The world’s biggest and brightest stars will all be in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com.
CALEB DENORME | SPORTS REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
It is finally time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to kick off in Qatar, but it’s a little different this time around. For the first time ever, the tournament will take place in the winter months, due to Qatar’s extreme heat in the summer months. 32 teams will battle over the course of 64 games until one country takes home the most coveted prize in all of soccer: the World Cup trophy and the title of world champion. Let’s dive into which teams are favored to win the tournament, and some other squads to keep an eye on.
The Favorites: Argentina, Brazil and France
Let’s start with Argentina. Lionel Messi will lead the charge, but he will have help from Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez up top. Argentina will also field a solid defense, with Lisandro Martinez and Nicolàs Tagliafico anchoring the line. With Emiliano Martinez between the posts, Argentina will be a force to be reckoned with come November and December. Oh, and they are unbeaten in their last 35 games. Maybe this can be the year that Messi gets his hands on that elusive World Cup trophy.
When you look at Brazil, the only problem for them will be how they fit all their attacking options on the field at the same time. Players like Neymar, Antony, Gabriel Jesus, Vinicius Jr, Raphinha, Richarlison and Gabriel Martinelli will all be fighting for playing time. Head coach Tite will not be complaining though, because there is never such a thing as too much talent. With proven players like Casemiro and Fabinho controlling the midfield, along with Marquinhos and Thiago Silva shutting down attackers, Brazil is looking like the team to beat. Brazil will have a relatively easy group, taking on Switzerland, Cameroon and Serbia.
Finally, you cannot talk about favorites without mentioning the defending world champions, France. The French will defend their title with a squad similar in class to the one four years ago. Karim Benzema, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner, returns to the World Cup stage with France for the first time since 2014. Benzema and Kylian Mbappe will be sure to wreak havoc on opposing defenses along with young RB Leipzig star Christopher Nkunku. France’s midfield as a whole will be their weakness in this tournament because of N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba being out due to injury. 20-year-old Eduardo Camavinga and 22-year-old Aurélien Tchouaméni will try to step up in their absence. Another problem the French will face is the World Cup Winners Curse. In the past three World Cups, the country that won the tournament four years before crashed out of the competition in the group stage. Only time will tell if France falls victim to the curse or if they can break it.
Other Contenders: England, Portugal and Germany
England finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup, losing to Belgium in the third-place game after going on an impressive run that led the English population to believe “football is coming home”. The belief is the same this year with a mix of young and experienced players leading the team. The attacking options are plentiful for head coach Gareth Southgate, with players such as Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford fighting for starting spots. 19-year-old Jude Bellingham will command the midfield, but the defense for England is their weak point. Picking an out-of-form Harry Maguire over Fikayo Tomori could be a mistake in the long run because teams will key in on Maguire’s mistake-prone play and try to attack him. England can make a run to the final, but they are not a clear-cut favorite to win it all.
When people think of Portugal they only think of Cristiano Ronaldo, but this squad is incredibly talented and deep. João Felix, Rafael Leão, Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo are world-class players that will help Ronaldo in the event that he can’t carry the whole team. The defense is led by Pepe and Ruben Dias, rounding out a starting 11 that can be very dangerous if they click. This Portugal squad can go deep in the tournament, but their players are not on the same level as Brazil or France. One scenario that could play out is if Argentina and Portugal win their respective groups and both make it to the final, we would have a Messi vs Ronaldo showdown for the trophy that neither of them has, but both want. One can dream right?
To be frank, Germany is always a threat on the World Cup stage. They won it in 2014 in dramatic fashion, and then they got knocked out in the group stage in 2018. This year they will be looking for revenge, and to bring a fifth World Cup back to Germany. The Germans always have been a well-oiled machine, very disciplined and calculated in their style of play. Overall they have a talented squad, but it is not as deep as the favorites. Kai Havertz, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry will lead the attack, while Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich and the 19-year-old Jamal Musiala will boss the middle of the pitch. Defensively, Antonio Rudiger and Niklas Sule will bolster the defense with goalkeeping legend Manuel Neuer between the sticks. The starting 11 looks very good on paper, but the depth in attack and defense is lacking. The midfield will be where the Germans are the strongest, and that’s how they will control games. Germany doesn’t need all the raw talent that a country like France needs to get by though, because the system these players play in is so fine-tuned that everyone knows their assignments and roles. You can never rule Germany out of making a run to be world champions for the fifth time.
Dark Horses: Belgium, Spain and USA
Spain always has a strong squad due to their ability to produce young talent and the artistic system of tiki-taka that they play. Tiki-taka is all about making lots of short passes, movement and keeping possession to break down the opposition. It’s a system that the Spaniards have used for a while now, and is well respected and admired around the world.
Makenna Frias, a first-year psychology student, was high on the Spanish squad’s chance to raise the World Cup again this year.
“My favorite is probably Spain,” Frias said. “I’ve always enjoyed watching them and they normally do pretty well.”
The system, along with a new crop of young Spaniards bursting onto the scene makes this team fun to watch. Players like Pedri, Gavi, Dani Olmo and Ansu Fati are shining for their club sides despite being between the ages of 18-24. The big name that will not be making the trip is Sergio Ramos. The PSG center back and Spanish captain for many years was dropped in favor of Cesar Azpilicueta and Eric Garcia. The squad overall is strong and will field a competitive starting 11, but it lacks the star power of past Spanish teams. Players like Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas led the Spanish national team for years before retiring or being left out of the team. The 2022 Spanish squad lacks maturity and quality right now, but with time they could return to being favorites to win every tournament they are at. For right now, do not rule them out, but do not expect them to raise the trophy in December.
Belgium has been one of the top-ranked teams in the world over the past decade due to their “golden generation” of players carrying them in big tournaments. Players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois have been beacons of quality for the country over the years and even finished third in 2018. The only problem that Belgium faces is its aging stars are beginning to fade. Hazard has had injury issues since his move to Real Madrid. Lukaku on the other hand has struggled to find a club that he can stay at for more than two years. Both have struggled to find form, but if they can rekindle some old magic we could see a Cinderella story brewing for Belgium. Younger players like Jeremy Doku, Youri Tielemans and Charles De Ketelaere will help this team in the long run, but do not be surprised if we see Belgium putting a run together toward an unprecedented World Cup victory.
The United States is expected to field the youngest team at the World Cup, with only one player —DeAndre Yedlin— having previous experience in the tournament. The average age of the squad is 25 years old, one of the youngest going to Qatar. The USA’s youth movement started after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and this revamped squad has their eyes on the big prize.
Duncan Stone, a senior strategic communications major, said the USA’s youth movement was overdue and shared his excitement for this young squad.
“I love the youth movement. I think it was needed years ago.” Stone said. “Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie are fantastic players and I love watching them.”
America does not have the most skilled players compared to big soccer countries like England, France or Brazil, but there is a culture around this team of hard work and toughness. Players like Pulisic, Tyler Adams, McKennie and Aaronson all play in top European leagues, so they know what the competition will be like.
In a group with England, Iran and Wales, the United States should make it out, and if this team starts to grind out results, they could make a deep run. The best part about this squad is they hear the noise. They know what the public, media and other teams have been saying about them, and they do not care.
“I think you need an image when you go into the World Cup.” Stone said about the USA’s mentality. “They want to play for the Stars and Stripes… the toughness is massive.”
If anything reflects the American people and society, it’s this team. They are rough, tough, proud and they are going to let the other teams know it. This is going to be a fun team to watch.
Teams to root for: Denmark, Canada and Croatia
Denmark is not on anyone’s radar to win the World Cup, but they have one of the most heartwarming stories in soccer. In the Euro 2020 opener against Finland, midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field due to cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. Eriksen would be taken to a hospital and treated, while the game would controversially be continued resulting in a 1-0 loss for Denmark. A year and a half later, Eriksen is back in the Denmark squad and ready to lead them into the World Cup. After being fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator —ICD—, he was given a chance at Premier League side Brentford. He would shine for them before completing a move to Manchester United last summer. Eriksen was not the only resilient one in the face of adversity. His Denmark squad advanced to the semi-finals of the European Championships before bowing out to eventual runners-up England. Eriksen’s story and his teammate’s resolve in the face of unprecedented circumstances are something to celebrate, and luckily all fans will have the opportunity at the 2022 World Cup.
It is understandable that Americans should not root for Canada because they are neighbors to the north, but the Canadians have a good team. Canada has only been to the World Cup one other time in 1986 where they lost all three group-stage games and failed to score a single goal.
Frias thinks that if a scenario plays out where the USA does not make it out of the group and Canada does, there will be a lot of American fans rooting for Canada because of the overlap in culture.
In World Cup Qualifying, the Canadians came out swinging and placed first in CONCACAF over Mexico and the United States to clinch their spot in the tournament for the first time in 36 years. Canada went through a somewhat similar youth movement and now boasts quality players such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan. It is always good to see teams in the North American region become more competitive as their domestic leagues grow, but this will be a huge deal for the country of Canada as a whole. Kids in the northern part of North America now get to see Canada play soccer on the biggest stage, something that had not been seen in almost four decades. The Canadians will have to battle with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco for a spot in the round of 16, but these young studs are playing like they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. You can’t help but root for them.
Croatia was so close in 2018. They waltzed through the knockout stages, beating Denmark, Russia and England on their way to a final appearance against France. The French would end up being too powerful for them though, with Croatia collecting the silver medals after a 4-2 defeat.
That team was full of ballers like 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić, and Ivan Rakitic. Now as they age they can’t carry the load anymore. Modrić is still pure class, Perišić is still effective and Rakitic is now retired from the national team, but the reinforcements are coming for Croatia. Younger players like Mateo Kovačić, Joško Gvardiol and Marcelo Brozović are proven in the top European leagues and will bring something to the table.
First-year engineering and economics student Nash Kaye said he would recommend a neutral fan to get behind the Croatians for this World Cup.
“I think Croatia is fun to watch,” Kaye said. “They usually have something special happening with their team.”
Kaye also elaborated on how Croatia produces some “odd players” that usually end up scoring some “pretty crazy goals” that could appeal to the common fan.
Croatia is a redemption story. They made an unprecedented run in 2018 that nobody expected and they are looking to do that again — only this time they want to finish with a gold medal. They will have to beat out Belgium, Morocco and Canada for a spot in the knockout stages first though, which will be a tough task. If history tells us anything though, don’t count Croatia out.