance – and nickname – are recalled 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 prospect, but Daichi Kamada is a player we could be seeing in the Premier League soon, with Everton reportedly leading the English interest.

Kamada is having an outstanding season in the Bundesliga and the Europa League, after initially toiling after his move to Frankfurt from Japan in 2017. An all-round midfielder whose best strengths are on the attacking side, but he can play deeper and likes a tackle as well.

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 truly shine over here?

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

2. Pedri (Spain)

Age: 19 Position: Midfielder Club: Barcelona (Spain)
Spain and Barcelona midfielder Pedri
How good is Pedri? Barcelona manager Xavi said in February: “There is no player in the world with as much talent as Pedri – and he is only 19.”

Vicki Sparks: Already established in Barcelona’s midfield, Pedri is closing in on 100 first-team appearances for the team he supported as a boy, despite missing four months of last season with a hamstring injury.

An intelligent player, who says he tries to deceive his opponents because he is not the strongest physically, he has already made an impact at a major tournament.

At last season’s European Championship, he was in the Spain side that reached the semi-finals but was also was named young player of that tournament and made the team of the tournament.

Will his first World Cup match that?

3. Antonio Silva (Portugal)

Age: 19 Position: Centre-back Club: Benfica (Portugal)
Portugal and Benfica defender Antonio Silva
Silva celebrates his first Champions League goal after opening the scoring against Juventus in Benfica’s thrilling 4-3 win on 25 October, five days before he turned 19. Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris-St Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all reportedly tracking him

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

New Benfica coach Roger Schmidt turned to Silva when injuries hit and the teenager has impressed to the extent he has been given a new contract which features a €100m buy-out clause. He has gone from first-team debut to World Cup squad in less than three months.

4. Noah Okafor (Switzerland)

Age: 22 Position: Forward Club: RB Salzburg (Austria)
Noah Okafor of Switzerland and Red Bull Salzburg
Manchester City and Liverpool are among the clubs who have been linked with a January move for Okafor

Vicki Sparks: A versatile forward who can play through the middle or out wide, Noah Okafor has found the net 10 times in 22 games in all competitions for his club this season.

That includes three goals in the Champions League, with his goals earning Red Bull Salzburg draws with Chelsea and AC Milan.

Okafor has scored an important goal for his country too, opening the scoring 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 Club: Flamengo (Brazil)
Brazil striker Pedro
Pedro played just four times in Serie A for Fiorentina in the 2019-20 season, without scoring

Guy Mowbray: How do you celebrate selection for the greatest World Cup nation? In Pedro’s case, by immediately proposing to his girlfriend! A classy touch from a classy player.

Let’s face it, to get picked in a squad as loaded with attacking talent as Brazil’s you’ve got to have something special.

He’s been scoring goals with regularity ever since returning to Brazil after an unsuccessful short stint with Fiorentina in 2019-20 (shortly after knee surgery), with 12 in the Copa Libertadores en-route to Flamengo winning the competition last month – including four in one game in the round of 16 against Colombian side Deportes Tolima.

He’s not quick but is an excellent finisher. A starring substitute role awaits for when the Selecao need something different.

6. Gavi (Spain)

Age: 18 Position: Midfielder Club: Barcelona (Spain)
Spain and Barcelona midfielder Gavi
In September, Gavi signed a new contract with Barcelona that lasts until 2026, with a 1bn euros (£865m) buyout clause

Vicki Sparks: Certainly not a surprise inclusion on this list – he’s already made 66 appearances for Barcelona, despite only turning 18 in August – but could Gavi be one of THE stars at his first major tournament?

The midfielder is no stranger to breaking records – he’s Spain’s youngest debutant and youngest goalscorer – and has proved that his young shoulders can take the burden of responsibility at senior level. You don’t make your La Liga debut mere weeks after your 17th birthday, followed quickly by your Spain debut in the Nations League semi-finals against Italy, if you can’t rise to the challenge – and he continues to do so with aplomb.

7. Jewison Bennette (Costa Rica)

Age: 18 Position: Forward Club: Sunderland (England)
Jewison Bennette of Costa Rica
Bennette, shown here celebrating Costa Rica’s World Cup play-off win over New Zealand, has scored one goal in nine substitute appearances for Sunderland

Vicki 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 fans’ favourite for his raw speed and first touch – and the fact he gets the bus to training with his dad, who was also a Costa Rica international.

Bennette became the youngest Costa Rica 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 over New Zealand in the play-off that sealed their place in Qatar.

8. Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)

Age: 20 Position: Centre-back Club: RB Leipzig (Spain)
Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol
Gvardiol is known as Little Pep in a nod to Manchester City manager Guardiola because of the similarities in their surnames

Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray: There was real concern in Croatia earlier this month when Josko Gvardiol broke his nose and suffered a swollen eye in RB Leipzig’s match against Freiburg. The relief when the centre-back was cleared for the World Cup tells you how highly he is rated.

As a 19-year-old, Gvardiol started all Croatia’s matches at the European Championship last year, and last season he was part of the Leipzig team that won the German Cup, the DFB-Pokal, and reached the Europa League semi-finals.

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

9. Garang Kuol (Australia)

Age: 18 Position: Forward Club: Central Coast Mariners (Australia)
Australia forward Garang Kuol
Garang Kuol made his international debut against New Zealand in September at the age of 18 years and 10 days, making him the youngest Australian debutant since Harry Kewell in 1996

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

He was called into Australia’s World Cup squad before making his first start in the A-League but his stats as a substitute are just as spectacular as his progress during his fledgling career, with four goals coming in his first seven appearances off the bench for Central Coast Mariners.

Born in Egypt, Kuol came to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan. He still hasn’t started for Australia either – his single cap so far also came as a sub – but he is definitely a player to watch out for in Qatar.

10. Bilal El Khannouss (Morocco)

Age: 18 Position: Midfielder Club: Genk (Belgium)

Morocco midfielder Bilal El Khannous

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

The midfielder has been rewarded for becoming a Genk regular this season and has the technical ability to be a proper player. He plays in an attacking midfield role, and is slowly gaining in the confidence needed to back up what he’s got with numbers – assists and goals.

The best story would have that manifesting itself in Morocco’s second group game – against the country of his birth and home, Belgium.

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