Seven players who could win their first caps: Saliba, Garnacho & more

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Marseille defender Willian Saliba celebrates during the Ligue 1 match against Brest in Brest, France, March 2022.

The first international break of 2022 promises to be a pivotal one, with vital World Cup qualifying matches set to take place across the globe. Amongst the excitement of seeing who qualifies for Qatar, a number of uncapped players await their international bow.

Many of the big footballing nations – such as Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany and Spain – have already booked their World Cup places and are using the March international window to experiment with some fresh faces.

Whereas the likes of Italy, Portugal and the leading African nations face two nail-biting matches to continue their World Cup quest – but that doesn’t mean some of these nations haven’t taken a punt on a new face to carry them over the line.

Here are seven of the best players to potentially make their international debut’s this week.

William Saliba

Saliba is revered by the Arsenal faithful despite not having played a game for the club. Weird, even for Arsenal, right?

But the hype seems justified if Saliba’s performances on loan at Marseille are any indication. The young defender has earnt rave reviews in France for his composure, ball distribution and man-marking ability as Marseille have progressed to the Conference League quarter-finals.

And the 22-year-old has won his first call-up for the France national side, replacing the injured Benjamin Pavard in the squad.

Saliba was buoyed after receiving messages from Arsenal following his first call-up.

“Yes, they sent me messages,” said the defender. “The former director for example, and on social media, it’s nice.”

France will face Ivory Coast, in Marseille, and South Africa this month as they prepare to defend their World Cup trophy in Qatar.

Gabriel Martinelli

Another Arsenal youngster to make a big impression this season, Martinelli has won the trust of Mikel Arteta with a series of accomplished performances in the Gunners’ quest for a Champions League return.

The 20-year-old has scored five goals and provided three assists in a youthful Arsenal side and his Premier League form has caught the attention of five-times world champions Brazil – who have named him in their squad.

Brazil secured their spot in Qatar months ago and Martinelli joins eight other English-based players in the squad to face Chile and Bolivia.

Martinelli is also eligible to play for Italy and he recently revealed how fellow duel-nationality holder Jorginho attempted to persuade him to represent the Azzurri.

“I had already put that aside. As I’ve said before, my dream was to play for Brazil, I was just waiting for the opportunity,” he said.

“No player spoke to me [about a switch], only Jorginho once said ‘I hope to see you in March’, something like that, but no one else spoke to me.”

The talented attacker added on being selected for Tite’s latest Brazil squad: “I still had hope, I was doing my best at Arsenal, doing my job to dig out an opportunity.

“Thank God the opportunity came, I’ll try to make the best of it.”

Marc Guehi

One of a number of Chelsea academy products that are thriving across Europe’s top leagues, Guehi has been in imperious form for Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace.

Tipped for relegation at the start of the season, the Eagles are comfortably mid-table and have an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea to look forward to.

Since joining Palace for £18million in July 2021, Guehi has thrived at Selhurst Park and has been named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad to face Switzerland and Ivory Coast this month.

Southgate said of the decision to pick Guehi: “He’s had a really consistent season. In the biggest games, he’s been very calm. We know a lot about him from our development teams… we think it’s a good opportunity to see how he copes with being with us.”

Regardless of whether he gets plenty of game-time, a little or none at all, Guehi’s stock is rising – and it is surely the first of many call-ups.

Alejandro Garnacho

A surprise call-up for the Argentina squad that faces Venezuela and Ecuador, Garnacho is a familiar name for those that follow Manchester United’s youth sides.

It won’t be long before his name becomes a household one…

Alejandro Garnacho playing for Manchester United in the UEFA Youth League.. Leigh Sports Village. December 2021.

READ: All hail Alejandro Garnacho: SIUUU-ing like Ronaldo & scoring like Bale

Ademola Lookman

Despite appearing for England’s youth sides up until Under-21 level, Lookman has decided to represent Nigeria – and faces a humdinger of a play-off against Ghana to reach the World Cup finals.

The Leicester winger said: “It’s just another game, there is a lot of expectation on the game not to put any pressure on ourselves but to go out and enjoy ourselves.”

Born to Nigerian parents in London, the 24-year-old was part of the England side that won the 2017 Under-20 World Cup.

But his switch to Nigeria was approved by FIFA in January 2022 and he joins club team-mates Wilfried Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho in the Super Eagles squad.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

Mali are bidding to secure World Cup qualification for the first time and have recruited Doucoure to their cause.

The Everton midfielder played for France at youth level but switched to the West African nation who face Tunisia for a spot at the finals – and Mali won the fixture between the pair at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.

He will join up with fellow Premier League player Yves Bissouma in the hope of making history for Mali.

Christopher Nkunku

Nkunku is one of two new faces included in the France squad by coach Didier Deschamps for March’s friendlies.

The 24-year-old, who came through PSG’s academy before joining RB Leipzig, is one of the leading scorers in the Bundesliga this season with 15 goals.

He had been tipped for a first call-up to the last France squad for their final World Cup qualifiers in November only to just miss out.

But he’s been given an opportunity, in the absence of Karim Benzema, to stake his claim for a World Cup spot in November.

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