Held once every four years, the World Cup is always hotly anticipated, with the game’s great and good coming together for a month-long festival of football.
A major part of the competition’s appeal is the opportunity to see the world’s best players pit their wits against one another in the colours of their national teams, and this year will once again see the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar aim to cement their international legacies.
But another fascinating aspect of the World Cup is the under-the-radar players who emerge as global stars thanks to their exploits at the tournament, such as how James Rodríguez became one of world football’s most talked-about players in 2014 by earning a £63million move to Real Madrid.
Here, we’ve picked out eight emerging stars who could be next in line to enjoy a breakout World Cup.
Hirving Lozano – Mexico
Despite moving continents at the tender age of 22, the gifted attacker took no time to adapt to life in the Eredivisie, incredibly scoring nine goals and registering two assists in his first eight games for his new club.
With 18 goals and 11 assists in 32 all-competition games for PSV, Lozano has been key in helping Phillip Cocu’s men secure the Dutch top-flight title ahead of rivals Ajax this season.
Able to play anywhere across the front line of attack, blessed with tremendous pace, trickery and finishing skills, the 25-cap Mexico star will be vital to his nation’s hopes at the World Cup in Russia.
Arthur – Brazil
With a deal in place to join Barcelona this summer, the La La champions-elect have astutely tied up Brazilian playmaker Arthur before a post-World Cup bidding war which could have seen his value skyrocket.
Widely regarded as the best player in Brazil, the 21-year-old midfielder was the star of Grêmio’s Copa Libertadores triumph in 2017.
Standing 5ft 8ins, Arthur is not the most physically imposing player, but his flawless technique and vision have drawn comparisons to Barça legend Xavi, which suggests the Camp Nou will be the perfect place for the youngster to develop and shine.
Sergej Milinković-Savić – Serbia
Lazio midfielder Sergej Milnković-Savić is set to be the most sought-after player in world football this summer.
Still only 23, the powerful Serbia international has been the driving force behind the Biancoceleste‘s push for Champions League qualification this season, netting a career-high return of ten goals in Serie A, along with three assists.
The 6ft 4ins star is a powerful presence in the middle third for club and country, strong in the air and able to break up play through sound anticipation and stern tackling.
But Milnković-Savić, from his box-to-box role at the heart of Lazio’s midfield, is equally as effective in attack, employing superlative touch, vision and technique, while also lethal when transiting between phases of play.
Wanted by Manchester United – who briefly had his goalkeeping brother Vanja on their books – as well as Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, Milinković-Savić could be set to become one of the world’s most expensive players this summer. A solid showing at the World Cup would only push his price up.
Leon Goretzka – Germany
One player who won’t be at the centre of a bidding war this summer, no matter how well he performs at the World Cup, is Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka.
The 23-year-old Schalke star is out of contract at the end of the current season and has already agreed to join Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on a free.
The star of Germany’s Confederations Cup triumph last summer, Goretzka has been superb for Schalke this term, scoring four times and registering two assists, providing thrust and intelligence in the middle of the park.
With six goals from 14 senior caps to date, the Bochum-born midfielder has shown a valuable scoring touch on the international scene, something he’ll be hoping to call upon for the reigning champions this summer.
Lucas Torreira – Uruguay
Reportedly a top summer transfer target for Napoli and Everton, Torreira has been winning admirers with his performances at the base of Sampdoria’s midfield in Serie A this season.
The diminutive Uruguayan playmaker, who stands just 5ft 6ins tall, is regarded as one of the hottest prospects in Italy thanks to his tenacity, wonderful range of passing and penchant for spectacular long-range goals.
The 22-year-old conductor has found the net four times this season, but it is his ability to set the tempo from his deep midfield position and spring attacking moves with incisive passes that has really caught the eye.
Torreira only made his full international debut for Uruguay in March, in a China Cup victory over the Czech Republic, which remains his only cap to date, but he is expected to figure prominently in Óscar Tabárez’s World Cup side.
Keita Baldé Diao – Senegal
Born in Catalonia and educated in Barcelona‘s famous La Masia academy, Monaco attacker Keita represents Senegal at international level, the country of his father’s birth.
A fast, dynamic and skilled forward, the 23-year-old former Lazio star can operate on either flank or centrally as a striker.
After impressing in Serie A last season with 16 goals in 31 games, Keita earned a €30million move to the French champions last summer, earmarked as the heir to Kylian Mbappé‘s role in the Monegasque’s frontline.
Eight goals and seven assists in his first season at the Stade Louis II is a solid return for the Senegalese, while his direct and unpredictable dribbling style has thrilled fans in Ligue 1.
Emil Forsberg – Sweden
One of the breakout stars of the 2016/17 Bundesliga thanks to his creative mastery in RB Leipzig’s rise to a remarkable second-place finish, Forsberg was one of Europe’s most-wanted stars last summer.
Linked to Manchester United and AC Milan, the Red Bull-owned club managed to hang onto their 26-year-old midfielder, who is set to be the fulcrum of Sweden’s attack at the World Cup in Russia.
In his first Bundesliga campaign, Forsberg produced a staggering 19 assist while also chipping in with eight goals. He has been unable to replicate those numbers in 2017/18, though, returning just two goals and two assists.
Capped 34 times, the Leipzig playmaker is the new star of Janne Andersson’s Sweden team now that Zlatan Ibrahimović has retired from international football.
Aleksandr Golovin – Russia
Still only 21 years old, Aleksandr Golovin carries the hopes of the home nation into this summer’s World Cup.
The central midfield maestro has impressed in both the Champions League and Europa League with Russian side CSKA Moscow this season, acting as the creative hub of the team.
Part of Russia’s European Under-17 Championship-winning squad in 2013, Golovin has been capped 17 times at senior level after making his debut while still a teenager in 2015.
Well balanced and possessing textbook technique on the ball, Golovin is capable of carving open defences with his vision and creativity, while also a direct goal threat from distance.
With Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay in their group, Russia will be hopeful of making the knockout rounds, but they’ll need Golovin to be on song.