The 2022 World Cup brought viewers one of the most entertaining tournaments of all time, topped off with one of the greatest finals ever to be witnessed, permeated with the pure brilliance of two of the best to ever do it. Aged 35 and 24, respectively, it was expected Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe to perform for their countries.
However, beyond the already cemented generational talents, this tournament hosted some of the brightest youngsters across the globe – and boy, they shine. We’ve picked out a few favorites in this article.
What’s the big deal?
It’s worth mentioning that performing at the club level and at the World Cup are entirely different things. For starters, rather than representing their local teams, players represent an entire nation, carrying the weight of a whole country’s expectations on their backs.
ExpressVPN’s report on sports streaming showed that football is still the number one sport to stream, even when it comes to national leagues. However, the spectatorship for sporting events like this reaches levels that are incomparable to the streaming statistics seen in the Premier League, for example. It was estimated that the World Cup amassed over five billion viewers in its six-week span. That jaw-dropping statistic, where the unimaginable pressure is piled on, makes the performances of these youngsters that much more impressive.
Starting in England, Gareth Southgate has something special in the team in Jude Bellingham. Aged just 19, the central midfielder would not look out of place in a team full of world-class, big-personality players – it doesn’t seem like he’d hold back on going off on such teammates, either. His ability to control a game and take command of his team at such a young age is a spectacle to behold, and he has captain material woven into the very fabric of his being. Bring on the 2026 World Cup for this future captain.
Young Player of the Tournament
It would be futile to name young sparks in this tournament and not pick out the one identified by FIFA as the young player of the tournament, Enzo Fernandez. While Messi was the star of the show – and rightfully so – the contributions of 21-year-old Benfica midfielder Fernandez cannot be understated. Cool, calm, and collected in the face of danger, it was as if Fernandez had been playing World Cup football his entire career and not as though he had graduated from the River Plate Footballing Academy just three years ago. His tenacity was unmatched, and his value was immeasurable to this World Cup-winning side.
Though he looked like Batman at the back with his nose mask, 20-year-old Croatian Joško Gvardiol was the arch-villain to plenty of world-class strikers in this tournament. It was a shame that Messi turned him inside and out in the semi-final to provide one of the assists of the tournament to taint his near-perfect tournament. Still, the overall performance of this young center-back is one to be remembered and one sure to secure him a big money move in the near future.
Whittling the list down to three was a difficult task in a World Cup where so many young players were allowed to shine, but these players deserved mention for their national team efforts. Let’s hope the rest of their career follows the quality of their recent performances.