WORLD CUP: Emerging players hoping to make an impact
At the last World Cup, Colombia forward James Rodriguez became one of the stars of the tournament with his trickery and eye for a spectacular goal.
Expect others to step up at this year’s tournament.
Here’s a look at some young players hoping to make a big impact at the World Cup in Russia:
When France won the World Cup in 1998, it was formidably effective down the left flank. Playmaker Zinedine Zidane would wait for left back Bixente Lizarazu to push up and they would swap passes with devastating speed.
France has a left back in the making in Benjamin Mendy.
Quick, powerful and skillful, the 23-year-old Mendy excelled for Monaco when it won the French league and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2017. It earned him a move to Manchester City, where a serious knee injury curtailed his progress. He recovered to play in City’s last few games of the season.
The attack-minded Mendy is also quick enough to track back when a move breaks down.
Marco Asensio runs with the power and grace of former Brazil midfielder Kaka. The 22-year-old Spain midfielder likewise possesses a ferocious shot from outside the penalty area, excellent close control and endless stamina.
Asensio has a full passing range, too, either quickly to feet when playing it short, or hit with a golfer’s precision so the ball drops perfectly when playing it long.
Asensio has shown his tactical versatility when playing for Real Madrid, and is lethal on counterattacks with quick one-twos.
Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were the heartbeat in Spain’s midfield when it won the 2010 World Cup. It could be Asensio’s time to shine.
Leroy Sane was shortlisted for the Player of the Year award and voted the English Premier League’s Young Player of the Year.
The son of a professional player and an Olympic gymnast, the 22-year-old Belgium left winger has speed, balance and agility that revive memories of a young Ryan Giggs when he was at Manchester United.
Sane scored 10 goals in City’s record-breaking league campaign and set up 15 others — second in assists behind teammate Kevin De Bruyne.
City manager Pep Guardiola says Sane can become one of the world’s best players and is impressed by the timing of his runs and his delivery.
Ousmane Dembele is even quicker than France teammate Kylian Mbappe.
The 20-year-old forward is lethal launching runs from deep and is near-unstoppable when he’s in full flow.
Dembele displayed his vast repertoire in a Spanish league game for Barcelona against Villarreal recently. Receiving the ball near the halfway line with his back to play, he flicked it with his heel and beat three players before passing for Philippe Coutinho to score.
Dembele also scored a superb solo goal: a mixture of strength, skill and speed. Turning again from midfield, he took the ball past several players and dinked it over the goalkeeper.
His exquisite finish had a touch of former Brazil great Ronaldo about it.
Timo Werner overcame injury and a mid-season slump to reaffirm his status as Germany’s leading striker.
The 22-year-old forward is virtually assured of his starting place in the national team after helping Leipzig claim a Europa League place. He finished strongly with two goals and two assists in his last two games.
Werner scored 21 goals in all competitions this season and looks back to his best.
Werner has explosive pace, strength and the ability to open up space and create opportunities for himself and teammates. The hard-working forward has scored seven goals in 12 appearances.
Brazil has always produced superb forwards: Pele, Romario, Ronaldo and Neymar to name a few. Now, Gabriel Jesus hopes to emulate them.
The 21-year-old striker is a predator like Romario was. Although he is also extremely hard-working, it doesn’t affect his finishing, and Jesus remains a penalty-box threat.
He has good pace and skill but his strongest attribute is his mobility. Jesus does not stop moving, thereby disrupting defenders constantly.
England used to be renowned for commanding goalkeepers, with Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton widely respected for their composure under pressure. But the position has been a thorn in England’s side for quite some time, and Joe Hart’s limitations were exposed at the European Championship two years ago.
It could be Jordan Pickford’s time to secure the No. 1 jersey.
The 24-year-old goalkeeper has impressed since joining Everton for 30 million pounds ($41 million), making him — at the time — the world’s third most expensive goalkeeper.
England coach Gareth Southgate admires Pickford’s ability to pass the ball out from the back, and Pickford has always been a fine shot-stopper.
AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas and Ciaran Fahey contributed to this report.