Friday 22 April 2022, 19:00

Five young French stars harbouring Qatar 2022 dreams

  • Qatar 2022 runs from 21 November to 18 December

  • Christopher Nkunku and Aurelien Tchouameni have high hopes of being there with France

  • Matteo Guendouzi, William Saliba and Ibrahima Konate also entertaining dreams of a trip to Qatar with Les Bleus

With France about to embark on their latest UEFA Nations League campaign in early June, Didier Deschamps’ 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will slowly but surely be taking shape.

Along with the coach’s tactical preferences, other factors could well come into play as he puts his list together, including a rich vein of form for some players or even a dreaded injury for others.

Here, we look at five rising stars who could yet force their way into the reckoning and make the trip to Qatar in November.

Christopher Nkunku (24)

The RB Leipzig player has had an excellent season, the best of his burgeoning career, having scored 30 goals and served up 20 assists in 45 matches in all competitions. The prolific front man is among the top four scorers in the Bundesliga this season, with 17 goals to his name so far.

Given those figures, it was not surprising to see him earn a first France cap in the 2-1 friendly win over Côte d’Ivoire in Marseille on 25 March. Deschamps was delighted with the youngster’s performance and can be expected to call on his services again in June. Should he maintain his form, Nkunku has every reason to believe he will make the trip to Qatar.

08 Aurelien TCHOUAMENI (asm) during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats between Monaco and Nice at Stade Louis II on April 20, 2022.

Aurelien Tchouameni (22)

Now a mainstay with a Monaco side that is finishing the Ligue 1 season in fine style, Tchouameni is in the process of nailing down a place with Les Bleus. A regular squad member since the summer of 2021, in which time he has won eight caps and made four starts, the midfielder made quite an impression in his most recent appearance for his country.

The scorer of France’s winner in that 2-1 defeat of Côte d’Ivoire, Tchouameni staked his claim as an understudy to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and could well kick on and become an undisputed first choice. “He has huge potential,” said the France coach. All things being equal, the Rouen-born player should get the nod.

William Saliba (Olympique de Marseille) FOOTBALL : Olympique de Marseille vs Montpellier - Ligue 1 Uber Eats - Marseille

William Saliba (21)

The impressive Saliba is one good reason why Olympique Marseille boast the third-best defence in Ligue 1. On loan from Arsenal and seemingly indispensable for Jorge Sampaoli, the defender has made 46 appearances in all competitions this season and received his maiden call-up from Deschamps in March.

Saliba came on as a substitute against Côte d’Ivoire and then started the 5-0 win over South Africa, showcasing his physical presence and ability to play the ball out of defence on both occasions. His versatility is a major plus point and should he continue to impress at club level, Qatar will beckon. With fellow contenders Kurt Zouma and Dayot Upamecano staking less compelling claims this season, Saliba looks well placed to make the trip.

Ibrahima Konate of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal during The Emirates FA Cup Semi-Final match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on April 16, 2022.

Ibrahima Konate (22)

Making the most of his 1.94m frame, the imposing centre-half is currently impressing with Liverpool, completing his apprenticeship with one of the best sides in the world. On course for an historic quadruple with the Reds, the former RB Leipzig man has made 22 appearances for the club in all competitions this season and was one of the architects of their 3-2 defeat of Manchester City in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final.

The scorer of three goals in five matches since the start of April (one against City and two against Benfica in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League), Konate could well feature in Deschamps’ June squad. “Still so young, it’s incredible how good he already is. He’s got a bright future,” club-mate Virgil van Dijk told the BBC.

Matteo Guendouzi of Olympique de Marseille during the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France on April 17, 2022.

Matteo Guendouzi (23)

The tireless midfielder is enjoying probably the best season of his career with Olympique Marseille and has made more appearances than anyone under Sampaoli: 49 of them in all competitions, for a return of four goals and 14 assists. Guendouzi has been impressively consistent, maintaining his high standards throughout the campaign and imposing himself on his midfield beat. Little wonder, then, that Deschamps called him up in March.

In laying on the winner against Côte d’Ivoire and then scoring against South Africa, Guendouzi did his cause no harm at all. “The World Cup? It’s an objective and a dream that I’m working towards,” said the midfielder in a recent chat with Telefoot. “There’s still a long way to go, though.”

Other young contenders for a place in France’s Qatar 2022 squad: Moussa Diaby (22, Bayer Leverkusen), Pierre Kalulu (21, AC Milan), Michael Olise (20, Crystal Palace) and Robin Le Normand (25, Real Sociedad).