During the summer months, the northern hemisphere soccer world usually makes up for a lack of fixtures by fixating on transfers and plans for next season. This year, however, the soccer world’s attention will turn to Russia for the Confederations Cup.
From June 17 to July 2, the winners of the six FIFA confederation championships, Germany–who qualify by virtue of winning the 2014 World Cup–and hosts Russia will battle it out in four different cities. Those two sides will be joined by Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal and Cameroon in what promises to be a fascinating competition.
Not only will the Confederations Cup give fans a chance to see how the teams are shaping up for next year’s World Cup, it also allows the players to put themselves in the shop window and show off their talents. At the last edition, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho was able to turn a stellar performance into a big money move to England’s Tottenham Hotspur. This year’s Confederations Cup has young talent to boot, with Mexico and Chile, especially, having a handful of potential stars that could make a direct splash into the world soccer conscience this summer. Let’s take a look.
El Tri has looked convincing in World Cup qualifying so far, and a 3-0 win against Honduras on June 8 left the team in a strong position to win the Hex and qualify to Russia 2018. One of the scorers that night was 21-year-old Hirving Lozano, an attacking midfielder that will also represent the country in Russia. “Chucky” Lozano is creating buzz with his play at Pachuca in Liga MX, and is now rumoured to be on his way to Europe with a big money move to Manchester City. However those hoping to see the youngster in the English Premier League may have to wait a while, as a two-year loan deal has reportedly been agreed with Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
Also on the pitch against Honduras was 23-year-old Carlos Salcedo, who has had an interesting career in the MLS, Liga MX, and Serie A so far. The defender first played for Real Salt Lake before moving to Chivas in 2015, before completing a one-year loan at Italian side Fiorentina last season. At 6’1″, El Titan is a physical presence for Mexico, and a player that looks set to improve with age and experience.
Mexico will also count on youngsters Orbelin Pineda and Jesus Gallardo in Russia. The pair offer an exciting attacking threat, with 22-year-old Pumas forward Gallardo performing well towards the end of the Liga MX season, as his club reached the Liga MX final. The Mexico City squad must be wary about bids from Europe if he performs well at the Confederations Cup. Fellow attacker Pineda is a tricky 21-year-old midfielder who, like Lozano, has also been linked to a move to Manchester City. His current club, Chivas, has headed off any talk of a transfer so far, but it may be difficult to resist if Pep Guardiola’s team come back with an offer of serious money.
Lozano, Salcedo, Gallardo and Pineda represent the cream of the crop of young Mexican players and although domestic fans might want them to stay in Liga MX, national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio believes they would be better off playing in Europe in order to make the national team stronger. With big money often on the table and the words of the coach ringing in their ears, how many of the young stars will be left in Liga MX come the end of the Confederations Cup?
The Chilean squad also features five players who currently ply their trade in the Mexican league. Among them are 24-year old defender Enzo Roco and 22-year-old forward Martin Rodriguez, both of Cruz Azul. Roco already has 16 caps for La Roja, and may be used to inject some youth into an ageing Chilean defense.
His clubmate Rodriguez is more of an unknown quantity on the international stage, with only three caps to his name. Rodriguez did feature in the friendly against Russia on June 9, but with only 14 appearances and one goal last season in Liga MX, the diminutive forward needs to hold down a place at Cruz Azul if he wants to force his way into the national picture on a regular basis.
Another Chilean youngster to watch is Paulo Diaz, a 23-year-old defender that plays for San Lorenzo in Argentina. The squad is having a great season, currently sitting second in the table behind Boca Juniors, and Diaz boosted his popularity with the fans by scoring the winning goal against powerhouse side River Plate on June 4. The center back will have to hope that San Lorenzo can keep up their good form while he is in Russia, as the Argentinian league is not on break like Liga MX.
As scouting networks become ever more sophisticated, the top clubs are plucking players from teams around the world at ever younger ages.
Looking to the Chilean domestic league, 24-year-old forward Angelo Sagal stands out as a rising star. After scoring ten goals for Huachipato, one of the weaker teams in the Primera Division, larger Chilean clubs like Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile are rumored to be interested in signing the left-footer.
As scouting networks become ever more sophisticated, the top clubs are plucking players from teams around the world at ever younger ages. A good example of this is Chile forward Marcelo Allende, who reportedly had a trial for Arsenal at the tender age of 17. He might not have been called up to the Confederations Cup squad this summer, but Arsenal were sufficiently impressed to reportedly offer him a contract starting next season.
While the recent strength of the Liga MX may have slowed the traditional conveyor belt of young Latin American talent to European clubs, most of the top prospects can expect to end up there at some point. It’s a well-trodden path, and one that promises gold and glory to those that are willing to live abroad and adapt to a different culture. The Confederations Cup is a great chance for soccer fans to watch these future stars test themselves against some of the top players in the world, and see who is ready to take the next step in their career.