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Bellingham, Pepi and the NXGN stars set for the 2022 World Cup

09:00 BST 31/03/2022
Jude Bellingham England 2022
With almost all of the teams now set for the tournament in Qatar, GOAL assesses some of the teenage talent that could be on show

We now know 29 of the 32 teams that will take part at the 2022 World Cup, and excitement will only build once Friday's group-stage draw is completed.

Major international tournaments offer the stage for players to announce themselves to the world, and no more is that true for some of the globe's best teenage talents.

But which NXGN-aged starlets will likely be on the plane to Qatar come 2022? GOAL assesses the possibilities...

  • Felix Afena-Gyan Roma 2021-22

    Felix Afena-Gyan (Ghana)

    At the start of 2021, Felix Afena-Gyan was a relative unknown even in his native Ghana.

    Fast-forward just over a year, though, and it was he who was trusted to lead the line for his country as they took on old rivals Nigeria for a place at the World Cup.

    The 19-year-old's meteoric rise looks set to keep going, too, as he continues to develop and establish himself within the first team at Roma.

    Maintaining a starting berth for the Black Stars at the World Cup might prove difficult, especially once Andre Ayew returns, but Afena-Gyan should certainly be on the plane to Qatar.

  • Jude Bellingham England 2022

    Jude Bellingham (England)

    NXGN 2022 winner Jude Bellingham has the potential to not just play a part at the World Cup for England, but be one of their star performers.

    Gareth Southgate's side go into the tournament as one of the favourites, in part because players of Bellingham's talent are not even assured of their place in the line-up.

    The Borussia Dortmund midfielder has, however, begun to showcase his astronomical ability when given the chance on the international stage, and it is now a case of when, not if he will become a starter.

    Already the youngest player to represent the Three Lions at a major tournament, the sky is the limit for 18-year-old Bellingham, and Qatar 2022 offers him the perfect stage to show the world just how good he will be.

  • Gavi Spain 2022

    Gavi (Spain)

    Gavi's journey from little-known Barcelona academy star to regular starter for Spain in just nine months has been nothing more than sensational to watch, and now a place at the World Cup is all but assured.

    The midfielder has emerged from La Masia to be heralded as one of the best players of his generation anywhere in the world, earning comparisons to his manager at Camp Nou, Xavi.

    His partnership with Pedri is already flourishing for club and country, and expect Gavi to follow in his team-mate's footsteps by using a major international tournament to truly announce himself to a global audience.

    Luis Enrique has shown he is not afraid to make bold selection decisions, but selecting the 17-year-old for Qatar 2022 would no longer be regarded as one.

  • Abdul Fatawu Issahaku Ghana 2022

    Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Ghana)

    Though Abdul Fatawu Issahaku did not make the grade for the NXGN 2022 list, there is no doubting his talent, and he is sure to be among the world's top 50 wonderkids in 2023.

    Ever since being crowned Player of the Tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations as a 16-year-old in 2021, Issahaku has been marked out as a potential star of the game.

    He already has a move to Sporting C.P. agreed for the summer, and his talent is such that he too was trusted to start both legs of Ghana's play-off triumph over Nigeria.

    A forward with an absolute rocket of a left foot, 18-year-old Issahaku should expect to be on the plane to Qatar come November 2022.

  • Kacper Kozlowski Poland 2021

    Kacper Kozlowski (Poland)

    The youngest player to ever appear at the finals of a European Championship, Kacper Kozlowski is now eyeing a spot in Poland's World Cup squad after they booked qualification with victory over Sweden on Tuesday.

    Kozlowski was not involved in the play-off clash, having recently been dropped down to the Under-21s, though that is in part due to him having lacked playing time since leaving boyhood club Pogon Szczecin in January.

    Brighton snapped the 18-year-old midfielder up for £8 million ($10.5m) before sending him on loan to Union Saint-Gilloise, but the Belgian side have been reluctant to change a winning team as they close in on a shock title win.

    Regardless, Kozlowski will hope to be back playing regularly at the start of the 2022-23 season, either for Brighton or another loan club, which in turn would allow him to force his way into his country's plans for Qatar.

  • Hannibal Mejbri Tunisia 2021

    Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

    Hannibal Mejbri's decision to switch allegiances from France to Tunisia in 2021 has certainly paid off, with the Manchester United midfielder now a fully-fledged member of the African nation's squad.

    The 19-year-old starred in their run to the final of the 2021 Arab Cup, and also appeared at the Africa Cup of Nations a few months later, despite having been unable to break into the first team at Old Trafford as yet.

    It is expected that the ex-Monaco academy star will make that step up for the Red Devils before the year is out, which in turn would surely help cement his place on the plane to Qatar.

  • Jamal Musiala Germany 2022

    Jamal Musiala (Germany)

    Though there is a chance Jamal Musiala would be in the England squad right now if he had decided to represent the Three Lions, his decision to instead play for Germany means he is all but assured of a place in their World Cup plans.

    The Bayern Munich starlet is a clear favourite of Hansi Flick's, with the national team boss having followed in the footsteps of Julian Nagelsmann in trying Musiala as a deeper-lying midfielder in recent times.

    The results have been encouraging, but whether it is in a holding role or a more advanced position, there is sure to be a spot for the 19-year-old in Qatar.

  • Ricardo Pepi USMNT 2021

    Ricardo Pepi (United States)

    While Ricardo Pepi's goal drought is something of a concern, with the striker having not scored for club or country since October, he remains firmly in Gregg Berhalter's plans as the United States plan for their first World Cup since 2014.

    Pepi made an electric start to life in the USMNT, but his form has dropped off since his big-money move to Augsburg, with life in German football not suiting the ex-FC Dallas star as yet.

    At just 19, such a run of form can be forgiven, and though Pepi may not be the automatic starter for his country anymore that many presumed he would be at the end of 2021, he offers enough to be worth at least a place in Berhalter's squad.

  • Devyne Rensch Netherlands 2021

    Devyne Rensch (Netherlands)

    After impressing over the course of the 2020-21 season at Ajax, Devyne Rensch was named in Louis van Gaal's first squad after he began his third spell in charge of the Netherlands back in September.

    The defender went on to make his debut, but a lack of first-team starts for the Eredivisie champions this season means he has found himself back among the Under-21s at international level.

    However, with Noussair Mazraoui set to leave Ajax this summer, Rensch should be able to step up and fill the void at right-back.

    The potential for the 19-year-old to get a run of starts between now and the World Cup kicking-off means he still must be considered a possibility for the Dutch squad in Qatar, even if he is not in the picture right at this moment.

  • Florian Wirtz Germany 2021

    Florian Wirtz (Germany)

    Were it not for the knee injury he suffered in early March, Florian Wirtz would already be a lock for Germany's World Cup squad, such has been his impact in the Bundesliga this season.

    The Bayer Leverkusen playmaker registered 24 direct goal contributions in 31 games in 2021-22, but is now facing a long spell on the sidelines recovering from his torn anterior cruciate ligament.

    Germany's general manager, Oliver Bierhoff, has said that he is "utterly convinced" that Wirtz will be fit in time for the World Cup in November, meaning the door is certainly open for the NXGN 2022 runner-up if he can prove his fitness.

    Qatar 2022 promised to be Wirtz's coming-out party to the world - we can only hope that can still be the case.

  • Harvey Elliott England 2022

    Others with an outside shot

    Eight months is a long time in football, and so there are a number of teenage talents who still have time to accelerate their development to such a degree that they are in the running to make it to Qatar 2022.

    Were it not for the horror ankle injury he suffered in September, Harvey Elliott might already be pushing for a place in the England squad. As it is, the Liverpool midfielder recently made his Under-21s debut, but more strong showings for Jurgen Klopp's side could yet catch Gareth Southgate's eye.

    Juventus forward Matias Soule has been called up to a couple of Argentina squads over the past year, but it is felt that is more to give him experience of training alongside some of the world's best players, rather than with a view to him earning a call-up for Qatar.

    The same goes for Manchester United's Alejandro Garnacho, who was one of a number of dual-nationals called up by Argentina in March as they aim to convince a host of European-born teenagers to represent them down the line.

    The United States has its own conveyor belt of talent, with Gabriel Slonina and Justin Che having been called up to the senior squad previously. The Chicago Fire goalkeeper and Hoffenheim defender are, however, regarded as being outsiders for a World Cup spot, as is Wolfsburg full-back Kevin Paredes.

    Their CONCACAF rivals Mexico have their own teenage talent in Marcelo Flores, who made his senior international debut in January, though the Arsenal starlet may need to break into the Gunners first team if he is to make Tata Martino's final squad.

    Others to look out for include Red Bull Salzburg defender Bryan Okoh, who was called up to the Switzerland squad in November before suffering a season-ending knee injury days later, and Toronto FC wing-back Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who is Canada's youngest ever call-up, having broken Alphonso Davies' record in 2021.