- International debutants out to catch the eye, with Russia 2018 looming
- They include U-20 World Cup graduate and Champions League standout
- Can one of them follow in the footsteps of Italy 1990's Salvatore Schillaci?
The story of Salvatore Schillaci is one of the FIFA World Cup™'s most heartening for football's aspiring national heroes.
In March 1990, the Italian forward was probably expecting to watch the upcoming tournament in his homeland from the stands at best, having never pulled on the Azzurri shirt. However, after an impressive debut season in Italy's Serie A, he earned a call-up for a warm-up game.
That friendly turned into a place in the squad. Then a place in the squad turned into the adidas Golden Boot, a bronze medal, and legendary status in Italy. Some impressive performers from this season are set for their first cap in this week's international fixtures; could they force their way into the squads for Russia 2018 for a late shot at footballing immortality?
Anderson Talisca (Brazil)
Position: Attacking midfielder
2017/18 season: Goals – 16, assists – 4
With a confident, rangy stride when driving from midfield, Talisca can eat up the ground in front of him effortlessly, complimented by the flair you would expect of an attacking midfielder set to pull on the Canarinha shirt. However, as he has shown while on loan in Istanbul, unlike many playmakers of his ilk, his presence does not end on the 18-yard line. The 6'3 (1.92m) Bahia native is an adept finisher and, more unusually, a serious aerial presence, while posing a similar threat from free-kicks. He has certainly made an impression with Ricardo Quaresma, who insists “one day, he'll be playing for the best teams in the world, just wait and see”.
Lautaro Martinez (Argentina)
Club: Racing Club
2017/18 season: Goals – 13, assists – 4
Martinez arrived at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 as Argentina's danger man, but a red card in their opener delayed his chance to unveil his talents. A brace in his return against Guinea - one of which was nominated for goal of the tournament - saw him show flashes of brilliance, as La Albiceleste crashed out. After overcoming a metatarsal injury, he has shown plenty more of it back home. In just 15 games, he has netted 13 times, including a Copa Libertadores hat-trick against Cruzeiro. He certainly does not lack confidence either, saying on his senior team prospects: "Next to Messi, I would get tired of scoring goals."
Wissam Ben Yedder (France)
2017/18 season: Goals – 19, assists – 4
Ben Yedder's path to the national side is far from ordinary, with the first time he pulled on a Bleus jersey as part of their futsal side. A short and nippy forward, whose buzzing presence provides defenders with a nagging headache, he - like Sevilla - has proven somewhat erratic in La Liga in Spain, only to see his standout moments arrive in Europe. Well-taken braces against English giants Liverpool and Manchester United has fired the Andalusian side into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and the ex-Toulouse man into the eye line of France coach Didier Deschamps.
Marcos Alonso (Spain)
2017/18 season: Goals – 7, assists – 3, clean sheets – 17
A senior cap is arguably well overdue for the former Real Madrid youth product. Having seen his stock only rise since his move to West London after an impressive spell at Fiorentina, Alonso would be the star turn in most international defences. A reliable figure up and down his flank, his deliveries from wide and unerring accuracy from free-kicks is what has thrust him firmly into the spotlight over the past two seasons. The width of the post away from scoring his first goal on Spanish soil at Camp Nou in the UEFA Champions League last week, he may now finally get the chance to make his mark back home.
James Tarkowski (England)
2017/18 season: Goals – 0, assists – 0, clean sheets – 11
Fans of the English Premier League, with an eye outside the UEFA Champions League race, will be more than aware of Burnley punching above their weight this season. Their second top-flight campaign since promotion and currently sitting in seventh, they have proven just as hard to beat as their first season back, despite losing defensive lynchpin Michael Keane. Tarkowski – like goalkeeper Nick Pope, who also earned a first call-up – could not get a look in last season, but has received wide-ranging plaudits, thanks to looking totally at home in the Premier League. With the Three Lions' defensive line-up far from certain, Tarkowski has plenty of motivation to show his best this week.