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World Cup: Six young South American stars to watch in Russia

We take a look at six young South American stars to watch at the 2018 World Cup...

Argentina

Cristian Pavon

The 22-year-old winger had a scintillating season for Boca Juniors as the club took its second consecutive title, and he is now being linked with a transfer to a plethora of European clubs. Moves to West Ham, Arsenal, Chelsea and even Barcelona have been mooted, with none other than Lionel Messi reportedly recommending him to the Catalan club’s hierarchy.

Pavon will probably start from the bench for Argentina, with Angel Di Maria preferred on the right-hand side. But, like in the warm-up friendly against Haiti, Jorge Sampaoli will be able to use Pavon’s pace and trickery to destabilise tiring opponents in the latter stages of games.

He is a player capable of wonderful skill and direct running, which he showed in the title-deciding game for Boca this season when he skipped past four defenders before putting the ball on a plate for Walter Bou.

With the unfortunate injury to West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini, he could even be in line for a starting place, but he will face tough competition from my next pick.

Maximiliano Meza

Independiente player Meza is less of an out-and-out-attacker than Pavon, which could work in his favour as Sampaoli looks to balance out a team that is much stronger going forwards than it is going backwards.

After standout performances in last year’s Copa Sudamericana and this year’s Copa Libertadores, Meza was given his first call-up for the friendlies in March. He played against Spain in Madrid and was one of very, very few bright points as the Albiceleste went down 6-1.

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Meza is known in Argentina for his combination of ability and tireless work rate. Independiente use a number of different formations and Meza’s tactical flexibility – he can play on the wing, as a centre-mid or number 10 – has enamoured him to Sampaoli and Argentina’s senior players.

His agent has claimed he will not renew his contract with Independiente, which will put European clubs on alert. Mauricio Pochettino is apparently keen. Meza is 26 now and at his peak, so this tournament represents the perfect opportunity to put himself in the shop window.

Uruguay

Giorgian De Arrascaeta

A player that few in Europe will have heard of, the 24-year-old currently plays his club football for Cruzeiro in Brazil. Over the last 12 months, he has led them to the Copa do Brasil title as well as the Minas Gerais state crown with his incisive attacking play.

De Arrascaeta can be deployed as a creative central presence behind a striker or cutting in from the left, which is where we are most likely to see him turning out for La Celeste in Russia.

Part of a new breed of technically competent Uruguay midfielders, De Arrascaeta has forced his way into the starting XI in recent friendlies and is the player responsible for providing ammunition for Uruguay’s lethal front two of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

He is also capable of getting on the scoresheet himself, as he proved with a magnificent volleyed effort in the warm-up game against Uzbekistan. If he shows all he is capable of in Russia, expect European sides to be sniffing around for his signature.

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Rodrigo Bentancur

Bentancur, on the other hand, has already earned his big move, making the switch from Boca Juniors to Juventus in July 2017. This year he has already played in a Champions League quarter-final at club level and though that didn’t go exactly as he would have hoped, the 20-year-old will be handed another chance to announce his name to the world this summer.

He is a rangy, intelligent box-to-box player who can see a pass as well as sniffing out danger in front of the back four. In Uruguay’s system he is used in a central midfield two alongside Internazionale’s Matias Vecino. Expect Vecino to do more of the dirty work, freeing up Bentancur to show his ability on the ball and dictate the play with his fine distribution.

He is exactly the kind of player Uruguay had missed for a long time before he came into the senior set-up late last year, their midfield previously being better known for its combativeness. In recent months, Bentancur, alongside other youngsters like De Arrascaeta, Nahitan Nandez and Lucas Torreira, has made the Uruguay midfield more fluid and attack-minded.

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Colombia

Yerry Mina

Another player who has already made the move to Europe, Mina was bought by Barcelona in January but has had few chances to show what he can do in Catalunya. Before his move to Barca, the centre-back was playing for Palmeiras in Brazil, where he won the 2016 league title and made it into the team of the season.

He is a towering presence in defence for Los Cafeteros and combines his physicality with a rare agility and ability to carry the ball forwards from the back. With Mina lining up alongside Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez, Colombia have one of the best young defensive partnerships in world football.

The 23-year-old has 12 caps to his name and has already scored three goals, so it would not be at all surprising to see him pop up in the opposition area in Russia. At 6’5”, he is a nightmare to mark from set pieces and if he does find the net, make sure to watch out for his trademark celebratory dance moves.

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Peru

Renato Tapia

Peru are back at the tournament for the first time since 1982 and coach Ricardo Gareca has done a fantastic job in getting them there with a squad that mixes youth and experience. There are the likes of left-back Miguel Trauco and diminutive playmaker Cristian Cueva to keep an eye on, but the Los Incas’ standout youngster is Renato Tapia.

The 22-year-old has played in the Dutch league since moving to FC Twente in 2013 and in 2015 earned a transfer to Feyenoord, where he won the Eredivisie in 2017. In this season’s Champions League, he started four of Feyenoord’s six group games at centre-back, including a surprise 2-1 win over Napoli, though for his national team he is always positioned at the base of midfield.

For Gareca’s side he provides balance, acting as the pivot around which the team rotates. He is diligent in his defensive duties but can also move the ball forward well, which he proved in Peru’s two friendly wins in March, when they defeated Croatia and Iceland in the USA.

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