The long-awaited, albeit controversial, FIFA World Cup will get underway on Sunday in Qatar. Amid the controversies surrounding it, ranging from human rights issues, numerous injuries, all the way to seasons being halted midway.
However, it remains the biggest stage of world football, with various stars being ready to make their mark, either building on their impressive club form, or else seeking to unveil themselves to the world. There are the obvious ones like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are both most probably playing their last World Cup, but there are others that could benefit so much from some good performances in Qatar over the next few weeks.
As a result, here are five players that are keen to make the step up and impress in the competition, possibly earning big money moves elsewhere, or establish themselves as stars for their nation.
1) Jesper Lindstrom - Denmark
Eintracht Frankfurt are having yet another impressive season, building on last season's success in the UEFA Europa League - which they ended up winning - as they are fourth in the Bundesliga and have scored the second-most goals in the competition (32 goals), only being beaten by Bayern Munich's 49 goals.
One of the key reasons for that success has been Jesper Lindstrom.
The Danish midfielder has been integral to their quick interplay and rapid transitions, and is heading to the World Cup on the back of an impressive start to the season which has seen him score six goals and provide two assists in 14 Bundesliga games.
While he is originally an attacking midfielder, he is more than comfortable to play on the wings, and has been deployed there on a number of occasions for Denmark over his six caps, primarily to accommodate Christian Eriksen's reintegration into the squad. In a squad that is flooded with creative talent, including Eriksen, Robert Skov, Mikkel Damsgaard and Andreas Skov Olsen, Lindstrom will have plenty of competition for a starting spot, but given his performances at a club level, he is surely one to keep an eye out for.
2) Teun Koopmeiners - Netherlands
A few years ago when he was ripping it up for AZ Alkmaar, Teun Koopmeiners was the midfielder a number of sides were keen to snap up, given his coolness on the ball and his tireless running. This was what led to Atalanta splashing €14 million on the Dutchman, which in hindsight, was an absolute steal, given he is now valued at €30 million by transfermarkt.
Koopmeiners has cemented his place as one of the few consistently brilliant players in an unpredictable Atalanta side which is heading into the winter break with just one win out of their last five games. This has not blighted the 25-year-old's name though, as his four goals and one assist in 15 Serie A games make for pretty good reading from his point of view, even though three of those goals came as a hat-trick against Torino very early on in the season.
The Dutchman will be heading to the World Cup with a point to prove, as several teams have seemingly cooled their interest in him, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming an integral part of the Netherlands squad, appearing in all but one of their games in the UEFA Nations League over the year.
While Louis van Gaal will most likely prefer playing the likes of Frenkie de Jong at the heart of midfield, he'll need an astute midfield partner that will be eager to go up and down the pitch, especially since Ryan Gravenberch has been left out of the squad altogether. There are few that can do that as easily as Koopmeiners, and we'll definitely be taking a close look at his involvement in the coming weeks.
3) Dusan Vlahovic - Serbia
Juventus have been on the lips of many Italian football fans, particularly because of their horrific start to the season, including a UEFA Champions League campaign that has seen them drop out to the UEFA Europa League Knockout Play-offs after just one win in six group games. And no player has been as frustrated as Dusan Vlahovic.
The Serbian has scored seven goals and provided two assists in all competitions this season, in a campaign that has seen him have injury troubles just as he was starting to form an astute partnership with Arkadiusz Milik. Prior to the Pole's introduction to the squad, Vlahovic was cutting as a frustrated figure up top, in a Juve side that was barely creating any chances.
Since then, the Bianconeri have had a sensational run of form, propelling themselves up to third in the table, propelling themselves up to third in Serie A, particularly due to a resolute defence, yet their poor goalscoring form has continued, having scored just 24 goals in the league, the least out of the league's top five clubs.
Rumours about Vlahovic's future have once again reemerged, especially since Juve have somewhat played better without his presence on the pitch. This has made the World Cup even more vital for the Serbian.
Vlahovic has to impress in the competition, being part of a very exciting Serbia side that has been scoring goals for fun over the last few months. The 22-year-old is heading to the World Cup in a rich vein of form, having scored and assisted twice as Serbia thrashed Bahrain 5-1 on Friday. This took his overall tally for Serbia to nine goals and six assists in 17 caps, a remarkable tally for the Juve striker.
However, Vlahovic's place in the side isn't guaranteed, with Aleksandar Mitrovic being nailed down to start, leaving the Juventus forward to compete with Luka Jovic for the supporting role. Serbia are seen as many's underdogs for the competition, yet however they end up performing, Vlahovic needs some good performances, or else his future at club level could be taking a massive hit.
4) Jamal Musiala - Germany
Where do we even start with Jamal Musiala.
The 19-year-old has been simply outrageous for Bayern Munich this season, racking up 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 games in all competitions, becoming one of the German club's most crucial and exciting players.
The German is quick on the ball, has brilliant movement, bringing a cutting edge to his play, and most importantly, is improving with each passing game.
Germany have been very hit and miss over the last few years, as while they were extremely underwhelming at the 2018 World Cup and UEFA Euro 2020, Hansi Flick is starting to integrate plenty of young talent in the squad, including the likes of Youssoufa Moukoko, Karim Adeyemi, David Raum, Nico Schlotterbeck, and of course, Musiala.
Musiala will face competition from a number of attacking stars within the squad, but there's no doubt that he'll be integral to the side's play going forward. Be sure to keep an eye out on both Musiala and the whole Germany squad during the World Cup, cause they might be one of the most surprising sides in the whole tournament.
5) Adrien Rabiot - France
Last but not least, there's Adrien Rabiot.
Let's just say that the 27-year-old has had some very interesting last few months...
Rabiot went a whole season without a single goal in 2021/22, as Juventus stumbled to the UEFA Champions League spots, and was touted for a move away in the summer. That seemed likely, especially with Manchester United reportedly being keen to sign him. However, a deal fell through and United opted to sign Casemiro instead, leaving Rabiot in even more uncertainty. Juve struggled to let go of him, leading to the likes of Arthur Melo and Denis Zakaria to leave the club instead, as the Bianconeri wanted to secure the arrival of Leandro Paredes and free some wages.
However, Rabiot had a point to prove this season, and despite the horrible start that Juve have had, he has arguably been their best player, putting in dogged and consistently brilliant performances at the heart of midfield. To make it even better, he has added goal involvements to his game in the last few games, getting three goals and two assists in his last five Serie A appearances.
Following a series of injuries in midfield, particularly to N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, Dider Deschamps saw it fit to call him up to the squad, and to be honest, it is very deserved, and arguably should have been in the squad had the other two been fit as well.
In a midfield that contains young talents like Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni and Matteo Guendouzi, along with others that have barely played for France like Jordan Veretout and Youssouf Fofana, Rabiot is the only senior member of that midfield. As a result, it is even more vital that the 27-year-old stamps his authority in games and takes his remarkable Juve form to the World Cup, as the holders seek to silence the people that are doubting them.
With his contract at Juve expiring in 2023, this could be his way of securing a move to a side that has been more successful in recent years, or else to earn an even heftier contract in Turin. We'll just have to wait and see which Rabiot turns up...
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