In the coming days, squads of the finest footballers from 32 nations will descend on Qatar ahead of a World Cup like no other. The tournament will be played over the next month to escape the formidable summer sun – although temperatures will likely still hover in the late 20 degrees Celsius. But who will turn up the heat on the pitch? Rob Short gives his lowdown on the contenders…
Picking a winner for the 2022 World Cup is an impossible task. By my reckoning, there are at least eight teams with a legitimate goal of lifting the trophy, and several others who can dare to dream. Such a wide-open field should, in theory, mean a tournament filled with variety, skill and exciting football – the likelihood, however, is that the team who plays the most effective, defensively sound game will be crowned the victors.
Take the holders France, for instance. Their victory in 2018 was based on a solid defence & structured attacking play – four clean sheets in Russia, including in the Semi Final against Belgium, gave them a great springboard. And as much as we talk about Mbappe, Griezmann, Dembele and Benzema, the midfield and defence will once again be the basis for Didier Deschamps’ approach - though they will miss N’Golo Kante. Talking of Benzema, his presence will be a huge boost to their chances. I think they will make the final, but that’s as far as I’m going.
Germany are a different proposition now under Hans-Dieter Flick to the team England beat in the Euros in 2021. Younger stars such as the prodigiously talented Jamal Musiala have joined established players like Leroy Sane & Joshua Kimmich alongside the indefatigable Thomas Muller in a 4-2-3-1 which on paper looks incredibly strong. Their form is patchy, however, so it looks a tough ask.
Brazil’s squad is filled with talent, we all know this. From Neymar to Vinicius Junior to Raphina to Fred, it is a team filled with quality. Joking aside, the inclusion of Fred does highlight the top-heavy nature of Brazil’s team – it is entirely possible that their back four could have a combined age of well over 110. That being said, the sheer number of incredible attackers makes them hard to ignore – even if I feel they will fall short.
The other major South American hope lies with the Copa America holders, Lionel Messi inspired Argentina. A settled team, used to winning, with a clear system and the much-needed defensive stability provided by Tottenham’s Cristian Romero – there’s much to like about this side. A potential Final versus France? That’s my pick. And I think they may well give Messi his crowning glory.
Where else? Louis Van Gaal’s Army, the Netherlands, will be fancied in some quarters, and it would be unwise to discount sides like Spain, Portugal and Denmark from having a say in where the trophy ends up.
And could football come home? It looks unlikely. Given the performance of the previous two tournaments, that may seem pessimistic. Gareth Southgate’s team, however, having been crying out for a defensive leader to emerge and that has not happened. Given the defensive frailty, the coach has seemed unwilling to let the handbrake off going forward, which is understandable if a shame given the array of options on offer. It feels like the Quarter Finals may be the ceiling for our boys.
The talking will soon be over, however. I have a history of being useless at making predictions, but I’ve given it a go below. Let us know what you think by heading to our various social channels.
Winners: Argentina to beat France 2-1 in the final.
Is It Coming Home? No – the dream to end in the Quarters against France
Top Scorer: Boring, isn’t it, just going for Messi here, right? So left-field – Kai Havertz to fire Germany to the Semi Final.
Surprise package: Uruguay
Biggest disappointment: Portugal or Belgium – I would not be surprised if Roberto Martinez’s side fail to reach the knockout rounds.