There are a lot of things that excite fans about a World Cup, whether it be the carnival of noise, the cultural coming together of countries around the globe, or the opportunity to see the best players in the world strut their stuff.
For us, though, one of the most exciting things about the tournament is the lesser-known talent first landing on the radar. Here we focus on that as we look at the breakout stars to watch according to the latest Qatar World Cup odds for 2022. Let’s dive in.
Josko Gvardiol might only be 20 years old, but he has bags of experience under his belt already and could be a big player at the upcoming World Cup with Croatia standing a good chance of progressing out of Group F. Gvardiol came through the ranks with Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb before moving into one of Europe’s top five leagues with RB Leipzig.
In Germany, Gvardiol has proven himself to be a more than capable defender. He is a versatile player, too, meaning he can play at left-back or centre-half and he can operate in a three-of-four-man backline; those qualities alone make him an attractive player for a tournament squad. Bring into the equation his quality on the ball and his physical attributes; he is a real player to watch.
If we’re being honest, there are not many names that jump off the page when you think about the Japanese national team. One that sticks out for us, though, is Fortuna Dusseldorf’s midfielder Ao Tanaka. Tanaka first arrived in Europe last year on a loan to Fortuna from Kawasaki Frontale, which is the club Tanaka played for as a youngster; earlier this year, though, the German club opted to make the move permanent, which is testament to the strides Tanaka was making.
So, what is he like on the football pitch? He operates in the middle of the park but can go in either direction. His preference is to play higher up the field, where his intricate passing and neat control allow him to create chances, whilst his intelligent runs can see him arrive in goalscoring positions on a regular basis. The big question mark ahead of Qatar 2022 is whether or not his team setup will showcase the best of him; Japan is in a group with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica, which means Tanaka might spend more time chasing the ball than creating with it.
We’re offering bonus points to football fans that genuinely know much about Akram Afif; it is only the true hardcore who do. Afif, who will represent the hosts at the World Cup, has featured in European football during his career but only very briefly in spells with Belgian club Eupen, where he impressed enough to earn a move to a bigger club, Villarreal and Gijon. To say he didn’t set the world alight in Spain would be an understatement.
That being said, it would also be naïve to label him as a bust. His time in European football ended five years ago. Given he is only now 26 years old, he was hardly given a fair crack of the whip, and there could be a few wondering ‘what if’ if he arrives in Qatar in form. Since returning to the Middle East, where he plays for Al Sadd, the left winger has developed into one of the most creative players on the continent. For Al Sadd, he has scored 76 goals and assisted 61 in just 123 games; that gives him a goal contribution every 74 minutes!
The last player we’re going to touch on in our view of the breakout stars to watch at the Qatar 2022 World Cup is another versatile defender, which is where we started our run down with Gvardiol. And since the Netherlands is, according to Bovada’s Facebook page, one of the underdogs to watch during the World Cup 2022, Timber might have a longer run in the cup than the Croatian.
Jurrien Timber might be a name quite a few football fans know already, given he had strong links to Manchester United earlier in the summer before they opted to sign Lisandro Martinez instead. Regardless of that move not materializing, don’t underestimate Timber; many are backing him to start for Holland alongside Virgil Van Dijk in Qatar, which goes some way to showing how good he is.
Timber, who plays his club football for Ajax, can operate at right back and in a two or three-man central defensive unit. He prides himself on his ability to read the game and his calmness in possession. However, at 21 years old he is still quite raw. If someone like Van Dijk is on song, it should help him out a lot in Qatar and allow him to shine.