Cody Gakpo, Mohammed Kudus and the breakout prospects of the World Cup group stage

By Sports Desk December 03, 2022 196

Once every four years players from across the globe get a chance to perform on the world stage and force their way into the football zeitgeist.

Whether it is a young midfielder from Ghana who has been battling injuries the past couple of seasons, or a mercurial Dutch forward trying to push his way out of the Eredivisie, it is the perfect launchpad to alter the course of a player's career.

Stats Perform has identified four players who have lit up Qatar and, in turn, have seen their profile and transfer stock skyrocket, opening the door to a new world of possibilities come the January transfer window.

Take a look at these young leading lights...

Cody Gakpo, the Netherlands

Cody Gakpo has perhaps been the breakout star of the tournament, finding the back of the net in all three of the Netherlands' group matches.

Having spent his entire career with PSV, the 23-year-old six-foot-four forward took a huge step forward in the 2021-22 season when he shattered his best goal return, following up his 11 goals in the 2020-21 campaign with 21 last time out.

While those in the Netherlands set-up were waiting to see if he could replicate his terrific 12 months, he has taken another leap, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 combined Eredivisie and Europa League contests this term.

There were rumours in the most recent transfer window that Leeds United were among the clubs looking to lure Gakpo away from PSV for a fee in the range of €30million, but he opted to reject their contract offer in the hope of landing at one of Europe's biggest clubs.

That bet on himself has proven to be a masterstroke, with his performances on the Qatar stage well and truly putting him on the radar of Champions League sides including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, per Dutch journalist Marco Timmer.

He became the first player from any European nation since 2002 to score in each group match, while he also became only the second player to put his side 1-0 up in all three group fixtures.

Enzo Fernandez, Argentina

Just over six months ago, Enzo Fernandez was playing for River Plate back in Argentina, but just half a season after arriving at Benfica for a deal worth up to €18m, the attacking midfielder could be moving on to greener pastures.

Fernandez, 21, broke into the Argentina squad while still with River Plate, but did not receive his senior debut until September 24 this year.

His lead-up to the World Cup was strong enough to book his ticket to Qatar, and after coming off the bench in Argentina's first group-stage loss to Saudi Arabia, he came on and scored against Mexico, forcing his way into the starting XI before contributing an assist against Poland.

His rapid rise has not gone unnoticed, and Marca is reporting Benfica have slapped a €100m fee on their new star if any team wants to pry him away while his contract still has another four seasons locked in.

Real Madrid are one side said to be accepting of that figure, with Marca claiming they now view him as an alternative option to Borussia Dortmund and England prodigy Jude Bellingham.

Mohammed Kudus, Ghana

Ajax's Mohammed Kudus had begun to break out at the club level this season heading into the World Cup.

The 22-year-old central midfielder scored four goals – including one each against Liverpool and Napoli – while adding two assists in six Champions League fixtures.

After being awarded his first senior international cap for Ghana back in 2019, he was spotted at Danish side Nordsjaelland and brought over to Ajax for a €9m fee in 2020.

He missed extended stretches of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns through injuries, and still has not been used as a guaranteed starter this season, but his emergence on the World Cup stage has been undeniable.

Against South Korea, Kudus delivered Ghana their only win of the group as he found the back of the net twice in a 3-2 triumph, and it was a performance that is said to have caught the eye of European powerhouses.

Fichajes named Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain as interested parties, and Sports Illustrated believe his price will be around £90m.

 

Harry Souttar, Australia

Australia have now qualified for five World Cups in a row, but after not winning a game at both the 2014 and 2018 editions, they had centre-back Harry Souttar to thank for finally taking three points against Tunisia.

Souttar, 24, stands at a towering six-foot-six and showed off an impressive ability to cover ground in a hurry when he was called upon for a potentially game-saving, last-man challenge to defend Australia's 1-0 lead.

It was one of the most spectacular defensive efforts of the tournament so far and one that will go down in Australian football folklore, and it is even more significant when taking into account his recent history.

Tipped as a potential £20m transfer target late in 2021, Souttar then tore his ACL and missed 12 months of action, returning to the field in time to get three games under his belt with Stoke City before jetting off to the World Cup.

While he could be forgiven for needing time to work his way into form, he has instead started all three group games and been the Socceroos' top performer, including his stellar efforts in a second clean sheet against Denmark to help his side through to the knockout stage.

Clearly back to the player he was before his injury – at least – Souttar's showings on the world stage have been the kind that can take a career to a new level.

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Last modified on Saturday, 03 December 2022 09:10
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