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With international football on ice for 2021 the make up of next year’s World Cup in Qatar is looking a little clearer. So far 12 teams have booked their place alongside the hosts at the tournament with most of Europe’s footballing powerhouses having eased through the group stages. Below we take a look at the favorites for the first winter World Cup, including every team who has qualified and several of those who look well placed to join them:
Teams in italics have not yet qualified for Qatar 2022
1. Brazil (–)
Still undefeated in CONMEBOL qualifying, Brazil have the look of World Cup favorites because of an impregnable defense that has conceded just four goals in 13 games on their road to Qatar so far. Tite’s side lost only once in 2021 — the Copa America final defeat to Argentina — and developed a welcome habit of grinding out 1-0 or 2-0 wins with or without Neymar. In Vinicius Junior, they may also have the tournament’s breakout star next year.
2. France (–)
If Euro 2020 was a reminder that in many games France look an awful lot less than the sum of their parts, then the Nations League showed what happens if they click into gear for just a moment as they blew past Belgium and Spain. Crucially for Didier Deschamps, the Kylian Mbappe-Karim Benzema partnership looks to be improving in every game, just in time for next winter.
3. Argentina (+1)
Another who have booked their passage to the summer’s tournament, Argentina ended 2021 without a defeat to their name and with only one goal conceded in their post-Copa America qualifiers. A defense anchored by Cristian Romero with Emiliano Martinez behind him looks rather more secure than previous iterations of this team have, giving Lionel Messi and company a platform to grind away victories.
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4. England (-1)
England’s relatively serene path out of qualification seems to have provoked much gnashing of teeth as to whether UEFA needs to rip up the rule book; surely it should not be this easy for the Three Lions? Certainly, they had one of the more hospitable draws but they also have a squad with a deep level of mutual understanding, a reliable scorer on the international stage in Harry Kane and as impressive an array of options providing him service as any team that will be at the World Cup.
5. Germany (+5)
The first team to join Qatar at the World Cup, Germany look to be having fun again under Hansi Flick. He certainly has not faced much in the way of challenging opposition since taking over from Joachim Low — perhaps the toughest assignment so far was a 2-1 win in Romania — but Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Kai Havertz seem to be singing whenever they don a Germany kit. As has been the case for a few years now, the unanswered question may be whether their weakness at full back costs them.
6. Spain (–)
A few wobbles were perhaps to be expected from Luis Enrique’s side as they found their way out of a tricky Group B with victory over Sweden. They do not always make it easy on themselves but Alvaro Morata tends to deliver eventually for a team whose ability to hold possession for sustained periods will make them a tough team to score on.
7. Belgium (+1)
This might be the last shot at the big time for much of Belgium’s Golden Generation, who have so far failed to reach a major final in an era of sustained excellence. Eden Hazard, the defenders and to an extent even Kevin De Bruyne are beginning to show their age whilst Roberto Martinez’s reluctance to blood some of his youngsters in minutes that count may yet come back to bite them in Qatar.
8. Italy (-3)
If Italy make it to Qatar, they may yet rocket their way up to a place alongside the favorites, but so far it is not a given that they will be there after they dropped points against Switzerland and Northern Ireland in the final round of group games. Their strongest XI could give anyone a test, but without Ciro Immobile they lack a focal point in attack; remove Marco Verratti from and limit Nicolo Barella’s efficiency in midfield and they perhaps struggle to cut teams open.
9. Denmark (new entry)
Euro 2020 certainly was not a fluke for Kasper Hjullmand’s side, who won their first nine qualifiers before losing to Scotland long after booking their place at the World Cup. In a year’s time Denmark might be even better with an increasingly youthful core including Mohamed Daramy, Kasper Dolberg, Joakim Maehle and Andreas Christensen.
10. Netherlands (new entry)
Under Louis van Gaal’s stewardship, the Dutch perhaps deserve credit for how impressively they came out of the group after their wobbly start under Frank de Boer. Norway and Turkey may well have posed plenty of issues to other top tier European sides, but the Dutch got the job done against the latter eventually. In Memphis Depay, they will also be able to call upon perhaps the best performer on the international stage in 2021, his 12 goals largely accrued against a higher class of opposition than those by Kane, his joint-top scorer in UEFA qualifying.
11. Portugal (-4)
It is the same old issues with Portugal: who seem utterly devoid of a midfield, reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo and Diogo Jota to such an extent that it inhibits other top-tier forwards and capable of repeating the same mistake over and over again in defense. Admittedly, they were handed one of the toughest second seeds out there in Serbia, but they made heavy weather not only of them but the Republic of Ireland as well. In a one off play off they seem perfectly capable of self-imploding.
12. Algeria (new entry)
Africa’s champions were pushed close by Burkina Faso on their way to the final round of qualifiers, but should they make it out of the brutal CAF melee for five spots they promise to be a genuine test for anyone at the World Cup. Islam Slimani may have seen his goals dry up at club level, but his partnership with Riyad Mahrez continues to deliver for the Desert Foxes.
13. United States (new entry)
There are sure to be disappointed supporters who feel this is too high after a draw in Jamaica last time out, but any team that can beat its great rivals three times in a year with the stakes high on every occasion deserves to be treated seriously should they make it to Qatar. Gregg Berhalter’s biggest cause for concern may be the absence of a battle-hardened center forward, but if Ricardo Pepi or anyone else can prove themselves to be that, then the USMNT will have a very well balanced squad indeed.
14. Senegal (new entry)
Few teams coasted through their CAF second round group quite as emphatically as Senegal, who managed to share the scoring burden around what is an impressive frontline that includes Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr. At the other end, any side with Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly in the backline are going to be hard to beat. Aliou Cisse’s side may yet be dark horses at Qatar, if they make it.
15. Serbia (new entry)
The shock around Portugal’s exit rather served to obscure how impressive this Serbia side is. Certainly, it should not be a surprise that any team that includes Dusan Tadic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Vlahovic should make the World Cup. The former offers Dragan Stojkovic’s side an ability to pick apart almost any team from open play or dead balls, where the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic could have a major impact.
16. Ecuador (new entry)
Third in CONMEBOL’s rankings, Ecuador’s qualifying success often comes with the caveat that their best results are claimed in the high altitude of Quito. It is certainly true that they have won 16 of their points on home soil — more than any South American team bar Brazil — but equally, this team has won in Bolivia and Chile to earn itself a six-point cushion with four rounds of games left. Those include meetings with Brazil and Argentina, but Gustavo Alfaro’s side might have done nearly enough to qualify already.
17. Switzerland (new entry)
The Swiss reached the World Cup in a fashion that is exceedingly on brand for the football they have deployed over the last decade or so. They don’t beat themselves and make it very hard for you to score against them — they conceded only two goals in qualifying — but come out of their shell at best infrequently. At Euro 2020, that took them to the quarterfinals; if one of their young forwards such as Noah Okafor pushes on, they may be able to replicate that in Qatar.
18. Mexico (-8)
El Tri find themselves staring nervously at the rearview window after defeats to the USMNT and table-topping Canada that have them in the third and final guaranteed qualifying spot in the Octagonal. In talent terms, they should be Concacaf’s best side, but Raul Jimenez is yet to score from open play since his return from a skull injury while no player has scored more than once for Tata Martino’s side in the final round of qualifying. Four of their final six qualifiers are on home soil but swift improvement is needed.
19. Iran (new entry)
Topping Group A and almost certain to qualify for the World Cup, Dragan Skocic can call on a side with an impressive array of attacking talents including the in form Sardar Azmoun and Feyenoord winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh. A positive result in South Korea would help cement their status as the best possible contender to come out of Asia.
20. Qatar (new entry)
Friendly results against Ireland, Azerbaijan and potential opponents Serbia suggest the World Cup hosts have a long way to go even if their experiences at the Gold Cup — where they reached the semifinals only to lose to the United States — suggest a team that can up their game in big tournaments. Their issue may yet be that come next winter they will face teams that challenge them rather more than Grenada or Honduras do.
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