It’s finally here! A month long festival of football. We’ve picked our sweepstakes, got the beers in and readied our explanations to our loved ones for why the likes of Peru vs Denmark are must-watch events.

One of the features of every big tournament is that it provides a stage for some of the lesser-known potential stars to make their big breakthrough. This year in Russia will be no different. We’ve compiled a list of players who will be hoping to make a name for themselves this summer…

Daniel ARZANI (19)

Winger/Attacking Midfielder for Australia & Melbourne City

Absolutely ecstatic to have scored my first goal, hopefully many more to come

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With a creaking Tim Cahill only scraping into the squad after a lack of game time at Millwall, the Socceroos may need to look elsewhere for inspiration this summer. In Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Mat Ryan (Brighton), Tom Rogic (Celtic) and Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield), the Ozzies have some well-established names plying their trade across Britain and beyond. However, it is Iranian-born Arzani who is likely to cause the most excitement in Russia.

Arzani burst onto the scene with Man City’s Australian sister-club this season, earning himself the “A-League Young Player of the Year”. His box-office tricks and creativity also earned him a debut call-up Australia’s preliminary squad for Russia, much to the disappointment of the Iranian national team. His performances off the bench in those two games, including the opening goal in a win against Hungary, ensured his place on the plane and the title of youngest player at the tournament. Manager Bert van Marwijk guided his native Holland to the final in South Africa 2010, but he may be reliant on Arzani’s flair if his otherwise workman-like side are to stand a chance of making it out of Group C.

Links to Man City are obvious, especially considering that Aaron Mooy made the same move from Melbourne City back in 2016. An impressive showing in Russia would only intensify speculation however, it’s thought that Arzani may opt to stay down under for the time being, where he can continue his development whilst playing regular first team football.

Leander DENDONCKER (23)

Defensive Midfielder/Defender for Belgium & Anderlecht

Quite possibly the best sounding name at this years’ tournament but that isn’t the only reason he’s on this list (although it was a big factor). Dendoncker is primarily a physically dominant holding midfielder but also has the mobility to make late runs into the box. The moment in which he came to most people’s attention came while scoring a bullet header against Manchester United in the 2016/17 Europa League.

Standing at 6ft2in, his size makes him equally comfortable as a ball-playing defender in a back three. He is unlikely to make it into an injury-free Belgian XI, however fitness concerns over Vincent Kompany may mean that he gets a chance to slot in between Tottenham’s Alderweireld and Vertonghen.

Dendoncker is a player in demand and has stated himself that he dreams of playing in the Premier League. Anderlecht have assured him that they will not stand in his way if the money is right and with strong links to West Ham over the last 6 months, you may soon be seeing the big Belgian at an athletics stadium near you…

Dendoncker will be strutting his stuff in Russia in one of our top 5 shirts of this year’s World Cup. See which other efforts made the cut HERE...

Alireza JAHANBAKHSH (24)

Winger/Attacking Midfielder for Iran & AZ Alkmaar

#Allforteammelli 🇮🇷❤️

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From arguably the best name in the tournament to what can only be described as a commentator’s nightmare. Jahanbakhsh lit up the Eredivisie this season, becoming the first ever Asian footballer to win top scorer in one of Europe’s main leagues. The AZ man finished the season with 21 goals and 12 assists, impressive numbers for someone who plays primarily as a winger.

Usually operating down the right hand side, Jahanbakhsh is comfortable using both feet. His key traits are his pace and direct running which coupled with clinical finishing has made him unstoppable in Holland this season. The winger will have to convert his red hot club form to the international scene this summer if an unfancied Iran are to get anything out of the competition. He has struggled for Iran so far, scoring just 4 goals in 36 games, a record he will be desperate to improve.

His exploits this season have unsurprisingly drawn reported Premier League interest but it is the Bundesliga where the player sees his own future. Jahanbakhsh is keen to follow in the footsteps of his compatriots Daei, Karimi and Mahdavikia who all had success in Germany.

BUYER BEWARE: Being the top scorer in the Netherlands does not guarantee Premier League success. It seems that since Ruud van Nistelrooy there has been a curse on Eredivisie top scorers. Please see: Vincent Janssen, Memphis Depay, Afonso Alves, Mateja Kezman…

Hirving LOZANO (22)

Winger for Mexico & PSV Eindhoven

Another lovely sounding name and one that Football Manager players will have been familiar with for some years. The wide-man finally made it to Europe this season with PSV Eindhoven and he hit the ground running. Lozano, or “Chucky” as he is known in his homeland, netted 17 times for the Dutch giants on their road to their 24th title.

With all-time top-scorer Javier Hernandez (West Ham) struggling for form over the last year, Chucky will be Mexico’s key man this summer and will hope to add to his 7 goals so far for El Tricolor.

Lozano is a typical modern winger, regularly cutting in from the left onto his favoured and fearsome right foot. In Holland he has been compared to Luis Suarez, however this is not all down to his undoubted footballing talent. Much like the Uruguayan, Lozano’s temperament has been questioned at times. He was sent off twice this season for lashing out at opponents, and was lucky to stay on the field on a number of other occasions.

The Mexican was a snip for PSV, costing just €8M from Pachuca and chances are they could be about to make a quick profit on the winger. PSV’s Technical Director Marcel Brands switched to Everton at the end of the season and reportedly it is the Toffees who lead the chase for Lozano. However, you would expect that a good showing at the World Cup may see Chucky setting his sights slightly higher than Goodison Park.

Achraf HAKIMI (19)

Right-back for Morocco & Real Madrid

Penúltima parada antes de poner rumbo a Rusia ✈️✈️ @julienscussel

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Born and bred in Madrid to Moroccan parents, Hakimi was promoted to Real’s first team squad this season as back up to Dani Carvajal. Playing as an attacking right-back, the teenager made 9 La Liga appearances in his breakthrough season, scoring 2 goals.

Impressed with his talent and keen to secure his international future (he is also eligible for Spain), Morocco handed Hakimi his debut back in 2016 aged just 17, two years before his first club appearance. He has gone on to play 17 times for the Atlas Lions and has firmly secured his right-back berth for Russia.

Perhaps surprisingly, reports in Spain at the start of the summer suggested that Zinedine Zidane was not completely convinced of Hakimi’s talents. Rumours suggested that he could be set to leave Real Madrid in July when his contract comes to an end, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli potential suitors. Zidane, has of course, since left the Spanish giants which could yet hand the young Moroccan a lifeline. New manager Julen Lopetegui spent 4 years working in the youth ranks of the national team, which may make him inclined to give youth a chance. However, with that contract running down, time is running out for Hakimi.

STAY TUNED!

We’ll be bringing you five more names tomorrow, just before the World Cup starts. Included are the ‘great hope of Korean football’, a young Uruguayan playing for the Italian champions, Juventus, and an African linked with a few top Premier League sides. Exciting times.

Thanks for reading, and see you tomorrow morning!