The countdown to Qatar 2022 has now reached the final straight, with the conclusion of Euro 2020 and the Copa America shifting the focus firmly to the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in less than 500 days.
While the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Africa Cup of Nations (due to be staged in Cameroon in January-February 2022) have yet to decide their continental champions (Qatar won the 2019 Asian Cup), history shows that the main contenders to win the World Cup will once again be the heavyweight nations of Europe and South America.
Having finally won an international trophy with Argentina at this year’s Copa America, Lionel Messi will now believe he can crown his incredible career with World Cup glory, while England will hope that reaching a first major final since 1966 at Euro 2020 will be a springboard to success in Qatar.
Can Brazil bridge a 20-year gap from their last world title in 2002 to take the World Cup back to South America next year? Will the United States be able to capitalise on their growing batch of UEFA Champions League stars by going beyond the round of 16 for the first time in two decades? And will Qatar prove to be Erling Haaland‘s introduction to the world stage with Norway and Cristiano Ronaldo‘s farewell with Portugal?
With the next World Cup due to take place between Nov. 21 and Dec. 18, 2022, ESPN assesses what we can expect when the tournament comes around.
Who are the favourites?
While both Euro 2020 and the Copa America gave us drama and powerhouse winners in Italy and Argentina, it is fair to say that neither team can yet be described as one that will dominate for years to come.
Right now, the international game does not have a team like Spain, which won three major trophies between 2008 and 2012, or the France side which won the 1998 World Cup before achieving success at Euro 2000.
Brazil continue to promise more than they deliver, Germany are in a period of transition following Joachim Low’s departure as coach and the retirement of midfielder Toni Kroos, Belgium are running out of time for their “golden generation” to win something, and Spain need to unearth a reliable striker. England have shown they possess the players to succeed on the international stage and will be genuine contenders in Qatar, while Italy will be buoyed with confidence following their Euro 2020 win.
But despite their round-of-16 exit, France are still the team most likely to win the next World Cup. Their squad remains the best around, so expect Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and the rest of Didier Deschamps’ team to use their Euro 2020 disappointment as motivation to win again.
What about Argentina?
Argentina’s Copa America win was their first continental title since 1993, so ending their unusually long cycle of failure will only help their mindset going into Qatar.
Although they reached the World Cup final in 1990 and 2014, Argentina haven’t won the tournament since Diego Maradona inspired them to success in 1986, so that is the challenge facing Messi ahead of what will almost certainly be his last chance to become a world champion.
But Argentina are an ageing team — the average of their Copa-winning squad was 27.1 years. Messi is 34, while Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi were all 33 when they lifted the trophy in Rio de Janeiro. Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez, who will be 25 in Qatar, will be a crucial player, but unless Argentina can unearth some bright young talent in the next 16 months, a World Cup win seems unlikely.
Alejandro Moreno breaks down Argentina’s 1-0 win over Brazil in the Copa America final to end a 28-year trophy drought.
Are Brazil the only hope of South American success?
Realistically, yes. As already discussed, the lack of emerging talent is likely to make Argentina too old to compete for the title. Uruguay have a younger squad than Argentina (average age 26.8 years), but Diego Godin (35), Luis Suarez (34), Edinson Cavani (34) and Martin Caceres (34) will find it tough to make it to the World Cup and have an impact. Chile‘s struggle to find new players has seen them turn to the English-born Blackburn Rovers striker Ben Brereton, while Colombia have shown little to suggest they can become contenders in Qatar.
Brazil do have the players to beat Europe’s top nations, though. From Alisson and Ederson in goal, through to Neymar up front, they have quality in all areas. Captain Thiago Silva will be 38 by the time the tournament comes around, so he may not make it, but Brazil will still have players such as Fabinho, Marquinhos, Casemiro, Roberto Firmino, Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus in the squad, not to mention the next young star who may emerge in the next year-and-a-half.
So if the World Cup is heading back to South America, Brazil are the continent’s best hope.
England have young stars, so can they do it?
Although England lost the Euro 2020 final against Italy, it is clear that they are a developing force in the world game and coach Gareth Southgate possesses an abundance of young talent that is the envy of many nations.
Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho will all gain in experience and maturity between now and Qatar, while Southgate could also add Mason Greenwood and restore Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dele Alli to his squad.
The big question is whether Southgate possesses the tactical acumen and boldness to get the best out of such a dazzling group of young players.
Under Southgate, England finished fourth at Russia 2018, third in the 2019 UEFA Nations League and runners-up at Euro 2020. Progress is being made. The next step is the biggest, but they can win the World Cup.
Julien Laurens can’t understand Gareth Southgate’s tactics in England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
Who are Europe’s best hope?
England are in the mix, but Italy and France have a slight edge over Southgate’s team as they seem to be more tournament savvy.
France slipped up badly at Euro 2020, losing to Switzerland on penalties in the round of 16, but they will be back in Qatar having learned a valuable lesson about complacency in that surprise exit.
And under Roberto Mancini, Italy have shown that experience and tactical awareness are crucial qualities when it comes to succeeding in major tournaments.
Germany and Netherlands both look a long way from being contenders, but Spain could be a threat if they find a way to score without a top quality striker.
Portugal have the ability to cause an upset, even if Cristiano Ronaldo will be 37 by the time the World Cup kicks off. As for Belgium, Qatar really will be the last chance for the best group of players the country has produced, even Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are still playing international football in 2026.
Can the United States get to the quarterfinals or beyond?
First off, the U.S. have to qualify. Having missed out on Russia 2018, actually making it to the World Cup is the primary objective, but coach Gregg Berhalter has the talent to ensure qualification is smooth and uncomplicated.
If, or when, the U.S. qualify, there is certainly reason for optimism in Qatar with so many players now performing at the top level on a consistent basis in Europe.
Christian Pulisic is Champions League winner with Chelsea, with Sergino Dest (Barcelona), Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) all performing in the competition last season, while Tim Weah (Lille) will turn out for the French champions in the Champions League this season.
Don’t expect the U.S. to win the World Cup, but as long as they avoid the heavyweights in the draw, they can reach the last eight and lay solid foundations ahead of co-hosting the tournament with Canada and Mexico in 2026.
Herc Gomez feels USMNT players can stake a claim for the World Cup squad in Qatar with good performances at the Gold Cup.
Will Ronaldo pass the baton to Erling Haaland?
Cristiano Ronaldo has said he will retire from international football after the 2022 World Cup, by which time he is almost certain to have broken more records, including becoming the standalone leading goal scorer in international football — he is currently tied on 109 with former Iran forward Ali Daei.
Portugal sit on top of UEFA qualifying Group A going into the September fixtures and look well set to seal a spot in Qatar and give Ronaldo the global send-off he deserves.
Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland has already taken the club game by storm, both in the Bundesliga and Champions League, but he faces a challenge to qualify for the World Cup with Norway. After three games in six-team Group G, Norway sit fourth, but they are just a point behind leaders Turkey.
Haaland is likely to have to shoulder the same burden of expectancy with Norway that Ronaldo has with Portugal throughout his career, and his goals will decide whether the Norwegians make it to major tournaments. But with Netherlands also in Norway’s qualifying group, Haaland will have to translate his club form on to the international stage to have any hope of playing in Qatar.
What about Qatar itself? And will it be hot in November?
Eight stadiums within a 45-minute drive of each other will host games at Qatar 2022 and all will be ready well in advance of the opening game, which is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2022.
Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty still remains over many aspects of the tournament such as fan travel, accommodation and potential testing requirements, but in terms of stadia and facilities, everything will be up and running.
Average temperatures in November in Qatar are 26 degrees Celsius (78.4 Fahrenheit), although they drop to 20.7C (69.2F) in December, so the climate could turn out to be one of the mildest experienced for a World Cup since South Africa hosted in the southern hemisphere winter in 2010.
Although it will be in mid-season for most of the major leagues and crammed into a country that is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut, it will still be 32 teams battling it out to be crowned world champions. It may look and feel different, but Qatar 2022 will be biggest show on earth when it comes around.
Who are favourites? Can U.S. progress? Will Ronaldo hand over to Haaland?
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