Group E has two of the strongest candidates for the World Cup: Germany and Spain. While both of these teams struggled in the tournament’s last edition, they have both won since 2010. Both have also rebuilt with some younger stars, including some of the best young players in the game.
Japan, too, has a strong team with some exciting players and continues to become one of the top teams in Asia. Then there is Costa Rica, which is developing some young talents of its own. This group is up for grabs and could see some of the best young players in the entire tournament. Here are the top young players on each team in Group E:
(Note: You can find the U21 standouts in Group A here, Group B here, Group C here, and Group D here.)
Germany: CAM Jamal Musiala, 19
Germany has some of the most outstanding U21 players in the tournament. In defense, they have Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap. In attack, they have Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi and Youssoufa Moukoko. However, there’s little debate as to who the star is: Jamal Musiala.
Musiala was born in Germany but left at a young age to join Southampton’s academy. From there, he joined Chelsea before being sold to Bayern Munich for a paltry fee in 2019. He quickly broke through to the first team, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the club’s history (he has since been overtaken by Mathys Tel). This season, Musiala is really starring (as I predicted), with a whopping 22 goal contributions in 22 games.
Musiala chose Germany over England in 2021 and has become an important part of the team. Despite Germany’s depth in attack, expect Musiala to start and star in the tournament. He’s my pick for the FIFA Young Player Award (YPA).
Spain: CM Pedri, 19
Spain, just like Germany, has opted for a very youthful side that includes six U21 players. In defense, Eric García has been good with FC Barcelona, as has midfielder Gavi (who, while talented, is not the best U21 player on Spain). Ansu Fati, Yeremy Pino, and Nico Williams all also made the squad thanks to impressive performances in La Liga.
Pedri joined Las Palmas at the age of 15, making his debut not long after. In his first (and only) season with the club, he put up good numbers — four goals and seven assists. At the end of the year, Barcelona signed the midfielder, who has made nearly 100 appearances for the club since then. Despite the club’s recent struggles, Pedri has continued to be a positive in Catalonia.
Last year, Pedri played nearly every minute of the European Championship as Spain reached the semifinals. He will be similarly important in Qatar.
Japan: RW Takefusa Kubo, 21
Japan has brought just one U21 player to Qatar, Takefusa Kubo. There were several J-League talents in consideration — namely Mao Hosoya — but none made the cut.
Kubo has had an interesting career, to say the least. In 2011, at the age of 9, he joined FC Barcelona’s academy, where he stayed for four years. It was then discovered that Barcelona had been illegally signing underaged players from overseas (with many recognizable players among them) so Kubo returned to Japan. By the time he was 18, he was old enough to move back to Spain with Real Madrid — where several loans followed — and Kubo joined Real Sociedad this year.
Kubo’s spot in the starting lineup is far from a lock, as Japan has many in-form forwards right now. If he remains on the bench, he will likely be used as an impact substitute. It would be surprising if he started no games, though.
Costa Rica: LW Jewison Bennette, 18
Costa Rica is an interesting mix of an experienced and inexperienced team. On one hand, they have six U21 players on their squad, the joint-most in Group E. On the other hand, they have 11 players over the age of 30 — enough to field a starting lineup.
Bennette started his career with Herediano, a historic Costa Rican club which has developed some strong players lately. Just one season with the club was enough to convince Sunderland, in a rejuvenation of their own, to snap up Bennette for a fee just north of one million euros. That deal has looked like a steal so far — just 18, Bennete has made nine Championship appearances, scoring a dramatic equalizer against Watford.
Bennette has already made multiple appearances for Costa Rica, including a brace against South Korea in September. Expect Bennette to start and impress in Qatar, although it’s possible he is left as an impact substitute.
Image courtesy of Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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