Qatar 2022 is FINALLY here! With the world’s eyes pointed directly at sports’ most-watched event, let’s dissect who is positioned to take home this year’s silverware!
YOUR FINAL FOUR
Everyone’s favorite comes into the tournament riding a wave of exciting play and the expectation to deliver on its sixth World Cup title. Brazil’s inflection point is directly traced to two distinct events. One is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where names such as Bruno Guimaraes, Antony, and Gabriel Martinelli exploded into the scene leading the Selecao to its second consecutive gold medal. The other is the simultaneous rise of Real Madrid’s star winger Vinicius Jr, who alongside Neymar’s superb form, gives Brazil a plethora of attacking alternatives at Tite’s disposal.
It is no secret that Brazil comes to Qatar looking to overwhelm the opposition in an attacking sense. The selection of NINE forwards is an indication that Tite will be tinkering with different formations that stretch defenses to the limit. Tottenham’s Richarlison will likely get the first look in a central goal-scoring role, hoping to cash in on the number of chances that will likely come his way. But do not sleep on West Ham’s Lucas Paqueta, whose midfield versatility is the key to an even more explosive Brazil as the tournament progresses.
You do not have to look very far on the map to identify the next big favorite. Much like Brazil, Argentina’s rise post-Russia has been due to the growth of complimentary players alongside icon Lionel Messi. While Messi may not be the same player we saw in the 2014 run, the Albiceleste has (once again) re-tooled by tapping into an exciting young generation. The engine behind the operation is Atletico Madrid’s midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, who led the Serie A in shot-creating actions prior to a move to Spain. Playing alongside Messi and Inter’s goal-scoring machine Lautaro Martinez provides the perfect backdrop to a high-octane offense.
While most eyes will be fixated on Argentina’s attack, these South American giants are not your typical one-dimensional Argentine team. Lionel Scaloni has revamped an often-maligned backline, with Argentina having allowed only two goals in all of 2022 (including a mere 8 in its qualifying campaign). Keep an eye out for Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who rides into the tournament as one of the world’s most underrated shot-stoppers.
If talent in a vacuum decided outcomes, Portugal would be mentioned among the favorites in every competition. This Portuguese generation is no different, and Fernando Santos’ squad is as dangerous as it comes. The name on EVERYONE’S mind is Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, there is still some juice left on the 37-year-old’s legs, but Portugal’s hopes for a tournament run lie in the invigorating play of Manchester City’s star midfielder Bernando Silva. Silva is the connector, the creator, and he comes to Qatar ranked third in the Premiership in goal-creating actions (and assists). Give him space and he will lay the ball on the platter to Ronaldo, or many of Portugal’s other goal-scoring options, including Joao Felix and Andre Silva.
But talent alone is rarely a deciding factor, and there are signs that point to Portugal making a quick tournament exit. A tough group matchup against Uruguay can put Santos’ team directly in the path of Brazil and Argentina. There are also signs of a troubled locker room, with Ronaldo voicing scathing remarks at his counterpart Bruno Fernandes’ Manchester United team. Regardless, there is no denying that if Portugal gets it right early, they can finally deliver on the World Cup promise of past generations.
Yes friends, that Denmark! No, the Laudrup brothers nor Peter Schmeichel are walking through that door. But this has not stopped head coach Kasper Hjulmand from cobbling up Denmark’s best generation since the early 1990s. The Danish are strong up the middle of the pitch, with Christian Eriksen’s return after a near-death experience providing the perfect setting for another inspirational moment. Talented winger Andreas Skov Olsen has been instrumental in Club Brugge’s surprising league and European run, promising to challenge for the tournament’s best young player award.
Denmark’s best chance at a strong showing will likely ride on their group-play matchup with France. A win positions the Danish on a much easier path to the semi-finals. Denmark’s recent success against France (two UEFA Nations wins) is an indicator that their time may be now. As is its performance under Hjulmand, having won an impressive 68% of its matches in Europe since his arrival. Blink and you may just miss this under-the-radar dark horse in Qatar.
KNOCKOUT PHASE STORYLINES
IS FRANCE POISED TO FLOP?
France is considered by many as one if not, the most talented group in the tournament. But the loss of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema suddenly have the French in a vulnerable spot looking up on the rest. Without its star midfielders, Didier Deschamps will have to rely on Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot and Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga to link up play to Kylian Mbappe. If France can overcome this massive downgrade remains to be seen. But a rugged and battle-tested Denmark will be pushing the French toward a potential round-of-16 revenge matchup with Argentina, where the Argentine may not be as forgiving this time around.
TWO SOUTH AMERICAN UNDERDOGS LURKING
Lost in the Brasil and Argentina buzz are two inter-continental rivals that land in Qatar looking for a splash. After consecutive World Cup disappointments, Uruguay has finally pressed reset on its roster. The result? A new crop of exciting fresh talent, led by Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, and Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur. Uruguay is frisky, defensively sound, and brings a resume of accomplishments under its belt. A group win over Portugal is the path to an easier knockout road, where we may just see this small nation back to another semi-final.
It is easy to dismiss Ecuador as a qualifying fluke. During a turbulent campaign, Ecuador banked on its high-altitude home games to punish opponents into submission. But Gustavo Alfaro has a highly technical side at his disposal, with Brighton’s Moises Caicedo as the central linchpin to the operation. With goal scorer Enner Valencia in top form, Ecuador is more than capable of sneaking out of group play. A potential round of 16 win against England would finally point the world’s eyes toward this rising soccer nation.
HAVE WE SEEN THE BEST OF BELGIUM? AND IS THIS SPAIN’S TURN?
After a Cinderella-like run in 2018, Belgium is back looking for its first World Cup trophy. But since its historic win over Brazil, this glorious generation has steadily taken steps backward. If there is a player capable of single-handedly leading his team to glory, its Manchester City’s maestro Kevin De Bruyne. However, the Premiership leader in goal-creating actions needs help, and it is hard to find where it will come from in an increasingly older roster. Will Romelu Lukaku’s hamstring heal in time for the knockout phase? Can Eden Hazard recapture the form that has escaped him in recent years? Feels like there are just too many questions to answer in a short span of time.
Speaking of time, Spain heads into the tournament with a palpable buzz around its revamped core. Gone are the days of Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, and Pique leading the Spanish to tournament honor. Luis Enrique’s team is now manned by an exhilarating duo that is yet to crack their 20s. In Gavi and Pedri the Spaniards are well-positioned for future titles. But this version heads into Qatar as the tournament’s third youngest team, leaving many to wonder if their lack of experience will be too much to overcome.
WHAT ABOUT THE UNITED STATES?
There is little to debate as to the talent upgrade of the United States. After a catastrophic qualifying campaign in 2018, there has been a renewed focus on player development while pushing talent into Europe’s top leagues. The outcome has been overwhelmingly positive, with most of the U.S. core playing high stake games in competitive championships. But what Gregg Berhalter’s side carries in potential it also lacks in World Cup experience. Recent warm-up games are an indication that this group is yet to mature into a battle-hardened squad. Sneaking out of group B would be a positive step heading into 2026, where the same core will be tasked with leading unprecedented expectations on home soil.
Golden Glove – Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Best Young Player – Jamal Musiala (Germany)
Golden Boot – Richarlison (Brazil)
Best Player – Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Left-Back – Alphonso Davies (Canada)
Center-Back – Andreas Christensen (Denmark)
Center-Back – Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)
Right-Back – Diogo Dalot (Portugal)
Midfielder – Neymar (Brazil)
Midfielder – Rodrigo De Paul (Argentina)
Midfielder – Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
Forward – Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Forward – Richarlison (Brazil)
Forward – Vinicius Jr (Brazil)
Brazil 3 – 1 Portugal
Brazil 2 – 1 Argentina
Portugal 1 – 0 Denmark