Five breakout stars of the World Cup group stage
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe grabbed plenty of the headlines as their countries sailed through the group stage of the World Cup, but many others have also risen to the occasion in Qatar.
AFP Sport looks at five breakout stars from the first round of the tournament.
Tyler Adams (USA)
The Leeds midfielder exuded calm both on and off the pitch as the United States booked a spot in the last 16 with a tense 1-0 win over Iran in their final match. Named captain just before the World Cup, the 23-year-old led by example at the heart of a youthful midfield — playing alongside Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah — which more than held its own against England and dominated Wales. Adams also demonstrated remarkable maturity and composure as he deftly handled being peppered with questions unrelated to football ahead of the politically charged Iran game. His performances in Qatar have reportedly caught the eye of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Cody Gakpo (Netherlands)
The Dutch forward was the only player to score in all three group games — carrying over his red-hot form for PSV Eindhoven onto the biggest stage. Gakpo’s header in the Netherlands’ opening match against Senegal broke the deadlock late on in a 2-0 victory. He drilled the Dutch ahead with a fierce left-footed drive against Ecuador in a 1-1 draw and again set the Oranje on their way with another tidy finish on his right as they cantered to a 2-0 win over Qatar. “He has everything it takes to become a star,” said Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal. It is surely only a matter of time before he is prised away from his boyhood club, with Manchester United a possible destination.
Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)
Fernandez had never started a game for Argentina before the World Cup but his performances in Qatar have made him a vital part of Lionel Scaloni’s side. The 21-year-old midfielder came off the bench to score a wonder strike against Mexico, then created his team’s second goal after making his first start in their 2-0 win over Poland. Fernandez joined Benfica from River Plate in the summer and quickly impressed, helping his new club top their group in the Champions League. Fernandez’s goal against Mexico made him Argentina’s second-youngest goalscorer at the World Cup – after Lionel Messi.
Jude Bellingham (England)
Bellingham is appearing at his second international tournament after playing for England at last year’s European Championship, and it is easy to forget that he is still only 19. The Borussia Dortmund player has become an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s midfield in Qatar and announced himself with a well-taken goal in England’s opening 6-2 win over Iran. Bellingham has racked up plenty of big-game experience with Dortmund and he looked completely at ease alongside Declan Rice as England topped Group B.
Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
An emerging defensive star in a Croatia side in need of renewal, Gvardiol’s last-ditch block on Romelu Lukaku saved the 2018 runners-up from going out to Belgium. The 20-year-old fractured his nose and suffered severe swelling around his right eye barely a week before the tournament after colliding with an RB Leipzig teammate but that hasn’t affected his play. He has not only stood out as the masked man but as the bedrock of a Croatia backline breached just once so far. “He’s the best defender in the world,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. “Even if he’s not currently number one, he will become number one.”