Ahead of the World Cup getting underway in Qatar, we take a look at how the most fancied teams are shapoing up for the tournament.
As seems to be the case every time the World Cup comes around, Brazil will enter the tournament widely tipped to come away with the famous Jules Rimet trophy.
The World Cup in Qatar is no different, with Tite’s men vying to put 20 years of hurt to rest and finally restore football’s biggest prize to the beautiful game’s spiritual home.
There is certainly justification for Brazil’s strong backing ahead of Qatar, with a star-laden squad which appears better balanced than previous cohorts.
With a typically frightening set of forward options including talisman Neymar Jr, Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr, new Barcelona signing Raphinha and Spurs’ Richarlison, amongst a host of others, it will take a shrewd defence to snuff out the Selecao in Qatar.
It is the level of quality in defensive areas which perhaps sends the strongest signal of Brazil’s credentials as a potential World Cup winning side, however, with players of the calibre of Alisson in goal, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos at centre-back and Casemiro at the base of the midfield representing a robust spine.
With just defeat one defeat in their last 28 internationals – a 1-0 loss to fierce rivals Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final – Brazil will arrive at the World Cup with confidence and momentum this winter.
World Cup holders France will head to Qatar aiming to put to bed the recent trend of the competition’s winners being eliminated in the group stages of the subsequent finals, with this fate suffered by predecessors Germany, Spain and Italy.
Having been drawn in a favourable group alongside Denmark, Australia and Tunisia in Qatar, there can be no excuses for Les Bleus to fall at the first hurdle in this tournament.
It is fair to say Didier Deschamps’ men have not had a good time of it following their success in Russia in 2018, however, bowing out of Euro 2020 prematurely to Switzerland in the Round of 16 and almost being relegated from their Nations League section this year.
Despite possessing one of the most fearsome forward lines in international football with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in their ranks, there are credible concerns regarding the structure of the rest of the team as a result of injury problems affecting key players such as Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
France’s fortunes may well depend on how successfully they are able to bed their latest generation of young stars into the team, such as Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga in midfield and Arsenal’s William Saliba at the back.
In what looks likely to mark the final World Cup appearance of the great Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste will be gunning for glory to secure the one major honour which has always eluded the player appreciated by many as the best of all time.
They appear to have a good shot at doing so too, with the Copa America and Finalissima winners on a record run of 35 matches unbeaten under coach Lionel Scaloni.
It goes without saying Argentina will have to lean heavily on Messi’s genius if they are to go all the way in Qatar, but the PSG man will be well supported by talents of the ilk of Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria, Julian Alvarez and Rodrigo De Paul.
Argentina should also be a tough nut to crack defensively, with Aston Villa shot stopper Emi Martinez likely to be protected by tough-tackling Premier League duo Lisandro Martinez and Cristian Romero of Manchester United and Spurs respectively at centre-back.
The illustrious World Cup title is no mean feat for any side, but with the winning pedigree and team spirit fostered during Scaloni’s tenure, Messi and Co appear to have as good a chance as anyone of heading into this winter’s tournament.
Semi-finalists of the 2018 World Cup, finalists of Euro 2020. If Gareth Southgate’s England are to continue their current tournament trajectory, they could just find themselves crowned world champions in Qatar this winter.
Possessing unquestionably one of the most complete squads in the competition, as ever much will be expected of the Three Lions as they go in search of their first major international honour since lifting the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
Following a patchy run of form since their narrow defeat to Italy in the final of the Euros last summer, it’s safe to say the mood surrounding the England camp does not appear optimal ahead of the tournament with manager Southgate becoming increasingly under fire.
Should it all come together when the competition gets underway, however, they could be a very difficult team to overcome.
England’s squad can be observed to be stacked in every position, with Premier League stars scattered all over the park. Captain Harry Kane will be aiming to retain the Golden Boot he won in Russia back in 2018, with service from creative players of the ilk of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish behind him.
19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham looks primed to be a starter for his country in Qatar, and could cement his status as one of the best young players in the world with a strong tournament.
It seems a long time ago now since Spain were the all-conquering force of international football, sweeping up two Euros titles and a World Cup crown between 2008 and 2012.
A decade on from their EURO Euro 2012 success in Poland and Ukraine, Spain will travel to Qatar with a comparable dearth of world stars and serial winners but a similar capacity to starve opponents of possession.
In Luis Enrique, La Furia Roja have a highly respected coach with a winning pedigree. The former Barcelona boss has galvanised a Spanish side in need of fresh direction since taking over in 2019, leading the team to the semi-finals of EUROuro 2020 before bowing out on penalties to eventual winners Italy.
This impressive showing at the Euros last summer will mean Spain are not taken lightly in Qatar, with a new generation of elite youngsters including Barcelona duo Pedri and Gavi striving to write a new golden chapter in the country’s football history.
This Spanish team may just lack the attacking firepower to overcome some of the tougher sides in the competition, but they’re certainly not to be ruled out.
Four-time winners of the World Cup, Germany are used to entering the famous competition as one of the teams to beat.
With Joachim Low departing as national team manager after 15 years in the post last year, his former assistant and ex-Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick will take charge of his first major finals in Qatar as his replacement.
Flick, who won the Champions League with Bayern in 2020, has inherited a talented squad aiming to restore national pride following a dismal showing at the previous World Cup in Russia four years ago in which Germany crashed out in the group stages for the first time in their history.
With Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan more than capable of running games from the base of midfield, Die Mannschaft also carry real dynamism in the final third with players of the quality of the precocious Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz.
Despite boasting an impressive squad on paper, Germany’s Nations League form and lacklustre showings in recent tournaments do not suggest they are primed for World Cup glory this winter.
It would take a marked improvement in Qatar for Flick’s charges to earn equal Brazil’s record of five World Cup titles, but the Germans can never be fully counted out.
The World Cup’s most notorious nearly men, losing three finals in 1974, 1978 and 2010, could the Netherlands finally go a step further and create history in Qatar?
Under the auspices of Louis van Gaal, the Oranje have a solid squad which is particularly strong in defence with players of the quality of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt and rising Ajax star Jurrien Timber holding the fort at the back.
71-year-old Van Gaal is a wily operator who was a penalty shootout away from leading his country to the World Cup final in 2014 before falling to defeat against Argentina in his previous spell as manager, and his tactical acumen could be key to the Netherlands’ fortunes once more in Qatar.
It is in attack where this Dutch side could fall short, with a lack of bonafide world-class forwards from which to call upon. A lot of responsibility will fall on Memphis Depay’s shoulders in this regard, with the Barcelona man having played some of his best football on the international stage.
However, with a promising pathway available to the Dutch to reach the quarter-finals stage, their World Cup hopes ought not to be sneered at. They may just lack the quality in the final third required to break down some of the top nations, but they look a decent each-way bet to go deep into the tournament.
At 37 years old, it is most probably a case of now or never for Portuguese football icon Cristiano Ronaldo to fire his nation to World Cup glory.
Revered by many as the greatest footballer to have ever laced a pair of boots, Ronaldo will captain Portugal in Qatar with the aim of capturing the one major honour he has failed to collect during his illustrious career.
In a Portugal squad brimming with quality, Ronaldo will join forces with club teammates Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot, as well as rivals at club level in the form of Manchester City trio Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo along with Liverpool’s Diogo Jota.
There is no doubting the level of talent at manager Fernando Santos’ disposal, it just remains questionable as to whether this Portugal side can put it all together in Qatar after falling at the Round of 16 stage in both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.
The form and fitness of talisman Ronaldo could just prove pivotal, with the Manchester United man enduring a slow start to the season in the Premier League. Should he get up to speed and restore his devastating goalscoring nous in time for the tournament, Portugal could be a match for anyone.
Is the Qatar World Cup last chance saloon for Belgium’s golden generation?
One of the top sides in international football over the past decade or so, possessing an enviable cohort of European stars, Belgium have up until now been unable to capitalise with a major tournament win.
Coming closest at the 2018 World Cup where they finished third after narrowly losing to eventual winners France in the semi-finals, there is a widely-held feeling Belgium are now well past their peak ahead of the finals in Qatar.
This can certainly be observed from a defensive standpoint, with international stalwarts Toby Alderweireld Jan Vertonghen no longer at the level they once were at 33 and 35 respectively, and a lack of top level talent coming through to take their place.
Roberto Martinez’s side still represent a team capable of causing damage going the other way, though, with arguably the world’s best midfielder in Kevin De Bruyne at the peak of his powers aged 31. De Bruyne, alongside Belgium’s other world-renowned attacking stars such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, have the ability to put any team to the sword if fit and on song.
It can therefore be said that although this Belgium team may be considered over the hill and defensively vulnerable, they are still capable of catching any team cold on their day.