An analysis of the teams challenging for the biggest trophy of them all
The 2022 World Cup is less than a week away, with all of the squads announced and no more league games to play. This means there (hopefully) won’t be any more injuries, and we have a clear view of who’s in form and in a good position to go all the way. So, here goes:
Form in the last five games: D-D-W-L-D
Germany’s performance in the last World Cup and subsequent Euro managed to lower expectations. Die Mannschaft aren’t considered clear favorites, which takes off some of the pressure from them. This can only work in their favor. The old guard, including Müller, Götze, and Neuer, will be there to lead, maybe for the last time. The new additions spark the fan’s imaginations, like Jamal Musiala, Karim Adeyemi, and Youssoufa Moukoko, who’ll be celebrating his 18th birthday during the opening day.
In between, there are Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané, who were not part of the disastrous tournament in Russia, but are coming to Qatar as established stars. Hansi Flick took over from Jogi Löw after seven consecutive big tournaments. It’s hard to judge the ex-Bayern boss’ results so far, but a change on the lines was long overdue, and following the success in Bavaria, Flick was a more-than-reasonable choice.
Well, if we insist on looking at results, then the latest run of form hasn’t been great. Germany won only one game out of six in the last Nation’s League campaign. With Timo Werner out due to injury, there’s no clear number 9 to count on to provide goals. This German team is largely new, and the lack of time to prepare properly will be a disadvantage compared to more established teams.
Form in the last five games: D-D-L-L-D
Unlike Germany, if there’s something you can say about England is that six years into Gareth Southgate’s tenure, they’re a proper team. The Three Lions’ boss likes to preserve the spine of the squad:12 out of the 26-player squad flying to Qatar were there also four years ago in Russia. Reaching a World Cup semifinal followed by a European Championship final is something England cannot take for granted, providing the players with the necessary experience in the late knockout stages. Since that heartbreaking loss to Italy, players like Bellingham, Saka, and Foden have only improved and will provide the extra flair.
After the Euro finals loss, many considered England favorites to win the 2022 World Cup. But since then, Southgate has lost a lot of credit at home due to a terrible run of form and the drop to UEFA Nations League B. The aforementioned trust in his squad backfired with poor performances from players like Maguire and Sterling. England still have the skill and mentality to pull themselves up, but at this point, a back-to-the-old quarter-final exit is a scenario that will not shock many.
Form in the last five games: W-D-W-L-W
There’s something about Uruguay and the World Cup. Their amount of talent and international achievements considering their population is only 3.5 million, is astonishing. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to look too far in the history books for success. Muslera, Godín, Suárez, Cavani, and Cáceres were all there in the amazing fourth-place run in 2010.
But they’re not only a team of veterans. The tournament in Qatar will be the handing over of the baton to a new and gifted generation. Half of La Celeste’s 26-player squad has never played in a World Cup, with Real Madrid star Federico Valverde and Liverpool striker Darwin Núñez making their debuts. In November, they took the painful decision of parting ways with 15-year-long servant Oscar Tabarez following a series of huge-blow defeats, threatening their place in Qatar. Diego Alonso refreshed the starting lineup and style of play, making it more suitable to the modern game and the advantages of his younger stars. Oh, and their amazing squad announcement simply has to add to their karma.
They might be lacking a bit compared to the depth of teams like Argentina, Brazil, France, and Portugal. It’s also unclear to what extent Suárez and Godín, who spent the past half a year in the Uruguayan and Argentinian leagues, can still keep up with players at their prime. On top of it all, their bracket offers a tough route in the knockout stages, where they will most likely meet one of the following teams: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Spain, or Germany.
Form in the last five games: W-W-W-W-W
Neymar, Martinelli, Antony, Vinícius Jr., Raphina, Richarlison, Rodrygo. These are Tite’s options in attack. It’s difficult to recall such a pool of attacking talent in one team. Imagine not even calling up Roberto Firmino? And it doesn’t stop there. Ederson would open in goal for almost all of the teams participating in the tournament but will have to make do with his role as a substitute for Alisson.
In defense, veterans Thiago Silva and Dani Alves will (38 and 39 years old) will be there to contribute from their experience alongside Marquinhos. Six years into his reign, Tite’s version of the Seleção is well acquainted and knows how to play together. They’ve also proven their winning mentality with a 2019 Copa America title followed by an impressive 2nd place finish in 2021. Their qualifying campaign has been almost immaculate, with 14 wins out of 17 games and a 40-5 goal difference.
To be honest, you really need to dig deep to find any. Firmino’s snub remains a mystery, but that cannot be an excuse. One more issue might be the fact that Brazil hasn’t played against a European side since March 2019. But given that all but three players from their squad play in Europe’s top five leagues, again, that’s no excuse.
Form in the last five games: W-W-W-W-W
It’s been years since Argentina came with such optimism to a World Cup, and they have good reasons. Lionel Scaloni changed the mood 180° from the disappointing Martino-Bauza-Sampaoli era. He earned his player’s trust through hard work followed by great results. The Albiceleste are unbeaten in an almost unprecedented 36 games, but more importantly, they remember what it’s like to win titles. Their 2021 Copa America win on Brazilian soil assured Messi won’t retire without international silverware and brought the first trophy to a country waiting for it for 28 years. The icing on the top came in the form of a convincing 3-0 battering of Italy in the 2022 Finalissima.
Above all, it’s Messi’s time. He came so close in 2014 but flopped in the final, including a bad miss in a one-on-one against Neuer. Argentina’s all-time top scorer did his best to arrive in Qatar in good shape. Following a bad debut season, he had a great opening to the 2022/23 campaign at PSG. He was careful not to get injured, with his teammates acting like de facto bodyguards during the last couple of friendlies.
The squad is much deeper and more balanced than it was four years ago in Russia. Messi and long-time partners Di María and Otamendi will be making their “last dance” alongside the players expected to lead the squad in the future, like Lautaro Martínez, Lisandro Martínez, and Julián Álvarez.
Strictly sticking to professional analysis, Argentina’s midfield seems to be its weak point. Any other reason for them not to go all the way lies in the realms of pressure, mentality, and fighting off decades-old demons.