There we were, now here we are. The Qatar World Cup is nearly at an end, and the resumption of the humdrum routine of domestic football is almost upon us. As always, this past month has not only been a mesmerising festival of football (on the pitch, at least), but has also allowed us to cast out eye over a whole host of hitherto unknown or under-appreciated talent.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered up 10 of the best and most exciting breakout stars of this winter’s tournament, many of whom could might just find their way to the English top flight sooner rather than later. Let’s delve in...
Croatia’s man in the mask has arguably been THE breakout player of the tournament, and as I sit and write this article, he’s just gone and scored a superb diving header in the third-place play-off against Morocco to boot. Whoever ends up nabbing him is going to get one of the best defenders in world football for years to come. Magnificent talent.
Any number of Moroccan players could have been included on this list, such has been the Atlas Lions’ unexpected ascent in Qatar, but Ounahi in particular has really caught the eye. A rangy, classy central midfielder who possesses in abundance all of the requisite traits to thrive in the Premier League, he has been a revelation over these past few weeks.
Ghana may have bowed out early, but not before Kudus left his mark in Qatar. The Ajax midfielder has been linked with the likes of Everton in recent times, but, with the greatest of respect to the Toffees, all of the evidence we’ve seen of late would suggest that he could probably do a decent job at a club with much more lavish ambitions.
Speaking of bright young midfielders linked with Merseyside of late, Fernandez has been highly touted for a switch to Liverpool in the past week or so. Still only 21, his run to tomorrow’s World Cup final with Argentina has proven that he might just be the real deal.
Not to be confused with elder brother Nordin, once of Watford fame, Sofyan has been another Moroccan star who has lit up the Middle East in recent weeks. Combative and composed, his turn in front of the back four for the Atlas Lions has been one of the most pleasingly consistent of the tournament. Already linked with the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham, the 26-year-old is surely destined for the very, very top.
Sauid Arabia may have faltered at the group stage, but what a thrillingly chaotic ride they had. Gone, but never forgotten, they started their campaign with a win over a nation who have a very, very good chance of becoming world champions tomorrow, and throughout their brief dalliance in Qatar, it was 23-year-old full-back Saud Abdulhamid who stood out most prominently. Intrepid, athletic, and defensively astute, he could make a decent asset for somebody one day.
A few moments into Tunisia’s group stage clash with Denmark, Laidouni put in a tackle that was, diplomatically-speaking, stiff, sending both the ball and his man into touch. He then got up and celebrated like he’d won the World Cup itself. Such is the nature of the Ferencváros midfielder, who has ‘couple of decent years as a cult hero at a lower mid-table Premier League side’ written all over him.
Few, if any, goalkeepers have shown the shot-stopping prowess that Livakovic has this tournament. Agile, laser-focused, and commanding, this has been a wonderful exhibition of his obvious talent. At 27, he still has plenty of good years ahead of him.
Familiar to English football fans already, the Stoke City defender was an immense presence for Australia’s thoroughly likeable rag-tag crew of decent lads. Perhaps Souttar will have a few more suitors upon his return to the Championship.
Okay, okay, we know, Jude was hardly an unknown going into the World Cup, but there are two things that are absolutely certain coming out the other side of it; his profile has risen massively, and a whole host of Premier League heavy hitters are going to be tripping over themselves to lure him back to England from Borussia Dortmund.