With the World Cup draw being recently made, it brings FIFA’s showpiece event into even nearer focus and with just seven months before the first ball in Qatar is kicked, it is fair to say that anticipation is beginning to build.
Anticipation that is forming across each of the nations that have already qualified and although there are still a handful of play-off clashes to be carried out at the time of writing, we do at least know who the genuine contenders are.
While when it comes to genuine contenders, one cannot look past that of Brazil and with the South American nation already having lifted the trophy on a record five separate occasions, they will look to make it six before the end of 2022.
Of course, when it comes to those nations that are under the governance of the COMNEBOL confederation, they must go through an arduous qualification process – one that sees 10 nations operate in a home and away league over several years.
A league that Brazil found themselves finishing top of and after getting the better of both Argentina and Uruguay, the likes of Neymar and Roberto Firmino have reinforced their status as pre-tournament favourites.
THE THREE LIONS
Then again, it would not be a pre-tournament discussion without adding England into the mix and after suffering the heartbreak of losing the final of last year’s European Championships, they will look to earn a first success in this competition since 1966.
Admittedly England’s chances are always overhyped somewhat and in tournaments gone by, this hype has only added to the weight of expectation on the shoulders – weight that has managed to crush them at the same time.
However, there is a feeling that England’s young lions have ended up stronger in defeat and after learning the harshest international lesson of all, many are expecting Gareth Southgate’s men to go all the way to the final.
Whether they can finally return to the summit of world football, is something that will depend on player fitness and when it comes to star names within the England fold, they do not get any bigger than Harry Kane.
With the Tottenham forward now level with Bobby Charlton in the England scoring charts, the next target is to score a 50th goal for his country and in doing so, have only Wayne Rooney left to surpass in terms of international goals for the nation.
A record that will be a case of if and not when the talisman arrives at 53 goals and beyond and knowing the way that Kane operates, he will not just want to break such a record, but he will want to smash it into pieces.
While the best way to do that is by repeating the feat of 2018 and winning the tournament’s Golden Boot award – an award that is handed out to the players who scores the most goals in any single World Cup tournament.
TWICE IN A ROW?
When looking at European contenders, one must certainly not overlook France and after lifting the trophy just four years ago, Didier Deschamps is primed and ready to lead the next version of Les Bleus to victory.
A version that will certainly have Kylian Mbappe spearheading the attack and with the PSG forward making his name in Russia four years ago, he will return to the World Cup as an even better player than he was before.
Something that will have opposition managers and defenders in particularly running scared and when you consider how good he was in Russia, the level that the 23-year-old is operating at is incredibly high.
With that said, France are certainly not a one-man team and with an abundance of talent being mixed with experience, overlooking the holders from winning the World Cup for a third time is not something that is recommended.
THE NEXT GENERATION
At the turn of the previous decade, much was made of tika-taka and how Spain revolutionised the football world during a spell of international dominance. While it was this spell that saw them win the 2010 World Cup and both European Championships on either side.
A team that was full of generational talents. Talents such as Iker Casillas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and the list could even go on further than this. There is a new generation of Spanish starlets ready for an ascent to the top of football’s global mountain and although they lack the same appeal as 10 or so years ago, they are not a nation that can be ruled out of proceedings either.
Some may argue that this is a tournament too soon for Spain and to be honest, such an argument does hold some weight. Then again, less pressure on a younger looking team, may also end up working in their favour.
ONE LAST ATTEMPT
For everything that Lionel Messi has won, it is still the World Cup that alludes him and although the mercurial magician helped Argentina to the Copa America in 2021, such success has only whetted his appetite for more.
Because at the 34 years that Messi finds himself at, a trip to Qatar could be his last genuine attempt at cracking the World Cup code and for a player who is largely considered the best the game has ever seen, failure to do so would almost be criminal.
Criminal because this a man who deserves to be remembered as a World Cup winner and although you rarely get what you want in football, sometimes the stars align before magical things happen on the pitch.
Whether that magic happens in Qatar remains to be seen and once again the burden that Messi will have to carry, may also be the thing that stops Argentina from winning a first World Cup trophy since 1986.
ONE LAST PICK
Of course, it would not be a World Cup favourites article without mentioning Germany, if only because of one simple adage – never write off the Germans.
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