The wait is almost over. Four-and-a-half years since France were crowned champions in Moscow, the FIFA World Cup 2022 kicks off in Qatar with 32 teams dreaming of glory.
There will be a different feel to the 22nd edition of the world’s greatest show, with this being a tournament held in winter to combat the searing temperatures of the host nation.
Football fans will be settling down to watch England, Wales and the rest indoors surrounded by Christmas decorations rather than with the BBQ blazing through long summer nights.
The time of year might be different, but the football will be the same. Here is our guide to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the favourites who might flounder, the dark horses who might surprise, the players to look out for – and what to do if Harry Kane or Gareth Bale lifting the trophy come December 18th provides inspiration for taking up the beautiful game.
We can all dream, right?
Which nations are taking part in the 2022 World Cup?
The FIFA World Cup 2022 features 32 teams. It is due to be the final tournament of this size, with an increase to 48 countries in 2026 when the competition is jointly held between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
There are eight groups of four. Every nation plays the others in their group once. The top two nations from each group progress to the knockout stages, starting with the second round.
As hosts, Qatar are the seeded team in Group A. It will be their first ever appearance at a World Cup finals, making them something of an unknown quality. Their best ever performance at an international tournament was when winning the Asian Cup in 2019. They are joined by Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands.
Group B is full of intrigue for different reasons. England and Wales will meet in a Battle of Britain, sparking memories of their last competitive meeting at Euro 2016. The Three Lions came from behind late on in that one, winning 2-1 in Lens. Alongside the local derby element comes an undercurrent of politics, with the USA and Iran completing the group.
Lionel Messi begins what will surely be his final World Cup in Group C. His Argentina will face Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. Group D contains holders France, Australia, Tunisia and Euro 2020 semi finalists Denmark.
No World Cup would be complete without a group of death. At Qatar 2022, that is Group E. 2014 winners Germany, 2010 winners Spain, an exciting Japan side who can beat anyone on their day and Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans have been here before; they were drawn in the group of death at Brazil 2014 and labelled the weak link, only to end up finishing first ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England.
Canada make their first appearance at a World Cup finals since 1986 in Group F. They will have their work cut out advancing to the second round; 2018 runners up Croatia, the array of talent Belgium possess and Morocco lie in wait.
Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia and Cameron are in Group G. Group F contains Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. Like his great rival Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo will know that Qatar 2022 probably represents his last chance to shine on the grandest stage of them all.
Who are the favourites to win the Men’s 2022 World Cup?
Generally, European teams tend to win tournaments held in milder weather conditions – Europe and the 2010 edition played during the South African winter – with South American teams thriving in hotter climates.
Although Germany broke the mould a little with their success in Brazil back in 2014, logic would therefore dictate that a South American nation will be best suited to winning in Qatar. The competition might be taking place in Qatari winter, but temperatures still average 29⁰C through November and December.
A bigger factor than raw heat will be humidity. December is one of the most humid months of the year in Qatar at an average of 71 percent. Every stadium has been built with state-of-the-art air conditioning, but how much difference this makes remains to be seen.
Coping with the heat will be essential for any team harbouring ambitions of going home from the Lusail Stadium with the famous gold trophy.
Brazil – The Squad full of Riches
With the temperatures in mind, it is little surprise to see two South American nations marked down as favourites. Brazil is the most successful country in FIFA World Cup history, winning the competition five times. Their most recent triumph came in Japan & South Korea back in 2002, so you could say they are overdue a victory after 20 years.
A quick glance at their squad is enough to frighten any opponent. Manager Tite can choose from either Allison Becker or Ederson to keep net, arguably the two best goalkeepers in the world.
At the other end of the pitch, Brazil have so much depth in their forward ranks they can afford to leave Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino at home. Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Raphina and Real Madrid duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr provide an incredible set of options.
Argentina – More Than Just Messi
There are two reasons why Argentina are fancied. The first is the Messi factor. Pele and Diego Maradona are considered the two greatest players of all time because of what they did for country as well as club; if Messi can join them in inspiring his nation to a World Cup, then he would have justifiable claims to be the genuine greatest of all time. Or GOAT as the kids these days like to say.
The other reason for liking the look of Argentina is that they are about so much more than just Messi. This is a team unbeaten in 34 matches, which includes winning the Copa America and beating Italy in the Finalissima between the South American champions and the European champions.
If Argentina can go another seven matches unbeaten, they will set a new world-record in international football. They will also be World Cup winners for the first time since 1978.
France – The Defending Champions
Winning back-to-back World Cups is tough. Only two nations have ever managed it before, the most recent being Brazil as long ago as 1962. And the last time France were defending champions in 2002, they suffered a shock elimination at the earliest stage, finishing bottom of what was supposed to be an easy group behind Denmark, Senegal and Uruguay.
The best way to describe this French side is temperamental. When they are in the mood – as they were in Russia four years ago – they can beat any opponent in the world. When things do not go their way, they tend to crash and burn in style, as we saw in Euro 2020.
France looked home and dry when leading Switzerland 3-1 with 10 minutes remaining of their last 16 clash. What followed was an incredible implosion, two late goals from the Swiss taking the tie to penalties where France found themselves knocked out of a tournament they were favourites to win.
Belgium – Final Chance for the Golden Generation
If Belgium were ever going to win a World Cup with their current Golden Generation of players, then Russia 2018 looked it. Their array of stars were at the peak of their powers. The tournament was on European soil and they had a favourable draw, save for France in the semi finals.
Had Belgium beaten Les Bleus, they would probably have gone on to win the whole thing. Instead, they were left wondering what might have been. Just like at Euro 2016, when knocked out in the quarter finals by Wales in another competition they could have feasibly won.
Which brings us to Qatar 2022. Those past failures mean nobody is really talking about Belgium as potential winners. They still though possess an incredible amount of talent, ranging from Thibaut Courtois to Kevin De Bruyne. If the Eden Hazard of old turns up and Romelu Lukaku can find his scoring boots, then they might surprise a few people.
England – Need to Prove the Doubters Wrong
England’s tournament record under Gareth Southgate so far reads semi finalists in 2018 followed by runners up in 2021. A mathematician looking for a pattern would say logic dictates that in Qatar 2022, the Three Lions go all the way and win a first FIFA World Cup since 1966.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that logical about football. The feelgood factor generated by those memorable performances in Russia and during a competition in which England played six of their seven games at Wembley seems to have disappeared. Hardly a surprise following a desperately poor set of results since penalty shoot out heartache at the hands of Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
The Three Lions are winless in six matches and have just been relegated from the top division of the UEFA Nations League. Expectations are therefore low – but might that actually help? Normally, England go into tournaments promising much but never delivering. This time around, everyone is expecting them to fail. Time for Southgate, Harry Kane and Co to prove the doubters wrong?
Germany – Hang on, we Nearly Forgot Germany
Can you really write a comprehensive guide to a FIFA World Cup, listing the favourite nations to win the tournament and make no mention of Germany? Yes, apparently this is a thing for Qatar 2022.
As defending champions in Russia, they crashed out in the group stages. They did not make it past the round of 16 at Euro 2020. Under former all-conquering Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick, they look like a side in transition between old warhorses like Manuel Neuer and Thomas Mueller and exciting new talents.
Germany will not mind that they are going under the radar. It happened at Euro 2008 when nobody gave them a hope and they reached the final. It happened at the 2002 World Cup and they reached the final. You write the Germans off at your peril.
Five players to look out for at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar
Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Most eyes will be focussed on the biggest names at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar and whether they can inspire their nations to glory.
The World Cup is not just about established stars, however. The competition has a long and rich history of propelling young and unknown players into the limelight. Here are five players worth keeping tabs on.
Moises Caicedo – Ecuador
Moises Caicedo made his Premier League debut for Brighton in April at a time when the Seagulls had just suffered six defeats in a row and scored only one goal in seven. They have since lost just five times in six months and Caicedo is now being linked with a £68 million move to Real Madrid.
With an exciting team of young talent acclimatised to playing in hot temperatures, Ecuador have the potential to be a real surprise package in Qatar with Caicedo at the heart of it. A good World Cup for the all-action midfielder would hasten an approach from the Bernabeu, not to mention Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, who are all also interested.
Alphonso Davies – Canada
That Canada are back at a World Cup for the first time in 36 years is largely down to the fact they can call upon one of the best young players in the world. Alphonso Davies was the first player born this century to debut in the MLS, attracting the attentions of Bayern Munich.
Within a year of arriving at the Allianz Arena, Davies had Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League winners medals. He is everything a modern-day full back should be; attack minded, quick and tricky and capable of breezing past opponents as if they are not there.
And he loves playing for his country. Upon qualification for Qatar, an emotional Davies said: “Look around, look around you. Look at this, we created this. This didn’t exist before we were here. Look around. I swear I promise you right now, we did this."
Dusan Vlahovic – Serbia
22-year-old Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic has been striking fear into the hearts of Serie A defenders for several years now. After 49 goals in 108 games for Fiorentina, Juventus made Vlahovic the most expensive January transfer window signing in Italian football history when bringing him to Turin as replacement for Ronaldo.
Vlahovic has since plundered 13 goals in 25 matches for Juventus, whilst having an international record of eight goals in 16 games. A powerful target man standing 6’3, his partnership with Aleksandar Mitrović will give Serbia’s opponents plenty to think about in Qatar.
Ansu Fati – Spain
Ansu Fati made his first start for Barcelona at the age of 16. Within seven minutes, he had scored one and assisted another. Over the past three years, Fati has chalked up numerous records; Barca’s youngest La Liga scorer, La Liga’s youngest brace scorer, the youngest ever Champions League scorer, Spain’s second youngest player and second youngest scorer. The list goes on, but we have a world count to adhere to.
The biggest compliment paid to Fati is that when Messi left Barcelona, it was he who inherited the number 10 shirt. A succession of injuries have slowed his progress in recent seasons and stopped him becoming the household name he should be. A strong World Cup with Spain can change all that.
Kylian Mbappe – France
Okay, so Mbappe is not exactly an unknown talent. It might feel like he has been around forever, but he is still only 23 years old having become only the second ever teenager – Pele was the other - to score in a World Cup final when notching in France’s 4-1 win over Croatia in 2018.
Mbappe was hailed the future of world football following his heroics in Russia, when it seemed as though a baton had been passed from Messi and Ronaldo to the French forward. And yet here we are, four-and-a-half years on and it is still Messi and Ronaldo who everyone is talking about. Mbappe can move the conversation along with another star turn at a World Cup.
Capitalising on interest in the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar
As the biggest tournament in the world, the FIFA World Cup always leads to a spike in interest in playing football. Success for England in Qatar would obviously be nice, building on what the Lionesses did for the popularity of the sport when winning Euro 2022 in an unforgettable summer.
But even if England were to crash out in the group stage, there will still be enough drama and excitement to encourage children to want to become the next Messi, Mbappe, Neymar… or even Caicedo if Ecuador do turn out to be an almighty surprise package. Remember, you heard that here first.
For children aged between 4 and 12 who want to take their first steps in football thanks to the FIFA World Cup 2022, then We Make Footballers is the perfect place to start their journey. Our academies offer weekly football training for boys and girls of all abilities across England, provided in a fun and safe environment by FA qualified coaches.
You can find your nearest We Make Footballers academy and book a free first session via the We Make Footballers website