Argentina, France, Brazil…England? Top contenders to win the World Cup
Wales beating Ukraine last Sunday means the line up for Qatar 2022 is closer to completion.
While a few spots still remain, excitement is growing ahead of the big kick off on November 21.
Time is running out for international managers to make their plans, so who are some of the major contenders to be crowned at the Lusail Iconic Stadium just a week before Christmas?
Five-time winners Brazil are always among the favourites and 2022 will be no different for them.
Tite’s side topped the qualifying section in South America, winning 14 of 17 games and going unbeaten through the entire process, though they still have to face Argentina a second time. This Brazil team are extremely strong defensively, only conceding five times in qualifying.
Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Belgium four years ago but are shaping up for a deeper run in Qatar, with Neymar again expected to be their talismanic figure in attack. The Paris Saint-Germain star is 30 now and this might be his last opportunity to win the World Cup.
The defending champions from Russia, many expect France to reach the final again in Qatar. Most of the team that was successful four years ago remains in place, though Ballon d’Or favourite Karim Benzema could come into the attack to replace his rival Olivier Giroud.
Kylian Mbappe shone in Russia and can burnish his reputation further in Qatar, though much might depend on the availability of N’Golo Kante, who has struggled for fitness in recent times.
A recent loss to Denmark in the Nations League shows there is work to do for France, though. Didier Deschamps still has critics despite winning the World Cup as a player and a coach.
Comfortably in second spot in South America’s qualifying competition, Argentina appear to be hitting top form at the perfect time in the build-up to Qatar. Winning the Copa America lifted the monkey off Lionel Messi’s back, giving Argentina’s hero his first major international silverware.
Argentina completely outclassed Italy at Wembley in this month’s Finalissima, Messi providing two assists in a 3-0 victory, with the PSG attacker then scoring all five goals in a rout of Estonia.
Lionel Scaloni’s side have plenty of depth and a quality goalkeeper in the shape of Aston Villa stopper Emi Martinez, yet there are question marks over their central defensive partnership.
Football was close to coming home last summer, with Italy edging the Three Lions at Euro 2022.
England were semi-finalists in Russia, losing out to Croatia in a tight game, with coach Gareth Southgate again expected to lead his side deep into the competition after a relatively kind draw. Wales qualifying adds local spice to Group B – England won 2-1 at Euro 2016, when Wales went on to reach the semi-finals in France – but Iran and the United States are fairly weak opponents.
Captain Harry Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia and the Spurs striker will be charged with providing firepower for his side again – he also hit 12 goals during a productive qualifying campaign for Southgate’s side – while Declan Rice is primed for superstardom in midfield.
Much will depend on whether Southgate can find the right blend between the solidity that has worked for England while adding craft through the likes of Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish.
It tends to be boom or bust for Spain, with the 2010 winners not reaching the last eight since.
Luis Enrique is back as coach and can call upon a trio of fantastically gifted young Barcelona starlets with Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati all likely to play a big part for La Furia Roja in Qatar.
Spain still struggle for a reliable goalscorer and this could again be their downfall at the World Cup.
Facing Spain in a tasty Group E will be Germany, with the four-time winners seeking to right the wrongs of Russia 2018, when the dire defending champions crashed out in the group stage.
Joachim Low was replaced by ex-Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick after Euro 2020, when Die Mannschaft lost 2-0 to England in the round of 16, and Germany romped through qualifying.
With nine wins out of 10 – a shock home loss to North Macedonia was the only blot on their copy book – Germany head to Qatar with renewed confidence after two poor tournaments in a row.
Flick leans heavily on a Bayern core with many of the stars with whom he won the treble in 2020 – like Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and Leon Goretzka – expected to be key.