The FIFA World Cup has been held by European countries for the past 16 years; Italy, Spain, Germany and France have each won its last four editions. Going into this year’s event in Qatar, there are extremely realistic hopes held mainly by Brazil and Argentina that the trophy could finally return to South America.
Brazil may hold the continent’s greatest chance: in Bodog’s FIFA World Cup betting markets, for example, they are currently priced as the 9/2 favourites to lift the trophy in December. They will hope to be inspired by star man Neymar Jr who has been in spectacular form at the club level this season for Paris Saint Germain and will hope to finally replicate the success of past Brazil legends such as Pele and Ronaldinho and win the World Cup with his nation.
Brazil is a record five-time winner but has not added to their tally since 2002 and Neymar is their biggest hope of success from the current generation. The PSG star is aided by new Barcelona signing Raphinha in attack, who also possesses flair and composure when required in the final third. Neymar has struggled with injury issues amongst other problems in the past few years but now he seems to be at his peak level in terms of physical ability and mentality.
Many have criticised the former Barcelona man for his attitude problems and lack of focus on his performances on the pitch, but that certainly will not be argued anymore. In Russia, in 2018, Neymar perhaps lacked the maturity to lead his team on the pitch and played like an individual in a team that was not cohesive, but now he seems ready to be the main man and lead his team to football’s greatest prize.
Neymar is accompanied by a strong Brazil side with Casemiro anchoring the ever-reliable defensive partnership of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, allowing the likes of Neymar and co to play with freedom higher up the pitch.
His club teammate Lionel Messi is ironically his biggest competition in regards to a South American winner in Qatar. The two, who were previously teammates at Barcelona, have been absolutely unplayable in tandem this season and both now have solid supporting casts at a national level.
Messi struggled in his opening season at PSG however this season he looks to be in as strong form as ever. The widely acclaimed greatest player of all time narrowly missed out on football’s biggest prize back in 2014 against Argentina and, in reality, his teammates let him down.
Messi created chance after chance but was not rewarded for his creativity, but now that could be different with much stronger teammates available to him. Paulo Dybala seems to have found an improved version of himself at AS Roma and Rodrigo de Paul is an excellent technician and engine in the midfield. Both nations have extremely strong overall squads and both of course have absolute magicians at their disposal who can impact the outcome of games in an instant. Argentina and Brazil have the tools to go to the latter stages in which Neymar or Messi’s brilliance could help their team mount the final hurdle. The World Cup in Qatar could be legacy-defining for both, one of the PSG stars could finally be a World Champion.