Gabriel Jesus, 21 (Brazil)
Brazil were in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup until the summer of 2016. They’d won only two of their first six qualifiers, and only scraped a 92nd-minute draw against Paraguay – but then Tite was named as a coach.
Gabriel Jesus was immediately brought into the picture. The youngster, who was 19 at the time and played for Palmeiras, scored twice on his debut as the Seleção won 3-0 in Ecuador. He didn’t really let up from there either: Jesus netted seven goals in 10 qualifying fixtures and proved himself to be absolutely crucial for Brazil.
He goes into this World Cup after a successful, Premier League-winning season with Manchester City in which he scored the late goal that took them to the magical 100-point mark. A fine World Cup would make him a true superstar.
Kylian Mbappe, 19 (France)
Few fans knew about Mbappe when France hosted Euro 2016. A few months later, though, he was already considered one of the brightest talents in the world.
It’s certainly difficult to think of a more rapid rise, and Mbappe will arrive in Russia as a certain starter for Les Bleus. He has won two Ligue 1 titles in a row, first for Monaco and then for PSG, and scored 47 goals over the last two seasons in all competitions.
Mbappe is more of a facilitator than goalscorer for France, however, having assisted four goals in his last six games. The teenager is versatile, quick, technically superb, smart and extremely confident. Basically: good luck, Group C.
Aleksandr Golovin, 21 (Russia)
Russia fans could hardly be less optimistic about their nation’s chances after some disastrous preparations, but there is still hope – and Golovin will be spied by numerous scouts this summer.
The versatile CSKA Moscow midfielder, who has been closely followed by Arsenal and Chelsea over the last two seasons, should perform as a playmaker despite being frequently used on the flanks or as a box-to-box warrior. Blessed with vision, good passing skills and a crisp shot, he should move to a top league after the tournament.
Maxi Gomez, 21 (Uruguay)
It’s very difficult to displace Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani from Uruguay's starting lineup, but there’s still a good chance that Gomez will be able to get some attention in Russia. The Celta Vigo central striker is too good not to get a decent chance to shine when his country need him.
Extremely strong and able to position himself dangerously in the penalty area, the youngster enjoyed a fantastic first season in La Liga by scoring 17 goals. His style and power are somewhat reminiscent of Christian Vieri, and a big move should be just around the corner.
Marco Asensio, 22 (Spain)
There’s a feeling that Asensio is incapable of scoring regular goals. All of his strikes seem to be absolutely brilliant and breathtaking, helping to make him the kind of player who gets tongues wagging wherever he goes.
Technically sublime and fantastically unpredictable, the 22-year-old is a joy to watch, and Real Madrid will likely be building their team around him in the coming years.
Unfortunately, Asensio found his chances rather limited under Zinedine Zidane, but that only means he will arrive in Russia even hungrier to succeed. It remains to be seen what role coach Julen Lopetegui has in mind for him.
Gonçalo Guedes, 21 (Portugal)
Could he be the next Cristiano Ronaldo? The Valencia winger loves playing on the left side, is blessed with lightning speed and sensational ball control, and can be a real handful when on song.
Ronaldo is often used in a central position nowadays, so there are a lot of options for Guedes at this World Cup after a very successful season in La Liga, on loan from PSG.
He is especially popular with fans, not only because of his trickery, but also his unselfishness in front of goal. Actually, that’s where he differs from Cristiano – Guedes would always prefer to pass the ball if his team-mate is in a better position. Fine news for CR7.