One of the most watched and anticipated sporting events has returned to the big stage as Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup, the first to ever be held in the winter. (Theo Au-Yeung)
One of the most watched and anticipated sporting events has returned to the big stage as Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup, the first to ever be held in the winter.

Theo Au-Yeung

World Cup 2022 Preview: Contenders and Sleepers

November 20, 2022

The World Cup is back. The biggest sporting event in the world, featuring 32 all-star soccer teams from across six continents, is heading to Qatar for its 22nd edition. A European team has been the winner of the last four World Cups, but there are plenty of non-European teams that will look to break that streak. In fact, two of the favored teams are South American, one led by Lionel Messi, playing in his fifth and final World Cup. There are also a plethora of dark horse teams that are not necessarily favorites but can surprise a lot of fans in this tournament. 

The+Albicelestes%2C+led+by+Lionel+Messi%2C+will+look+to+capitalize+on+their+talented+roster+at+Qatar.

Theo Au-Yeung

The Albicelestes, led by Lionel Messi, will look to capitalize on their talented roster at Qatar.

Argentina

It’s now or never for right winger Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates. At age 35, Messi is still playing at his best. He has the opportunity to solidify his status as the eternal GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of soccer for fans that don’t consider him to be so already.

Strengths: This is one of the better rosters Argentina has put together in the past decade. The team won the 2021 Copa América riding on the back of Messi, who won the award for Best Player of the Tournament. But Messi won’t be starring alone — he has the backing of Angel Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez and Paulo Dybala to complement him in the attack. The best part about Messi is ultimately that he contributes even when he is not scoring goals. In the 2021 Copa América, Messi’s passing was his greatest weapon: he led the tournament in forward-moving passes, key passes and assists, to show how vital he is to Argentina’s attack. 

Weaknesses: The only obvious concern for this team will be inconsistencies in its defense. They have a skilled defense, but their devotion to pushing their fullbacks up the pitch in attack, leaves them susceptible to good attacking wingers that exploit the space left behind.

Regardless, as long as the Albicelestes plays up to their expectations, they have a clear shot to win the tournament.

The+Sele%C3%A7%C3%A3o+are+entering+the+tournament+as+favorites+and+many+have+one+of+the+better+rosters+in+World+Cup+history.+

Theo Au-Yeung

The Seleção are entering the tournament as favorites and many have one of the better rosters in World Cup history.

Brazil

Brazil are entering this tournament as favorites, with +320 odds according to Fanduel Sportsbook. They are coming off two disappointing eliminations in 2014 and 2018, including a shocking 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 semifinal. Yet, this team seems to have improved and is expected to dominate in Qatar. 

Strengths: On paper, it’s safe to say that this is the most well-rounded and talented squad in the World Cup. From top to bottom, Brazil is stacked not just with talent, but experience. Following a loss to Belgium in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup, Brazil has added up-and-coming talent to the team that will no doubt boost their chances this time around. With the likes of new talent such as Vinicius Jr, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Antony and Raphina, paired with more accomplished players such as Dani Alves, Neymar and Marquinos, there is no shortage of flair and style.

Weaknesses: One main concern will be Brazil’s lack of experience playing against top European teams, who they have a losing record against. A European squad knocked Brazil out in the last three World Cups.Their talent should allow them to overcome this concern, but we’ll have to wait until the knockout stages to see what these Brazilians are really made of. 

Regardless, at their best, the Seleção are the No. 1 team in the tournament.

The+Three+Lions+will+look+to+overcome+a+decades+worth+of+disappointment+and+show+out+in+Qatar.

Theo Au-Yeung

The Three Lions will look to overcome a decades worth of disappointment and show out in Qatar.

England

The Three Lions are coming off a crushing defeat to Italy in the final of the European Championships last summer. Nonetheless, they enter this tournament with the hope of redeeming themselves. 

Strengths: Captain striker Harry Kane will supply plenty of goals in the attack alongside wingers Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden. The midfield will be one of England’s strengths, sporting plenty of young talent, including Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Mount. Rice, a player known for his physicality and ability to win the ball back, will likely play a key role in England’s suffocating offense.

Weaknesses: England has historically been known as a team that plays a very conservative style. They score first, then sit back in defense and play the possession game, relying on defenders to hold the lead. That hasn’t changed with current manager, Gareth Southgate. But as we have seen in many matches under Southgate (such as the European Championships Final where they lost a 1-0 lead in the second half, or in the round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup where they blew a 1-0 lead in the 93rd minute), England has struggled to hold onto leads in the past.. The conservative style of play is especially confusing for a team that has so many solid attacking players and could easily batter teams by three or four goals, instead of settling for marginal victories. They’ll still be able to scrape out results against most of the competition, but may encounter trouble against the top teams in the tournament. Southgate needs to make a change or else another disappointment for England is in the cards. 

England has the potential to win their first World Cup since 1966, but are just as likely to lose unexpectedly and disappointingly in the early stages of the tournament. In terms of talent, they are one of the best teams in the world, but they simply never seem to get the job done.

 

Les+Bleus+have+many+injuries+to+core+players+but+might+still+have+the+talent+to+go+deep+in+this+tournament.

Theo Au-Yeung

Les Bleus have many injuries to core players but might still have the talent to go deep in this tournament.

France

 France won the 2018 edition of the World Cup and will be looking to repeat this year. 

Strengths: France undoubtedly have the best attacking options in the world. Even with 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku out injured, they still have Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele swarming the goal. In the defense, William Saliba will look to build off his incredible season thus far with Arsenal, alongside veteran Raphael Varane and the speedy Theo Hernandez. If their core players play to their expectations, there are few teams more dangerous than France. 

Weaknesses: Injuries. France’s play style demands a ball-winning player like N’golo Kante and a player like Paul Pogba whose composure allows him to push through the opponent’s aggressive defense. Both Kante and Pogba will miss the tournament with injuries. Even if young prodigies Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduoardo Camavinga step up in their place, Kante and Pogba’s ball-winning abilities and technical skills will be sorely missed. Also, as deep as France’s lineup is, Benzema and Nkunku’s injuries will certainly hurt the team’s offense. Benzema’s incredible attacking presence and creativity in the penalty area will be absent. And France will no longer have the incredible duo of Mbappe and Benzema in attack, which so many fans have been excited to witness. Les Bleus will need Mbappe and veteran striker Olivier Giroud to step up as main goal scorers in Benzema’s place. 

There’s then the issue of the World Cup curse. In the last five tournaments, no World Cup champion has made it out of the group stage at their next tournament. Italy crashed out of the group stage in 2010 after winning it all in 2006, Spain crashed out in 2014 and Germany had a disastrous group stage in 2018 after winning the tournament in 2014. Les Bleus may be good enough to beat the streak. But with key players going out with injuries, this team still may not have the same fuel and talent they had four years ago.

La+Furia+Roja+will+enter+this+tournament+as+one+of+the+more+exciting+young+teams+to+watch.

Theo Au-Yeung

La Furia Roja will enter this tournament as one of the more exciting young teams to watch.

Spain

The champions of the 2010 World Cup will be looking to bounce back after falling short in 2014 and 2018.

Strengths: Manager Luis Enrique has entirely transformed this squad, leaving out veteran players Thiago, Sergio Ramos and David de Gea. Instead, this team has become completely revitalized by up-and-coming players. Spain has one of the strongest midfields in the tournament, with young stars Pedri, Rodri and Gavi led by the experienced Sergio Busquets. Their intense devotion to relentlessly keeping possession and constantly passing the ball will help them move the ball up the pitch and into scoring position. Their “tiki-taka ” style of play is simply must watch soccer. 

Weaknesses: Despite their strength in the midfield, Spain’s attacking options are riddled with uncertainty. As seen in the 2020 European Championships, Alvaro Morata has not stepped up as a top scoring striker for Spain. They will need either him or one of Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres or Marco Asensio to take charge, because a good midfield won’t matter without attackers that can convert opportunities at the goal.

La Furia Roja’s style of play will make them one of the more fun teams to watch, but we might not be watching them for very long as this team is still in a transition phase from their past generation of players to a new one. 

The+Sele%C3%A7%C3%A3o+das+Quinas+have+plenty+of+talent+in+their+roster+to+make+up+for+Ronaldo%E2%80%99s+awful+play+this+season.+

Theo Au-Yeung

The Seleção das Quinas have plenty of talent in their roster to make up for Ronaldo’s awful play this season.

Portugal

Portugal are hoping to win what will most definitely be Cristiano Ronaldo’s final tournament. However unlike the past few major tournaments they’ve been in, they won’t be able to just rely on him. In fact, Ronaldo has been nothing short of awful this season, failing again and again to score. 

Strengths: Portugal has put together an incredible squad, loaded with talent. Young stars such as right back Joao Cancelo, winger Rafael Leao, defensive midfielder Ruben Neves, striker Joao Felix and attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes will play pivotal roles, and hopefully make up for Ronaldo’s presence if he continues to play poorly. Bernardo Silva will likely be Portugal’s most important player; his ability to control the possession while playing final passes to the goalscorers will be key to Portugal’s goal-scoring. 

Weaknesses: Portugal has one key weakness: keeping leads. At the heart of this problem is Ronaldo, whose poor defending and passing can cost the team matches. And it gets even worse when you consider that Ronaldo has just three total goals this season. If their star player continues to flail, Portugal could end up like Spain, with excellent build-up play but no goal scorer. Somebody has to step up.

It is ultimately clear that the Seleção das Quinas are finally a team that has evolved past reliance on Ronaldo. They have so much talent all over the field that will surely allow them to make a run in the tournament. Many fans are dreaming of a final matchup between Argentina and Portugal, a Messi versus Ronaldo matchup that would be riveting for the debate over who the GOAT of soccer is. With Portugal’s rising talent, that dream is not out of the question. 

Dark Horses

Uruguay

Uruguay always seem to be among the dark horses of every World Cup they’ve been a part of in the last decade. This year, they will be relying on a mix of veteran and emerging young players. 

Strengths: Uruguay’s old guard returns with the likes of center forward Luis Suarez — back for his fourth World Cup — and veteran Edison Cavani in attack. But this time around, the two veterans will be aided by new emerging players such as Darwin Nunez and Federico Valverde. 

Weaknesses: Uruguay plays a very direct, high-tempo style of play, meaning that while they will consistently have the ball in dangerous attacking positions, they do not keep possession very much. This could prove to be a huge concern for Uruguay’s defense, who lacks speed and becomes susceptible to counter attacks from strong offenses.

The Celeste have the capability to make a run all the way to the finals of the tournament, but they could just as easily be eliminated early on.

Denmark

Like Uruguay, it feels like Denmark is always a dark horse in any major international tournament. Itreached the semifinals in the 2020 European Championship and nearly defeated England to reach the final. 

Strength: The Danish will have Christian Eriksen back and healthy after his terrifying cardiac arrest during the Euros. What Denmark lacks in superstar talent, they make up for in team chemistry, balance and composure. They have shown time and time again they are able to handle the big moments. Denmark will have a tough matchup in the group stage against France, but as previous matches have shown, they are capable of handling Les Bleus.

Weaknesses: Denmark lacks a player in the attack that they can rely on and base their offensive approach around. As a result, tight games might be an issue for Denmark. They will need someone that can step up as a reliable number nine type of role. 

The Danish Dynamite possesses the talent and chemistry needed for a team looking to make a run in this tournament. After the camaraderie that they showed in saving Eriksen’s life in the Euros, as well as their underdog status, many fans will be rooting for Denmark to make yet another surprising run. 

Croatia

Croatia entered the 2018 World Cup as underdogs and made a run all the way to the finals before falling short against France. In this year’s World Cup, Croatia will once again take the role of dark horse, as they look to make another deep run. 

Strengths: Star veteran midfielder Luka Modric will lead one of the best midfields in the tournament. This year’s team is built on experience and leadership, and many of their players have had excellent seasons coming into the World Cup. 

Weaknesses: Croatia’s main weakness will be its lack of depth and consistency from attacking players. Ivan Perisic will provide plenty of experience and talent down the left hand side. But at the striker position, Croatia might not have enough firepower, which could hold them back from being a contender. 

The Vatreni will face a tough challenge from Belgium in the group stage, which could mean the difference between a run to the semifinals and a loss in the round of 16. Nonetheless, they have plenty of talent, finesse and experience; the hope is that it will be enough to make yet another Cinderella run in the tournament. 

USA

USA finally return to the World Cup after a totally embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago that prevented them from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Many fans believe that this is USA’s “Golden Generation.” It’s also the country’s youngest — just one player on the roster has World Cup experience. Regardless, young stars such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna have been impressive for their European club teams and will be at the helm of this squad.

Strengths: USA has a very attack-heavy mindset, with midfielders and fullbacks flying up the pitch to provide support for attackers. Manager Gregg Berhalter has done a great job of maximizing the talents of players such as Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna, Timothy Weah and his fullbacks, Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson. 

Weaknesses: The USA might have the right players to set up the attack, but there will be concerns about who will be there to convert those chances. Though Pulisic will serve as an effective goal scoring winger down the left side, USA has very few options for the striker position, which could prove to be costly. 

It’s hard to see the Stars and Stripes going past the round of 16, but as long as the young stars can step up under the spotlight, the USA should be able to play at a level that will leave fans optimistic for their future. 

 

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Theo Au-Yeung, Staff Reporter

Theo Au-Yeung is a senior at Burlingame and this is his first year in Journalism. Theo also plays baseball for Burlingame, and in his free time, he enjoys...

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