The next FIFA World Cup is less than two years away and, though much of the attention has been on Qatar’s preparations for staging the tournament, including the rapid construction of stadiums and more controversial issues like working conditions, there is also the small matter of the action on the pitch.
Defending champions are France, who overcame an energetic Croatian effort in the 2018 Final thanks to goals from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and an own goal from Mario Mandzukic.
Though the French side on duty that day included a sprinkling of experience, much of the team’s success in the tournament was built around an exciting squad of young players, and the majority could feature in 2022.
France remain a popular choice in many betting markets – but these are the three teams most likely to challenge them for their title in Qatar.
Once a true mega-power of international football, 2022 will mark 20 years since Brazil’s last World Cup win. They advanced to the knock-out stage as group winners in 2018 but were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by an exciting Belgian side.
As they look towards their next opportunity, Brazil must first pass the gruelling test of CONMEBOL qualification in South America. The top four nations will qualify for the World Cup, but the league contains several threats and their passage to Qatar is by no means guaranteed.
Under the leadership of highly-rated head coach Tite and captain Dani Alves, the Seleção have a huge test on their hands to once again scale the heights of international football – but they have the talent in their team to do just that.
Powershift?— Business Standard (@bsindia) July 6, 2018
Brazil have now been eliminated by a European nation in each of the last four editions of the World Cup (France 2006, Netherlands 2010, Germany 2014 and Belgium 2018)
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One of the teams chiefly responsible for Brazil’s fall from grace is Germany, who famously thrashed the five-time World Champions 7-1 on their own patch in 2014. The Germans were world champions that year but were knocked out at the group stage in Russia four years later.
Their pride wounded, Germany are expected to be among the front-runners in Qatar and the conveyor belt of talent shows no signs of slowing, with recent call-ups like Thilo Kehrer, Kai Havertz and Maximilian Eggestein helping to project a bright future.
Manager Joachim Löw has led the team since 2006 and much of the success he has enjoyed in his role as manager is credited to the stability brought by his extended tenure.
Spain head into the tournament in a similar position to Germany, having recently won the World Cup, but flattering to deceive in the most recent tournament, losing to hosts Russia in the last 16.
Alongside more established stars, the squad boasts young talent like Rodri, who is helping to keep Manchester City close to the top of Premier League betting markets, while in Kepa Arrizabalaga and David de Gea, La Roja have two of that competition’s finest goalkeepers eligible for selection.
Under head coach Luis Enrique, Spain are a dangerous animal in any major tournament and their incredible success on the European and World stage between 2008 and 2012 has left supporters hungry for more.
The best of the rest
Following 2018’s semi-final exploits, expect England to once again be challenging in the knock-out stages, while a resurgent Netherlands and exciting Belgium could also pose threats in Qatar.
With no World Cup triumph since 1986, Argentina should also be considered, while Italy appear to have hit form once more after inexplicably failing to qualify for 2018’s tournament. Nations like the USA are also expected to develop quickly ahead of their joint hosting of the tournament in 2022.
So, while France should not be written off, Didier Deschamps’ side looks set to have its work cut out to defend the trophy.