The best breakout tournaments for young players ever

James Cormack
19-year-old Jude Bellingham is starring for England at the 2022 World Cup
19-year-old Jude Bellingham is starring for England at the 2022 World Cup / Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

The fearlessness of youth, eh?

Major tournaments, but the World Cup in particular, have proven to be havens for blossoming young superstars to forge a name for themselves on the grandest of footballing stages; where hype manifests as youthful athletic excellence.

Some of the biggest names in the sport enjoyed a breakout campaign at a major international tournament to get their careers rolling, and a certain English midfielder may well be the next to join the illustrious gang.

Here are some of the most memorable breakout tournaments by young superstars we've ever seen.

Pele (1958 World Cup)

Pele is the original wonderkid and it's unlikely we'll ever see a 17-year-old come close to replicating what the all-time great Brazilian achieved at the World Cup in 1958.

The teenager entered the tournament as a relatively unknown commodity and a knee injury meant it took a while for his campaign to get underway. Pele's first appearance arrived in a must-win game against the USSR in Brazil's final group game before he made World Cup history against Wales in the quarter-finals as he became the competition's youngest-ever scorer.

The spritely Brazilian then outshone French talisman Just Fontaine in the semi-finals as he produced a performance for the ages. Pele's first World Cup hat-trick helped Brazil into the final, where they faced hosts Sweden.

The 17-year-old was now the name on the tip of everybody's tongues and he refused to buckle under the pressure on the biggest stage. Pele dominated the Swedes in the second half, scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history before completing Brazil's emphatic 5-2 triumph with a late header.

Pele had stolen the hearts and minds of Swedish supporters with his performance in the final. Even the King of Sweden, having witnessed the Brazilian's freakish majesty first-hand, felt obliged to shake the teenager's hand post-match.

Michael Owen (1998 World Cup)

It was a sequence of youthful genius.

England and Argentina were locked at one apiece 15 minutes into their round of 16 encounter when England's number 20 expertly bypassed an eager Jose Chamot after receiving David Beckham's pass ten yards into Argentina's half.

Chamot was left for dead before the sweeping Roberto Ayala awaited. However, the flat-footed defender was no match for the lightning-quick Englishman, who shifted the ball past Ayala and onto his favoured right foot which allowed him to fire a pinpoint effort beyond Carlos Roa.

In the blink of an eye, 18-year-old Michael Owen had just announced himself to the world.

Wayne Rooney (Euro 2004)

England's fabled 'Golden Generation' peaked in terms of talent at Euro 2004, but it was a teenage sensation who stole the show.

Wayne Rooney's rise to superstardom was inevitable, and it was in the summer of 2004 when the world came to understand exactly how good this kid was.

He had become the youngest player to ever play and score for England before the tournament, but France defender Lillian Thuram had little knowledge of the teenager ahead of their Euro 2004 opener: "I don’t know who he is. He’s just a kid playing up front for England," he said in a pre-match interview (according to Rooney).

Rooney quickly went about making a statement and he produced a majestic showing in defeat against the French. Zinedine Zidane was one of several Les Bleus stars flummoxed by England's teenage superstar, who went on to score braces in England's victories over Switzerland and Croatia to round off the group stage.

Expectations were sky-high for England's quarter-final clash against hosts Portugal, but Rooney's game and tournament came to a premature close following a challenge from Jorge Andrade which broke his metatarsal.

Kylian Mbappe (2018 World Cup)

Lionel Messi's perpetual majesty since 2018 means Argentina's round of 16 defeat at the hands of Kylian Mbappe's France wasn't exactly a passing of the torch, but the contest was significant nonetheless.

Mbappe had signed for Paris Saint-Germain the summer before the Russia World Cup, scoring 13 league goals in his debut season. His status as a superstar was never in doubt, but those four weeks in 2018 thrust the young Frenchman into a stratospheric realm.

Mbappe became France's youngest-ever World Cup goalscorer when he netted the winner in a 1-0 win over Peru in the group stages. Still, it wouldn't be until the knockouts when the 19-year-old began his ascent to footballing immortality.

Argentina couldn't cope with Mbappe's gazelle-like speed as he scored twice in a memorable 4-3 victory. It was the first time since Pele in 1958 that a teenager had bagged two goals in a World Cup game. Mbappe was making his way into the history books.

Uruguay and Belgium both admirably kept Mbappe under wraps in the next two rounds as France progressed into the final following a pair of hard-fought victories. Croatia awaited in football's showpiece event, but they had no answer for France's generational forward.

Mbappe had a hand in France's third goal before his crowning moment arrived with 25 minutes remaining, receiving possession in a central position about 25 yards out. After swiftly assessing his options, Mbappe struck across the ball fiercely which perplexed Danijel Subašić between the sticks.

His pinpoint effort was a fitting epilogue to quite an outstanding individual campaign.

Jude Bellingham (2022 World Cup)

Bellingham's stellar 2022 World Cup has drawn comparisons to Rooney's scintillating Euro 2004 showcase.

The England midfielder only played a bit-part role in England's rise to the Euro 2020 final, but he's since established himself as a key member of Gareth Southgate's side after continuing to star with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

Bellingham is grabbing the 2022 World Cup by the scruff of the neck and willing England on. The midfielder's been given the licence to support the attack by Southgate and he's relishing the freedom.

The 19-year-old kick-started England's campaign with a looping header against Iran amid an excellent performance and he garnered universal praise for his round of 16 showing against Senegal. He's a midfielder that plays a decade beyond his years, with Birmingham City's decision to retire his shirt number looking cannier by the day.