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Last year, Stats Perform began their 12-month countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 players without restriction who could potentially break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 kicks off.
We have provided periodic updates since then, and of the original 11, we have already had three success stories.
Cade Cowell, Christopher Nkunku and Jonathan Clauss have all managed to get their first internationals, but there is still time for the others.
With the European domestic season now over, it’s a good time to see how our choices have evolved over the last three months.
Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada
Unfortunately, Maximiano’s positive start to the season eventually gave way to a more rocket period towards the end of the campaign. The goalkeeper was helpless when Granada was relegated from LaLiga – in the period between March 1 and the last game of the season, Maximiano’s save percentage (62.5) was the fourth worst among the goalkeepers, who played over 180 minutes. Nevertheless, his 1.9 goals, which were prevented during the season, are proof that he could be a wise pick-up by a LaLiga team, meaning his World Cup chances may not be quite over.
CAPPED: Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right back, Lens
Clauss is still very much on his way to going to Qatar. the wing-back is in France’s squad again for the upcoming Nations League matches after another couple of positive months. Since March 1, his 15 open chances have been improved by a defender, while his 2.3 expected assists (xA) are also the second highest – there is no doubt that he offers real creative threat, both in open play and at set pieces, and people like Chelsea and Atletico Madrid have apparently taken note.
Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, central defender, Lille
Once again, Botman remains on the outside of the Dutch squad and stays instead under the 21s. It is not a big surprise as he spent a significant part of the last three months out with injuries. There is a growing sense that he has reached the end of the road with Lille – a move away, potentially to the Premier League, seems likely during the pre-season.
Bremer (Brazil) – 25, central defender, Turin
Bremer continues to wait patiently for a call from Brazil – although there is a good chance he will end up in an Italian squad if Selecao waits much longer. As might be expected of him, Bremer has really set himself over the last few months, with his 84 duels competing most among Serie A defenders. Similarly, his 25 headed clearings have only been improved by three – it’s clear to see that he offers a lot of spirit and fighting at the back, and he’s another who’s been heavily linked with a move to England.
Angelino (Spain) – 25, left back, RB Leipzig
Leipzig enjoyed a decent end to the season, winning their first major title in the DFB-Pokal, reaching the Europa League semi-finals and finishing fourth in the Bundesliga. But Luis Enrique still seems to be demanding something convincing in terms of Angelino, despite the fact that his 2.3 xA since March 1 was the third highest in the German top class, underlining the threat he carries broadly.
Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona
Yes, it is safe to say that this suggestion has caught the eye … Puig has played five times in LaLiga since our last update, including four excursions in May. However, it’s hard to see these appearances as little more than Barca’s attempt to put him in the familiar shop window, and he would do well to get away from Camp Nou as soon as possible if he plans to play first team football. A World Cup place definitely looks like a dream.
CAPPED: Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, offensive midfielder, RB Leipzig
What a season Nkunku has had. He went from a solid 12 Bundesliga goal involvement in the 2020-21 campaign to 33 this season, a season-to-season improvement (21) only improved by Moussa Dembele (24) in the top five European leagues.
In all tournaments he had a finger in 51 goals (35 scored, 16 drawn) – that was five more than Mohamed Salah and the fourth most in the five major leagues. It is this form that gave him his first two internationals for France in March – and he is in the squad again for their upcoming matches, having had a finger in 18 goals since March 1, only four fewer than Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe.
Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas
Given his skills and age, Velasco would always be a bit of a gamble when Dallas bought him. Perhaps it is not surprising that he has been hit and missed, giving some spectacular moments as well as some disappointing ones. Still, his four-goal involvement since March 1 (averaging one every 169.5 minutes) is not a bad return for a player who is in and out of the team and still manages the league.
CAPPED: Cade Cowell (USA) – 18, attacker, San Jose Earthquakes
It’s easy to forget that Cowell will not turn 19 until October – after all, he is now in his third season in Major League Soccer. He has plenty of time on his side when it comes to creating a great career, though he will have to have more offensive effect if he is to force himself into the U.S. squad again. Granted, his three open-play assists since March 1 have only been improved by seven players, but they came from just six key passes, which is a poor return. Nevertheless, he may be offered a route to Qatar by another team – Mexico is apparently keen to declare to them after his younger brother started representing their U-15.
Amine Gouiri (France) – 22, striker, Nice
Gouiri ended up getting a somewhat disappointing end to an overall good season. Only one player had a higher xG score without scoring since March 1 in Ligue 1 than the Nice striker (2.1), and although he was on two assists during that period, his xA (1.3) was far below Benjamin Bourigeauds (3.9)), Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (both 2.9) top the rankings for the metric. Only 11 players improved his 16-goal involvement for the season, but the crossbar is much higher when it comes to breaking into a French squad – just ask Nkunku.
Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, striker, Granada
Arezo can be forgiven for not immediately setting LaLiga on fire – let’s not forget he was on a team that relegated and played only 156 minutes. But falling down to Segunda could be the reason for him. After all, La Celeste’s next big thing, Darwin Nunez, earned his first international while playing for Almeria in Spain’s second row back in 2019 – although Arezo also clearly need some luck if he is to break into the senior team before November.