We now know the majority of World Cup participants.
England have booked their spot in Russia, and will be joined by the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Panama. The USA, and Christian Pulisic, will amazingly be missing, after they fell to a disastrous 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualification match.
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could still qualify, but they will have to navigate a play-off against one of the seeded teams: Italy, Croatia, Denmark and Switzerland. Sweden and Greece are also in the play-offs.
Now that things are taking shape, Goal takes a look at the best young players, who will be aged 21 and under next summer, heading to the World Cup.
KYLIAN MBAPPE | FRANCE | 18
The boy who would be king - no teenager is as hyped in world football as Kylian Mbappe. PSG have agreed to pay over €100 million to sign the 18-year-old next summer following his initial loan move from Monaco, and he has already lit up Parc des Princes, forming a fearsome partnership with Neymar and showing his frightening potential in his side’s 3-0 demolition of Bayern Munich. Maybe the best prospect heading to Brazil, Mbappe has a very real chance of firing France to glory.
MARCUS RASHFORD | ENGLAND | 19
Perhaps the best teenager playing in England, Marcus Rashford possesses lightning pace, crisp technique and a clinical eye for goal. Jose Mourinho is hardly known for promoting youth, but Rashford has been too good to ignore at Manchester United and is likely to be key to England’s hopes of progressing beyond the quarter-final stage in Russia.
GABRIEL JESUS | BRAZIL | 20
Gabriel Jesus has an indefinable star quality. A brilliantly talented footballer, who has already surpassed Robinho as the best attacking Brazilian to play for Manchester City, Jesus scores all types of goals, and is humble to boot. He has claimed that his form for City will decide whether he goes to Russia, as he is yet to rely on reputation alone; it is a safe bet that he will be on the plane, and on the pitch, as Brazil aim to win a sixth World Cup.
OUSMANE DEMBELE | FRANCE | 20
Neymar's replacement at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele sealed a dream move from Borussia Dortmund and then promptly ruptured a tendon, leading to surgery and a predicted layoff of up to three months. Dembele, though, is a precociously talented winger, and fans would do well to remember his name as France prepare for action next summer. Dembele was involved in 32 goals in 50 games during his time in Germany, and will be out to prove that he can step into the Brazilian’s shoes over the remainder of the campaign and in Russia.
GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA | ITALY | 18
The natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluigi Donnarumma is the best goalkeeper to emerge on the continent since his fabled predecessor. Donnarumma is a freak of nature, making his debut for AC Milan at the age of 16, and has already racked up 84 appearances, along with four caps for Italy. Though Buffon will surely play in goal in Russia if the Azzurri navigate a play-off encounter, Donnarumma is the best No.2 in world football — and he’s just 18.
WILFRED NDIDI | NIGERIA | 20
Once Leicester City lost N'Golo Kante to Chelsea they needed to find a replacement, and the double title winner's successor, Wilfred Ndidi, is forging his own path in the shadow of the Frenchman. A truly athletic midfielder, Ndidi has won 12 caps for Nigeria, and is already first choice in his position for Craig Shakespeare's side. Better for his experience in the Premier League, and improving apace, Ndidi will be central to Nigeria's hopes in Russia.
YOURI TIELEMANS | BELGIUM | 20
Monaco may have lost the youthful brilliance of Kylian Mbappe in the summer, but they also acquired the youthful brilliance of Belgium's exceptional midfielder Youri Tielemans for a fee of €25 million. A star in his native country, Tielemans made 185 appearances for Anderlecht, scoring 35 goals and providing 31 assists before seeking a new challenge in the principality. Tielemans is the next big thing out of a country that has already produced the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, and he will be lining up alongside the two Premier League stars when the Red Devils aim to finally deliver on their remarkable potential this summer.
KASPER DOLBERG | DENMARK | 20
Just 20, Kasper Dolberg has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs after a season that saw him truly emerge on the European stage. Brilliant for Ajax as the Eredivisie club reached the Europa League final, Dolberg scored 23 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions last time out, and has also won four caps for Denmark, scoring in a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan. With the guile of Christian Eriksen behind him, Dolberg could be in the running for the World Cup Golden Boot next summer if Denmark progress into the knockout rounds, such is his unerring eye for goal.
RENATO SANCHES | PORTUGAL | 20
Now with Swansea City, it is testament to Renato Sanches' character that he chose to move to Wales on loan from Bayern Munich, and it may well seal his inclusion in Portugal's squad in Russia. An almost guaranteed starter with the Premier League outfit, Sanches — a prodigiously talented midfielder with power and subtlety — already has 13 caps to his name, and is likely to meet up with the squad in the summer stronger for his experience in England.
RAMADAN SOBHI | EGYPT | 20
Some have predicted that the audaciously talented Ramadan Sobhi will one day win the Ballon d'Or. Known for his tricks and flicks, Sobhi has famously stood on the ball he has been playing with twice in his career, and though he has yet to thrive in the Premier League with Stoke, he is lionized in Egypt, where he is well on his way to becoming a legend. He has already won 20 caps for his country, and Mido, the former Tottenham striker, once labeled him "the best talent in North Africa".
BENJAMIN HENRICHS | GERMANY | 20
It is no easy feat to break into the Germany squad at the age of 20. Benjamin Henrichs, the Bayer Leverkusen right-back, has done just that, and has a superb chance of making his way onto the plane to Russia as a result. Henrichs has played over 50 times for Leverkusen, and has three caps for Joachim Low’s senior side – with two coming in the Confederations Cup. Indeed, in both games, against Cameroon and Mexico, Henrichs provided an assist, and he played at right midfield against the South Americans to prove his invaluable versatility.
BREEL EMBOLO | SWITZERLAND | 20
Switzerland must negotiate a play-off to reach the finals in Russia, and Schalke's Breel Embolo is all set to burst onto the international scene if they do. Blighted by injuries in recent years, Embolo is still just 20, and is itching to unleash the talent that he so regularly showed with FC Basel. In his homeland Embolo scored 31 goals in 94 appearances prior to a move to Germany, where he has played just 14 times. He has, however, been involved in five goals and has also won 19 caps for his country — bet on him to add to that number in Russia.