Appearing at a World Cup can make or break a player. With the eyes of the planet on you, there’s opportunities to be the hero, or villain, of the hour for your country.
Numerous young stars have grabbed the mantle with both hands. Take 2018, when a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe led France to the trophy or, four years earlier, James Rodriguez starring for Colombia which led to a mega-money move to Real Madrid.
This year, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar presents a fresh chance for all the talented youngsters ready to make a difference. Europe’s hottest striker, Erling Haaland, won’t be in the Middle East with Norway, but who will be?
Sportsmail takes a look at 10 wonderkids aged 21 or under who are ready to shine when the tournament kicks off next month.
The 19-year-old Barcelona youngster shone on the European stage last summer, as he appeared regularly for Spain in their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and as a result was named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
He also won the Golden Boy award in 2021, with his pace, positional intelligence and supreme technical ability a classic trademark of the famed La Masia academy at Barca.
Club boss Xavi has already compared him to Andres Iniesta, who played an integral role in Spain’s World Cup triumph in 2010.
JUDE BELLINGHAM (ENGLAND)
Club: Borussia Dortmund
The Borussia Dortmund youngster made history when he came on for England in their opening group game of Euro 2020 against Croatia, becoming the youngest player in European Championship history at 17 years and 349 days.
Though this record was beaten a few days later, Bellingham’s experience at what was almost a home major tournament would have been invaluable to his progression, as he continues to develop into a star in the Bundesliga.
The central midfielder, with his power and maturity, has been in brilliant form so far this season, scoring five goals in 15 games for Dortmund and strengthening his hopes of a starting spot for England with a fine display in the recent 3-3 draw with Germany.
JAMAL MUSIALA (GERMANY)
Club: Bayern Munich
The one that got away for England.
Formerly of Chelsea, the vibrant attacking midfielder moved to Bayern Munich at 16 years of age, and, despite impressing for England’s Under-21s, early last year he committed his international future to the nation of his birth, Germany.
Musiala made his international debut in March 2021 and became the youngest German to appear at a major tournament when he played against Hungary at the Euros last summer.
The 19-year-old already has 17 caps to his name, showing just how highly he is rated by boss Hansi Flick, who was formerly his manager at Bayern.
EDUARDO CAMAVINGA (FRANCE)
Club: Real Madrid
The 19-year-old Real Madrid star is the next big thing in French football after Mbappe’s emergence at the last World Cup.
And if his first goal for his country is anything to go by – a spectacular overhead kick against Ukraine in 2020 making him the youngest scorer for France since 1914 – the teenager could be capable of match-turning moments in Qatar, whether from the start or from the bench.
His explosiveness and craft as a sub was vital for Carlo Ancelotti last season in Madrid’s run to the Champions League final, with Camavinga’s influence regularly helping Los Blancos turn knockout ties back in their favour.
Club: Real Madrid
Another Real Madrid starlet who could light up the world’s biggest stage next month.
The Brazil international saved Madrid’s skin in the Champions League semi-finals last season and has continued his form into the current campaign, netting five times in 12 appearances – including in Sunday’s Clasico win against Barcelona.
For his country, Rodrygo has made five appearances since his debut in 2019, scoring his first goal in a World Cup qualifying win against Paraguay in February. He could certainly make a difference as Brazil target a sixth World Cup.
BUKAYO SAKA (ENGLAND)
It was quite the first major tournament for Bukayo Saka in the summer of 2021.
From starting against Germany and Denmark in the knockout rounds to coming on in the final and missing the decisive penalty in the shoot-out defeat against Italy, the 19-year-old went through it all on home soil at Euro 2020.
Saka was named England’s Player of the Year in September after some impressive displays and is a certainty for Gareth Southgate’s squad – and perhaps the starting XI – after shining for table-toppers Arsenal in the Premier League this term.
RYAN GRAVENBERCH (HOLLAND)
Club: Bayern Munich
Signed by Bayern Munich last summer amid interest from Manchester United, Ryan Gravenberch has found playing time hard to come by so far in Germany.
The highly-rated midfielder, who came through the Ajax academy before breaking into the first team, has only managed 351 minutes in all competitions for the Bundesliga giants this term but remains one of Europe’s top prospects.
Gravenberch has 11 caps for Holland at the age of just 20 and, although a starting spot might be difficult to nail down in Qatar, he is likely to get a chance in Louis van Gaal’s squad.
GIO REYNA (USA)
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Having moved to Borussia Dortmund in 2019 from New York City FC, the attacking midfielder broke Christian Pulisic’s record when he became the youngest American to appear in the Bundesliga in January 2020, aged 17 years and 66 days.
Since then, he has become a regular for the Germans – illustrated by being handed the No 7 shirt previously worn by Jadon Sancho – but has so far had a season plagued by injuries.
The son of US legend Claudio Reyna, Gio has 14 caps to his name and will be looking to hit some club form before taking on England, Iran and Wales in Group B in Qatar.
Having taken the mantle at left back from Ivan Strinic who starred in the run to the 2018 final for Croatia, the RB Leipzig defender has shifted back to his more favoured centre back position since Euro 2020.
The 20-year-old went toe-to-toe with Phil Foden during the group opener in that tournament, but in World Cup qualifiers since he played at centre back as the Croats secured their spot in Qatar.
Powerful off the ball and composed on it, Gvardiol emerged as a major transfer target for Chelsea – among others – last summer, but they were unable to seal a £75million deal. A move away from Leipzig beckons next summer.
PIERO HINCAPIE (ECUADOR)
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Undoubtedly the surprise qualifier from the typically strong South American section – providing FIFA don’t chuck them out for fielding an ineligible player – Ecuador can look to their 20-year-old centre back as a vital influence in overcoming rivals around them to reach the World Cup.
The Bayer Leverkusen defender, who moved to Germany from Argentinean side Tallares in 2020, has already registered 21 caps for his country since making his debut in June 2021.
His aggressive and brave nature from the left-hand side of the centre of defence makes him a star in the making, and he will be vital as Ecuador negotiate a group with hosts Qatar, Holland and Senegal.