World Soccer

6 of the best Uncapped World Cup hopefuls

Jamie Evans takes a look at the players hoping to make their internatio­nal bows ahead of Qatar 2022

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1 Jacob RAMSEY ASTON VILLA

At this stage, Ramsey must be considered an outsider for the World Cup, not least because of the options that Gareth Southgate already has at his disposal.

Then again, given that the youngster was barely considered an Aston Villa first-team option at the start of the season, it would be foolish to underestim­ate him. And Southgate has already proven that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, blooding the likes of Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden without hesitation.

Ramsey’s progress this season has been remarkable, particular­ly since the arrival of manager Steven Gerrard. The perfect role model for any English midfielder, Gerrard has tapped into the 20-year-old’s potential and quickly made him a mainstay of his team. Just how high is his ceiling? Only time will tell.

2 Christophe­r NKUNKU RB LEIPZIG

It is testament to France’s incredible strength in depth that Nkunku has never won a senior internatio­nal cap. While the 24-year-old’s versatilit­y may have counted against him (he can play as a box-to-box midfielder, wide man, centreforw­ard or support striker) his form this season surely makes it impossible for Didier Deschamps to continue ignoring him.

Not only has he registered double figures in the Bundesliga – already his best-ever league return by far – he also struck seven goals in the Champions League group stage, including a hat-trick against Manchester City. That treble may well have been the first of many for Nkunku in Manchester, with United reportedly interested in a summer move.

3 Gabriel MARTINELLI ARSENAL

Recently hailed by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp as “outstandin­g” and that “everybody should remember that name,” Martinelli’s talent is beyond question. The problem for the 20-year-old’s internatio­nal hopes is that Brazil are hardly short of wide forwards at the moment.

The Arsenal forward is known to the Brazilian set-up, having played his part in last year’s victorious Olympic campaign and trained with the seniors ahead of the 2019 Copa America. Yet for now, he remains very much down the pecking order for Qatar.

After the departure of PierreEmer­ick Aubameyang, he has the opportunit­y to become Arsenal’s talisman. If he can achieve that, he may well muscle his way into the Selecao squad.

4 Sven BOTMAN LILLE

Botman, we were told in January, was the top defensive transfer target for Newcastle United’s new Saudi owners, but their offers were ultimately rejected by Lille.

The decision to turn down big money for him is testament not only to Botman’s importance to the squad (he only missed one game on the road to last season’s Ligue1 title), but how much he could be worth in the near future. Still only 22, his lack of Oranje action is primarily a result of the exceptiona­l depth the Netherland­s have at centre-back. Although, having left Ajax in 2020 in order to get first-team football, it would seem he still has a point to prove in his home country.

5 SEOL Young-woo ULSAN HYUNDAI

Of the ten most-used players in South Korea’s World Cup qualifying campaign thus far, only three have been below the age of 29, so the rest of 2022 must surely be used to introduce some fresh blood to the squad.

As the K-League’s Young Player of the Year for 2021, Seol is an obvious candidate for promotion. Described by World Soccer’s John Duerden as “calm in the tackle and in possession”, he was a regular at left-back for league champions Ulsan Hyundai.

He was deployed on the right at the Olympics, and may well be seen as a long-term successor to the incumbent right-back, 35-year-old Lee Yong.

6 Thiago ALMADA ATLANTA UNITED

Atlanta’s record signing will hope that Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni gets over his apparent reluctance to call up players from MLS. Several players have made an impact in the league without earning internatio­nal honours – including 2021 Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellano­s and Ezequiel Barco, who has just signed for River Plate after zero Argentina caps in three seasons with Atlanta.

But if any player can buck the trend, it might be Almada. Long-tipped as one of Argentina’s most exciting young prospects and the heir to Messi’s throne, Atlanta spent $16 million to sign the 20-year-old forward. If his form in MLS matches his reputation, it will be hard for Scaloni to ignore him.

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