World Cup 2018: 5 of the best U23 players in Russia

Some you've heard of, perhaps some you've haven't... We bring you the World Cup's best U23s.

REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

Young stars have risen to the plate at this World Cup for a number of countries. Some, such as Kylian Mbappe, were already expected to flourish coming into the tournament, but others have been revelations in Russia.

RealSport looks at some of the U23 players who have impressed the most so far, and those who may play a crucial role for their nation in the closing stages of the 2018 finals.

  1. 1 Aleksandr Golovin [Russia]

    REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

    As the lowest-ranked side when the tournament kicked off, the mood was sombre among the hosts, with some locals saying Vladimir Cherchesov’s side were the worst they had ever seen represent Russia.

    But they scored six goals in the group stages and pulled off a shock win over Spain in the last-16 to book a place in the quarter-finals against all expectations.

    A key factor in their success has been Aleksandr Golovin, the 22-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder who has been linked to just about every top Premier League side and is supposedly close to joining Chelsea.

    Read more on Aleksandr Golovin's importance to Russia's World Cup hopes HERE.

    Denis Cheryshev might have stolen the limelight with his brace in Russia’s opening drubbing of Saudi Arabia, but Golovin provided a goal and two assists in that match and is the team’s real star.

    He makes this side tick, and that is reflected in the fact no other Russian player has created more chances (5) or won more tackles (15) at this World Cup.

    Meanwhile he showed remarkable work ethic against Spain, covering the most ground of any player at the finals so far. If Russia’s World Cup odyssey is to continue, they will need their most creative player to continue in the same vein of form.

  2. 2 Hirving Lozano [Mexico]

    REUTERS/David Gray

    Lozano announced himself to the world when he ripped through Germany’s defence and finished calmly past Manuel Neuer to set El Tri on their way to a famous World Cup win in their group opener.

    Though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side were eliminated in the last-16, the man they call 'Chucky' - because of his ability to scare his teammates - was arguably the breakout star of the tournament.

    Following a 19-goal debut season in the Eredivisie for PSV Eindhoven last year, big things were expected of Lozano in the build-up to this tournament, and he did not disappoint.

    He assisted Javier Hernandez in Mexico’s next group match versus South Korea and caused Brazil serious problems in the last-16, though his side were unable to eliminate the Seleccao.

    It is no surprise that he has been linked with a host of big clubs, and his showings at the World Cup will have only increased his stock among Europe’s elite.

  3. 3 Kylian Mbappe [France]

    REUTERS/Michael Dalder

    Mbappe was far from a hidden gem before these finals having won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles with Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, but he has risen to new heights - and speeds - in Russia.

    That was demonstrated in the last-16 against Argentina, when the 19-year-old became the first teenager since Pele to score twice in a World Cup match.

    He has attempted the fourth most dribbles of any player this tournament and is France’s top scorer with three clinically taken goals. His performance in knocking out Lionel Messi’s side even prompted some to label this a changing of the guard as one football superstar made way for another.

    While that may be a touch exaggerated, Mbappe has risen to become one of the best players in world football in little over two years.

    The last time France won a World Cup was the same year he was born, and he is helping this incarnation of Les Bleus to write their own story in Russia. 

  4. 4 Yerry Mina [Colombia]

    REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    It is easy to forget that Mina is only 23, especially given the Colombia centre-back joined Barcelona six months ago, but he has struggled at times during his first months at the Camp Nou. 

    He was an ever-present for Jose Pekerman’s side in Russia, though, culminating in his last-minute equaliser in the tense last-16 battle with England.

    Read three reasons why Everton should sign Yerry Mina HERE.

    That was his third goal in the tournament, making him Colombia’s top scorer, with his others coming in his World Cup debut against Poland and the only goal in a must-win clash with Senegal.

    With an 89.2% passing accuracy and more passes per game than any other Colombian player (52.7), Mina proved himself as a defender with a modern mindset for his national side.

    Whether or not he stays at Barcelona, he looks to have a promising future.

  5. 5 Benjamin Pavard [France]

    REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

    It is the sign of a defender's thankless task that he is perhaps only fully appreciated when he scores a crucial goal for his side, and Pavard may have felt the same after his incredible effort against Argentina made everyone sit up and take notice.

    It was a huge moment for a 22-year-old, drafted into Didier Deschamps’ squad as a makeshift right-back, and he is unlikely to strike a ball better ever again.

    His contributions in defence have been significant, however. Pavard has made the second most clearances after Raphael Varane (12) as well as completing the third most tackles (8).

    Despite usually playing at centre-back for Stuttgart, his versatility is clear in the way he has adapted to the right-back role for France.

    His tournament will probably be remembered more for his effort against Argentina than anything else, but Deschamps may have found a defensive mainstay for years to come in Pavard.

Have we missed anyone? Let us know in the comments section below.

  1. POLL: Who has been the best U23 player in Russia?

    1. Hirving Lozano
    2. Benjamin Pavard
    3. Kylian Mbappe
    4. Yerry Mina
    5. Aleksandr Golovin
    23 votes
    Share Your Result

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