England v Lithuania - EURO 2016 Qualifier

World Cup Freshman: 11 Stars Making Their Tournament Debut

Sublime soccer talent is on display every day across the globe. But soccer greatness can only be achieved on the beautiful game’s biggest stage: the World Cup. These 11 players all possess remarkable talent but until now none have had the opportunity to prove their mettle when the stakes are highest and the competition is at its most fierce. That will all change this summer in Russia as these World Cup freshman look to gain entrance to the soccer pantheon.

KYLIAN MBAPPE, FRANCE Jean Catuffe/Getty Images KYLIAN MBAPPE, FRANCE France Legendary coach Arsene Wenger has likened Kylian Mbappe to Thierry Henry—one of the greatest forwards in the history of the game. That’s high praise for a 19-year-old but the Paris Saint-Germain striker can back it up. He registered eight assists and 13 goals in 28 Ligue 1 games last season and added four more in Champions League play. Mbappe is a pre-tournament frontrunner for Best Young Player in this World Cup. HARRY KANE, ENGLAND Shaun Botterill/Getty Images HARRY KANE, ENGLAND The Tottenham superstar found the back of the net 30 times in English Premier League play this past season but knows full well that his countrymen will judge him based on his performance in Russia. The 24-year-old striker will be wearing the captain’s armband when he makes his World Cup debut, as coach Gareth Southgate anointed his young striker ahead of several established veterans on the squad.

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SADIO MANE, SENEGAL Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images SADIO MANE, SENEGAL Together with Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Brazilian Roberto Firmino, 26-year-old attacker Sadio Mané led Liverpool all the way to the 2018 Champions League final against Real Madrid. The dynamic trio fell just short but made history by becoming the first front three to score 10+ goals in one Champions League season. Mané, 26, is a lethal striker in top form who excels against top-level competition. He knows Senegal missed out on the last three World Cups and won’t be shy about going for goal. ISCO, SPAIN AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images ISCO, SPAIN The 26-year-old playmaker is accustomed to playing alongside the best of the best. His professional club, Real Madrid, is tops on the planet while his international team, Spain, arguably features the best midfield anywhere. Here’s the rub: At Real Madrid, Isco often finds himself on the bench so he will be using the World Cup platform to prove he deserves to be an automatic starter every time he suits up. GABRIEL JESUS, BRAZIL Anakena/LatinContent/Getty Images GABRIEL JESUS, BRAZIL The sky is the limit for this Sao Paolo native who has already bagged nine goals for Brazil in just 16 international matches. Jesus, 20, joined Manchester City last year and tallied 20 times as he helped the powerhouse squad run away with the English Premier League title. The striker’s jaw-dropping technical skills are matched only by his audacity in attack. HIRVING LOZANO, MEXICO Hector Vivas/Getty Images HIRVING LOZANO, MEXICO As a child, Lozano took delight in startling his teammates by hiding under their beds and leaping out. He eventually earned the nickname “Chucky,” after the devilish doll in the film “Child’s Play.” Now, of course, it is opposing defenders who quake in fear when Lozano pounces. The PSV Eindhoven attacker notched 17 goals in eight assists in 2017-18 and could scare up a few more strikes in Russia. MOHAMED SALAH, EGYPT NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images MOHAMED SALAH, EGYPT The “Egyptian Messi” may be iffy for his country’s June 15 match against Uruguay but keep in mind that the Pharaohs play winnable matches on June 19 (Russia) and June 25 (Saudi Arabia). Salah scored more than 70 percent of his team’s goals during qualifying and no player in Russia is more important to his team. If the 25-year-old attacker is able to play in just two group stage games, Egypt is a strong candidate to go through. CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN, DENMARK Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN, DENMARK June 2018 is all about firsts for the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder. On June 4th Eriksen and his partner Sabrina Kvist Jensen welcomed their first son; 12 days later he is slated to make his World Cup debut against Peru. He can secure a freshman hat trick by scoring his first-ever goal on soccer’s biggest stage—something Denmark will absolutely need if it plans to advance. PAULO DYBALA, ARGENTINA Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent/Getty Images PAULO DYBALA, ARGENTINA Somebody has to finish what Lionel Messi starts, and the 24-year-old Juventus striker aims to be that man. He has the track record: Dybala scored 22 goals in 33 Serie A games this season, good enough for third in the league and six more than World Cup teammate (and fellow Juventus star) Gonzalo Higuain. That said, Dybala has never tallied for La Selección despite making 12 appearances for Argentina. BERNARDO SILVA, PORTUGAL NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images BERNARDO SILVA, PORTUGAL Both are named “Silva.” Both are attack-minded midfielders. Both play for Manchester City. But that’s where the similarities end for Portugal’s Bernardo Silva and Spain’s David Silva. Bernardo, 23, will be making his World Cup debut this summer. David, 32, will be participating in his third. The two teams will square off on June 15 in one of the most anticipated matches of the World Cup group stage. NEMANJA MATIC, SERBIA Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images NEMANJA MATIC, SERBIA At six-foot-four, the Manchester United defensive midfielder is one of the most sublimely skilled big men in the game. Matic, 29, is tasked with breaking up opposing attacks and supporting the back line but he is so adept on the ball that he routinely contributes in the attack (and often makes opposing midfielders look foolish). Man United coach Jose Mourinho recently said he hopes Serbia fails to advance in Russia so Matic can take some time off. Something tells us that the big guy respectfully disagrees.

-- John Godfrey (@ThisIsASN)



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