Best World Cup U21 Players on Every Team: Group C

Argentina Mexico World Cup

Group C could be a group with some surprises. Obviously, the focus is going to be on Lionel Messi and Argentina, who pose a threat as World Cup candidates. However, there’s going to be a lot of competition: Poland has an impressive team and has rid themselves of inept manager Paulo Sousa.

Mexico, too, has a very experienced team and Guillermo Ochoa always loves the World Cup. Even Saudi Arabia was impressive in qualifiers, although the fact that their squad remains entirely domestic is a concern as they aren’t as used to facing the world’s best as their opponents will be.

While the veterans Lewandowski and Messi lead the way, there are many young talents looking to prove themselves. Here are the best young talents on each team in Group C:

(Note: You can find the U21 standouts in Group A here and Group B here)

Argentina: CM Enzo Fernández, 21

Fernández is the only U21 player on Argentina, with the likes of Thiago Almada and Alejandro Garnacho axed from the squad days before the tournament.

Fernández started his career in Argentina with River Plate, one of the biggest teams in the country. After a successful loan to Defensa y Justicia, Fernández broke into the River Plate team last season and earned himself a move overseas to Benfica. With the Portuguese club, he has been important, assisting the opener in the club’s Champions League win over Juventus as well as their lone strike against PSG.

Argentina doesn’t have a usual midfield, so it’s not unlikely that Fernández starts. It’s more likely, though, that he starts on the bench and gains a more important role as the tournament goes on.

Poland: LM Nicola Zalewski, 20

Poland selected two U21 players, Nicola Zalewski, and Wolfsburg winger Jakub Kaminski. Kaminski has been decent so far for Wolfsburg but I would not expect him to play as big of a role in Qatar.

Zalewski has enjoyed a rapid rise, as he was virtually unheard of until last year. Born in Italy and a Roma academy product, Zalewski made his debut for the club in 2021 in the Europa League semifinals. Not long after, he made his Serie A and national team debuts, and last season he really broke through into Roma’s first team. This year his progress has slowed some, but he’s still young and proving to be quite the talent.

A versatile player, Zalewski could show up at a number of positions for Poland, but will likely start as a left midfielder in Qatar.

Saudi Arabia: RW Haitham Asiri, 21

Asiri is the only U21 player for Saudi Arabia, which is otherwise dominated by experienced players. Al-Nassr’s Ayman Yahya had a chance for a call-up but did not make the team.

Asiri has been at Saudi club Al-Ahli his entire career, joining the club’s academy early on. With Al-Ahli, Asiri played in the Asian Champions League and in a variety of impressive competitions, earning his Saudi debut in 2021. This November he scored his first international goal (against Panama), helping earn his spot on the roster.

Asiri is not a starter for Saudi Arabia but can provide options off the bench, and will likely be seen when the Saudis are pushing for goals late in the game.

Mexico: None

Mexico called up no players under the age of 21, electing for one of the tournament’s oldest squads — an average age of nearly 29, nine players 30 or older, and even one player over the age of 40.

Mexico had dozens of options of promising players they could have called up, namely Feyenoord striker Santiago Giménez. Giménez has scored six goals for the Dutch club since joining in July after winning multiple trophies with Cruz Azul. Another option would have been Omar Campos, a player I’m a big fan of.

With young players having played such a crucial role in recent tournaments, it’s strange for Mexico to exclude them entirely. They’ll have to depend heavily on their veteran core to carry them through.

Stay tuned for the other groups! You can also find a review of multiple groups (including Group C) here.

Image courtesy of George Groutas, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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