The Youth Movement: 10 youngsters who could make an impact in Brazil

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When Julian Green made the United States final 23-man roster, presumably over US legend Landon Donovan, headlines were made and decisions were second-guessed.

But Green isn’t even close to the only youngster – or even the only teenager – who will be making the trip to this summer’s World Cup.

You probably know the big name youngsters – Germany’s Julian Draxler (20 years old), Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj (19), and France’s Paul Pogba (21),  just to name a few.  Those players have been around for a while and have made a name for themselves already, including possibly breaking into their country’s starting lineup.

Here, we will focus more on the young players who aren’t such household names, and could be players who not only get a chance to break onto the big stage, but could be fixtures for years to come in their country’s squad.

Let’s get a brief overview of some players who not only represent the future for their country, but could even have an impact this year.

1) Josip Drmic and Granit Xhaka – Switzerland, 21 years old

With Switzerland coming into Brazil with forward bunch bursting with youth, this Bundesliga pair could very well make a major impact.

source: AP
Switzerland’s young striker Josip Drmic has come on strong recently and is looking to help prove they’re worthy of Pot 1.

Drmic didn’t do much during Switzerland’s qualification, but has bagged three goals in their last two friendlies, and with Switzerland’s inexperienced forward group, the young striker could find himself with ample opportunities during Group E play and beyond.

Xhaka is actually the Swiss’s most-capped forward according to FIFA.com, with 22 appearances for his country, although he is actuality is more of an attacking midfielder, even finding himself located quite centrally under manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Dating back to the last match of European qualification against Slovenia, the pair have scored four of Switzerland’s last five goals, and will be a driving force going forward if the Swiss are going to live up to their Pot 1 designation.

Along with Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Schar, and Ricardo Rodriguez, Hitzfeld selected five players 22 years old or younger, so no matter what happens this year for Switzerland, the country is set up for the future.

2) Kenneth Omeruo – Nigeria, 20 years old

A young, Chelsea-owned center-back, Omeruo impressed on loan at ADO Den Haag two years ago before staying in the country and spending time at Middlesbrough this past season.  With the Championship side in the hunt for a promotion playoff spot, Omeruo logged valuable minutes in the center of the Boro’s defense next to England youngster Ben Gibson, leading the way to a number of quality results, including a 1-0 win over nearly-promoted Derby County and a 2-0 victory over playoff participants Brighton.

Omeruo has already made a spot for himself in the Nigerian squad, leading the way for his country’s African Cup of Nations victory in which the Super Eagles conceded just four goals in their six tournament matches, including a shutout of Burkina Faso in the finals.

With his sights set on impressing Jose Mourinho, this World Cup could be a springboard for bigger things from Omeruo.  He has a tall task in front of him at Stamford Bridge, considering the current center-back pair is one of the best in Europe, and fellow loanee Kurt Zouma is also looking to do the same, but Omeruo has something Zouma does not: a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage.

3) Stephan de Vrij – Netherlands, 22 years old

One of the fastest-rising stocks in the European game, the Dutch defender was mentored at Feyenoord by the vastly experienced Joris Mathijsen.  At 19 years old, de Vrij’s name was on the tip of every scout’s mouth.  He took a serious regression two years ago as Mathijsen declined due to old age and Feyenoord’s defense temporarily slumped, but the youngster is back to his old level and ready for a move to a top-tier team.

However, he has a chance to showcase his skills at the World Cup, and Feyenoord has recognized the opportunity he has to boost his stock farther by reportedly putting all transfer talks for the 22-year-old on hold until after the event.

Surrounded by Mathijsen at Feyenoord plus Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi on the international level, de Vrij has had a wealth of experience to draw from and develop.  He’s started the Netherland’s last three matches at CB, and it would appear that the struggles he faced towards the end of World Cup qualifying have passed and he is back into Louis van Gaal’s graces for good.

4) Sead Kolasinac – Bosnia & Herzegovina, 20 years old

Schalke’s third-place finish this Bundesliga season was thanks in part to the young left-back’s breakout year.  After making a name for himself down the stretch two seasons ago as a 19-year-old, he again found himself on the bench to start the year thanks to an injury.

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“The Destroyer” Sead Kolasinac doesn’t back down from a challenge and can keep up with the best of wingers.

But once recovered, the kid returned to the starting lineup and logged a run of 17 matches where he missed just six total minutes (during that span, Schalke lost just three matches – and it would have been just 1 had they not dropped the final pair of the long run).

Now in the national team fold, Kolasinac has featured in multiple matches for Bosnia since his return from injury in October, and that’s unlikely to change this summer.

Luke Shaw has received constant headlines in England with his explosion onto the international stage and likely transfer to Manchester United.  But Kolasinac has been rumored to also have been recently pursued by the Red Devils, and with reports of Shaw’s potential deal coming to a screeching halt, you could hear this kid’s name crop up more in the coming weeks, especially if he performs at the World Cup. He’s not as skilled as Shaw going forward, but is solid at the back and an accurate defender, earning the nickname “Zerstörer” or “The Destroyer.”

One storyline to keep an eye on: Kolasinac was born in Germany and only turned down the German national team only last year despite time for the German U-20 team.  There’s a serious possibility that Bosnia & Herzegovina could match up with Germany in the quarterfinals if things play out, and there could be some harsh sentiments towards Kolasinac from his country of birth.

5) Marco Verratti – Italy, 21 years old

Riccardo Montolivo’s World Cup dreams shattered just about the same time his left leg did just eight minutes into their recent 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland.  A massive blow for Italy losing one of its most experienced players and emotional leaders, Cesare Prandelli must now reach deeper into the player pool to replace him.

In Prandelli’s squad over the likes of Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro, Verratti looks primed to take Montolivo’s place in the midfield, and the Paris Saint-Germain youngster fully deserves it.  A masterful passer, his 91% pass accuracy in Ligue 1 play ranks second in the entire league of players who have at least 25 appearances, second only to his PSG and Italy teammate and central midfield partner Thiago Motta.

With Italy’s downfall often a disconnect between their defense and creative options, it would behoove Prandelli to take Verratti as someone who can take some of the creative weight off Andrea Pirlo’s shoulders and work on spreading around the ball.

6) Santiago Arias – Colombia, 22 years old

Manager Jose Pekerman has constantly been reminded how his back four are Colombia’s weak point.  Enter the 22-year-old PSV right-back, and things have eased up a bit for the man in charge.

Arias provides not just defensive solidity on the wing – his 60% tackle success rate at PSV this year is stellar considering the tough angles and isolation defenders face near the touchline – but also a burst of speed that enables Arias to take on defenders himself and create chances for his teammates. Arias’s 21 chances created ranks 16th among Eredivisie defenders, but he collected his in less minutes than all but one of those in the top 20.

With Pekerman clearly still tinkering with his defense throughout the recent friendlies, it’s hard to tell if Arias – or anyone, for that matter – will be a consistent starter in Brazil at the back for Colombia. One thing is for sure, if Arias can make the most of his minutes, he can use the World Cup as a springboard for later success at both club and country.

7) Diego Reyes – Mexico, 21 years old

It’s been a crazy year for Reyes, and one he won’t soon forget.  Having signed for European giants FC Porto last summer, he’s now going to his first World Cup under Miguel Herrera, and is hoping not just to go but to play.

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Mexico’s Olympic star Diego Reyes, having battled with the likes of Didier Drogba in the past, is ready for serious minutes at the back.

Reyes is the cream of Mexico’s talented youth system, as he was the only member of the Olympic gold medal-winning team to start the country’s opening fourth-round CONCACAF qualification match against Jamaica.

Already standing 6-foot-4, Reyes is a beast in the air, but doesn’t lose any agility on his feet as tall defenders often do, using his large strides as part of his technical strength rather than a detriment to his game.

While the Mexican team isn’t light on defenders this summer, an injury of unknown severity to captain Rafa Marquez could give Reyes a chance to play serious time in Brazil.

8) Stefanos Kapino  – Greece, 20 years old

Panathinaikos goalkeeper Kapino isn’t the number one choice at the moment for Fernando Santos’s squad, but it’s not exactly a position of security for current favorite Orestis Karnezis, so it’s possible Kapino could make a late push for the spot. Karnezis was the man through Greece’s impressive qualification run, but he’s not even Granada’s first-choice keeper, making just six La Liga appearances last year.

If Karnezis – he of just 18 international caps – were to for whatever reason lose his place, it’s possible Kapino could beat out PAOK starter Panagiotis Glykos for the opening and make a play during his time at Brazil. But either way, Kapino appears to be a man for the future in Greece, and starting for a big club at just 20 years old could open the eyes of bigger fish, paving the way for a club upgrade as well.

9) Alireza Jahanbakhsh – Iran, 20 years old

Just a substitute off the bench for Eredivisie side N.E.C. this season, Jahanbakhsh hasn’t reached a breakout for his club just yet.  However, the World Cup would do nicely, and the big stage could do nicely as well.

Having earned Iran’s Young Footballer of the Year in 2012, Jahanbakhsh has developed a wonderful wing partnership with Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah, and the two electrified the Asian qualifying tournament, scoring plenty of goals including Jahanbakhsh’s first-ever for the national team against Thailand.

Iran may not last long in Brazil, but they have some talents that could make noise on the European stage in the coming years, and Jahanbakhsh is at the head of that pack.

10) Pavel Mogilevets – Russia, 21 years old

Having just earned his first cap five days ago against Slovakia, the baby-faced midfielder from Zenit St. Petersburg is hoping to make an impression in Brazil this summer. He hasn’t made the squad yet, but is about as close as you can get.

Fabio Cappello has made some head-scratching decisions with his World Cup squad (such as dropping striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in favor of the injured Denis Cheryshev) but including Mogilevets could be a view into the future.  With the Italian’s squad down to 25 players, he has gone on record saying he already knows which players will be left out, but isn’t going to tell them until the June 2nd deadline.

The two eventually cut very well could be the pair of youngsters on the roster, Mogilevets and Andrey Semenov, but if he makes it to Brazil, he will have gone for a reason, and the kid who scored twice on loan to Rubin Kazan this past season could get a chance to see the pitch.

11) Julian Green – USA, 19 years old

It would be impossible to write a piece on youth at Brazil without mentioning the German-American teenager who was at the receiving end of Landon Donovan’s international demise.

Green has obvious talent, or he wouldn’t be in the Bayern Munich youth ranks.  However, he’s a pretty major unknown for the United States fan base, and to most of the soccer world as well.  He has barely been sighted in the senior squad at Bayern, mostly impressing at the U-21 level.

But Jurgen Klinsmann obviously loves what he sees, and Green is likely going to be a household name in America if he comes anywhere close to living up to the now-lofty expectations that come with taking a legend’s place.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.