In 2018, France won the World Cup after navigating through a tricky group that consisted of Peru, Australia, and Denmark. Four years later, they return to the tournament again being considered the favorites in a similar group.
Not only are Denmark and Australia returning, but Australia additionally had to beat Peru in the World Cup playoff to qualify. However, while the teams are the same, the players are far different than the last edition.
Australia and Denmark have brought teams with loads of talent, while Tunisia newcomers also have some quality prospects. Here are the best young talents on each team in Group D:
(Note: You can find the U21 standouts in Group A here, Group B here, and Group C here.)
France: CM Eduardo Camavinga, 20
France selected two U21 players, Camavinga and Saliba. While Saliba is enjoying a better club season with Arsenal, I think Camavinga is the better player overall.
Camavinga is a product of the Stade Rennais youth academy and became the youngest debutant in the club’s history after appearing at age 16. (That record has since been broken by recent Bayern signing Mathys Tel.) After two stellar seasons with Rennais, Camavinga debuted with France and moved to Real Madrid. He’s struggling for a role in Madrid’s star-studded side, but Camavinga still has undoubted quality.
With France missing many midfielders like Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté due to injury, Camavinga has a chance to start in Qatar. Keeping that spot will be difficult, however.
Tunisia: CAM Hannibal Mejbri, 19
Hannibal Mejbri is one of two U21 players on Tunisia’s squad, with Brondby prospect Anis Slimane the other. Slimane is enjoying a decent season in Denmark, but Mejbri is the better player in my eyes.
Born in France, Mejbri has long been viewed as a top prospect. When he was 15, AS Monaco paid over a million euros to bring him to the club. One year later, Manchester United signed him for almost ten times the cost. A couple of years later, Mejbri has seen his appearances with United limited, but he’s currently on his first loan out (with Birmingham City) and is impressing.
It was a big deal when Tunisia managed to convince Mejbri to swap France for his parent’s homeland, and he has been a fixture in the side since his debut in 2021. Mejbri will likely be an impact sub off the bench who could start some matches.
Australia: ST Garang Kuol, 18
Kuol is the only U21 player on Australia’s roster, with Marco Tilio considered an option but ultimately not making the cut. In fact, I expected Tilio to make the team.
Kuol, however, is simply at a different level right now. Born in Egypt to Sudanese parents, Kuol’s brother Alou quickly broke through to the first team of Central Coast Mariners and Garang followed soon after. Garang debuted at the age of 17 and found the net four times in his first seven games. He was also selected to play for the A-League All-Star Team against FC Barcelona. Recently, Garang was signed by Newcastle United and will join them in 2023.
While undoubtedly talented, it’s too early for Garang (who has just one cap) to start. He’ll likely be an impact sub who could start in the later group-stage matches.
Stunningly, the Danes have elected to bring no U21 players to the World Cup. They’re not the only ones to do this, of course, but for a country with their talent development, one would expect the Danes to bring multiple U21 players.
Rasmus Höjlund was floated as a potential candidate, but his lack of game time and form led to his exclusion. Salzburg’s Maurits Kjaergaard had a chance but had never been called up before, eliminating him from contention. Victor Kristiansen has been one of the Superligaen’s best left-backs. The list of candidates goes on and on.
The Danes have a great team and will surely be candidates to reach the knockouts, but it’s a surprising choice to leave their top prospects at home. They’ll have to hope their experienced core can carry them through.
Image courtesy of Happiraphael, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Don’t worry if your comment does not show up, all comments must be approved to reduce spam. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, keep watching soccer!