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World Cup 2026 Team of the Tournament: Way, WAY too early prediction

Former USMNT player Taylor Twellman feels that the game will grow in popularity by hosting the 2026 World Cup in the United States.

It's official -- the 2026 World Cup will be held in venues across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The first-ever tri-nation edition of the competition -- which will see Mexico become the first country to host on three separate occasions -- will be another showcase for the world's biggest stars.

But which players will be at the top of the game in eight years' time? Who will maintain the high profile they have now in 2026, and who will come through to take their place at the top table in the intervening years?

Here ESPN FC brings you a way, WAY too early prediction of the XI that will make up the 2026 World Cup's Team of the Tournament.

World Cup 2018 must-reads

FC Match Predictor 2018

- Make your picks with ESPN FC Match Predictor 2018!
- Welcome to the Alternative 2018 World Cup Fans' Guide
- ESPN FC's experts make their picks
- Marvel's amazing World Cup spoilers
- Revealed: World Cup 2018 Ultimate XI
- Fixtures, results and full coverage
- Team-by-team previews of all 32 nations

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The heir to Gianluigi Buffon's throne, Donnarumma has already clocked up more than 100 appearances for AC Milan at the tender age of 19 and is one of the club's most important players. He became the youngest goalkeeper to play for Italy when he made his debut in 2016 and will be one of the stars the Azzurri look to rebuild around following their 2018 qualification failure.

RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold (England)

After a meteoric rise in 2017-18, the next challenge for Alexander-Arnold is to firmly establish himself as first choice for Liverpool -- something Jamie Carragher believes he can do -- and England. The 19-year-old right-back proved his quality in the Reds' run to the Champions League final and could feature for the Three Lions in Russia.

CB: Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands)

De Ligt endured a nightmare start to his Netherlands career, making two costly errors on his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria and then receiving a red card in his second match against Morocco. The coveted 18-year-old has put those setbacks aside, displaying all the key attributes of a modern centre-back in a fine season with Ajax, having played his part in their run to the 2017 Europa League final.

CB: Dayot Upamecano (France)

It's indicative of France's enormous talent pool that Upamecano and Clement Lenglet are yet to win their first caps for Les Bleus. The duo will duke it out to partner PSG's Presnel Kimpembe at the back in 2026, with 19-year-old Upamecano impressing for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga and already talking up his hopes of a move to one of Europe's major clubs.

LB: Marc Cucurella (Spain)

There's a good chance Spain won't need to look too far to find Jordi Alba's replacement ahead of the 2026 World Cup. After a string of promising displays for Barcelona B earned him a new contract, Cucurella made his first-team debut in October and will be aiming to take on Alba's mantle for club and country.

MF: Federico Valverde (Uruguay)

Valverde narrowly missed out on a place in Uruguay's squad for the 2018 World Cup, but the midfielder seems certain to play a part in 2022 and 2026. The Real Madrid youngster exhibited his talent on loan at Deportivo La Coruna last season and has been tipped to make the breakthrough at the Bernabeu.

MF: Rodri (Spain)

Rodri has travelled to Russia with Spain this summer as he waits for a call-up as La Roja's first reserve. The 21-year-old is viewed as Sergio Busquets' long-term successor in midfield, and recently joined Atletico Madrid from Villarreal in a €20 million transfer.

MF: Kai Havertz (Germany)

With a languid style that has drawn comparisons to Mesut Ozil, Havertz caught the eye with four goals in a 5-1 victory for Germany under-19s against Belarus in October. The gifted 19-year-old is a regular for Bayer Leverkusen, but was forced to miss a Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid in 2017 to sit his school exams.

MF: Christian Pulisic (United States)

The likes of Ousmane Dembele and Raheem Sterling should still be going strong in 2026, but Pulisic will be at the peak of his powers. Two years Dembele's junior, the fleet-footed 19-year-old is vital to the U.S.'s recovery on the international stage as the nation prepares to play World Cup host for a second time.

FW: Vinicius Jr. (Brazil)

Vinicius Jr. made headlines around the world when his £40m move to Real Madrid was confirmed in May 2017. With skill, pace and flair reminiscent of Neymar, the 17-year-old will head to the Bernabeu this summer after continuing his development at Flamengo.

FW: Timo Werner (Germany)

While Italy hope that their pair of striking prodigies, Pietro Pellegri and Patrick Cutrone, inspire an international resurgence, Werner is ready to lead Germany's hopes in Russia. The speedy forward will be 30 in 2026 -- six years younger than Miroslav Klose when he won the World Cup in 2014 -- and should hold on to the No. 9 shirt if he maintains his current scoring rate. Whether he remains at Leipzig is another matter.

Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger


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