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  • Writer's pictureRowan Mackey

2022 FIFA World Cup preview

With less than a week until the FIFA World Cup, all eyes have begun to turn to Qatar, which will play host to a unique edition of the biggest spectacle in world sport.

As the teams gather and the participants prepare for the tournament, we thought we would have a look ahead to some of the most exciting stories that could come out of this year’s tournament.

The Top 10 stories to watch for

Can Lionel Messi Finally Win the Elusive Trophy?

Argentina are second favourites to win the World Cup heading into the tournament and their hopes rest on the shoulders of ageing talisman Lionel Messi. Now 35 years old, it is almost certainly Messi’s last World Cup and he will be desperate to cement his legacy as one of the game’s greatest ever players by winning his final major tournament.

Messi has been in brilliant form for Argentina recently, having scored an incredible 9 goals in Argentina’s last 3 games. Despite being against sides that haven’t qualified for the World Cup, it seems that Messi is back to his brilliant best and he’ll be keen to show that he still has what it takes to perform on the world’s biggest stage.

Many fans around the world will be willing Messi to continue his stunning form and deliver Argentina the World Cup that has eluded him so far in his career. Argentina are many people’s sentimental favourite for this year’s World Cup, but will have to overcome injury scares to superstars Paulo Dybala, who picked up a thigh injury playing for Roma at the weekend and Angel Di Maria, who has injured his hamstring.

Messi will be desperate to win the elusive trophy and it would be a fitting swansong to the international career of one of the greatest player’s the game has ever seen.

Can France Win Back-to-Back World Cups Despite Injury and Controversy?

France goes into the World Cup looking to break the trend of reigning World Cup winners failing to progress beyond the group stage.

France (2002), Italy (2010), Spain (2014) and Germany (2018) all failed to make it out of the group stage in the World Cup following their win.

France will have to do this without two of their best midfield players in N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba. Both were pivotal to France’s last World Cup success and leave a huge hole in midfield.

Pundits are unsure as to whether France’s midfield, including Eduardo Camavinga, Youssouf Fofana, Matteo Guendouzi, Adrien Rabiot, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Jordan Veretout will be able to fill the giant hole left by the absences of Pogba and Kanté, who were both instrumental in France’s 2018 World Cup success.

Separate to their injury problems, France’s team have been embroiled in a series of scandals since lifting the World Cup, including serious harassment allegations aimed at the French Football Federation, allegations including extortion and witchcraft involving Paul Pogba, and their most marketable player Kylian Mbappe refusing to take part in activities with sponsors due to a disagreement about image rights.

The French team will be keen to put all the publicity behind them when they face Australia in their first game on Wednesday the 23rd of November, but this year’s French side will be a different side from the team that lifted the trophy in Moscow in 2018.

Can England’s “Golden Generation 2.0” Get the Job Done?

As we think back to the last major international football tournament, Euro 2020, it’s hard not to be reminded of the many England fans getting carried away with their song about “football coming home.”

Unfortunately for them, England fell one step short, losing to Italy in a penalty shootout in the final.

Despite Italy failing to qualify for this tournament, England will be keen to avenge their loss in that final.

Following the England’s women’s team’s success in winning the European Cup, the men’s team will be fired up to add another major trophy to their collection.

England have historically faced intense pressure at World Cups both from their own fans and media and Southgate and his team is no exception. Many English fans and pundits see the current squad, filled with Premier League Superstars, as their best opportunity to win a World Cup since their ‘Golden Generation’ that included players like David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard, etc.

England manager Gareth Southgate has come under plenty of criticism in the 18 months since they lost to Italy at Euro 2020. In recent times, negative sentiment towards Southgate has reached a crescendo, with many calling for Southgate’s resignation.

Critics include high-profile former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who now works for Sky Sports in the UK, who said Southgate should resign after the World Cup due to the “mood having changed” amongst fans and a post-World Cup resignation would allow Southgate to go out on his own terms.

This isn’t perfect preparation for a tournament as big as the World Cup, but England will be keen to turn the tables on the negative publicity by lifting the trophy this year.

Can Graham Arnold Guide the Socceroos Out of Group D?

In a recently released video from Football Australia, Graham Arnold was seen on speaker phone ringing several Socceroos squad members to let them know they had made the squad for Qatar.

In his phone call to midfielder Craig Goodwin, Arnold said “I think Australia overall has just been happy to qualify for a World Cup for the last number of campaigns. And I want more than that.”

Arnold has already turned heads with his decision to leave out goalkeeper Mitch Langerak as well as previously regular Socceroos Trent Sainsbury and Tom Rogic.

If Arnold really does believe that Australia can advance beyond the group stage and he goes on to achieve it, he will likely go down as a celebrated figure in Australian football history.

Australia has only once managed to make it out of the group stage, when Guus Hiddink’s team fell to eventual winner, Italy, after a controversial penalty was awarded against Lucas Neill in the Round of 16.

This current crop of Australian players doesn’t boast the same number of household names as that Australian side, but Arnold will recognise that it’s likely his last chance as Socceroos coach. He’ll be desperate to deliver the success that followers of Australian football have craved.

How will Qatar fair as host? So far, not so well

Controversy has plagued governing body FIFA since the decision was made to award both this World Cup to Qatar and the 2018 World Cup to Russia.

According to the President of Norway’s Football Association Lise Klaveness, This was a tournament “awarded in an unacceptable way, with unacceptable consequences.”

Widespread allegations of corruption linked to the decision to award this World Cup to Qatar even saw the downfall of Sepp Blatter, previously seen as an untouchable figurehead within football administration.

Since the decision was announced in 2010, it has been reported that over 6,500 migrant workers died building the stadiums for this World Cup.

Many of these foreign workers, who had their passports seized on arrival in Qatar, were forced to live in crammed, squalid dormitories and work for very little money.

For these reasons, many sponsors and journalists have decided to boycott this year’s World Cup, which will also likely see a drastically reduced number of international visitors compared to previous editions of the tournament.

In addition to such controversies, those who have already made the journey to Qatar have reported other challenges that may threaten the success of the tournament.

For those who aren’t looking to fork out exorbitant amounts for the limited accommodation that exists in Qatar, fans can stay in the 6,000-cabin fan village.

For around $375AU, you can stay in a rudimentary shipping container which contains either two single beds or one double.

Alcohol is strictly prohibited in Qatar and this extends to the fan accommodation for the World Cup. This means that for those tourists looking to whet their whistle, they will have to go to one of the expensive restaurants and high-end hotels and pay as much as AU$140 for a pint of beer.

Social media has also been awash with a “fake fans” controversy. Some keen observers claim to have seen the same people in fan groups waving flags and singing songs of different nations at different times.

One fan commented “Saw them all dressed as Brazil fans yesterday.”

“I swear they’re paying the workers to be fans at this point I’ve seen them supporting like 7 different countries,” wrote another.

Qatar is likely to face heightened scrutiny for how this World Cup goes, but one would hope that organisers of future tournaments have learned from this shambolic process.

Success or Failure of This World Cup Likely to Be Judged Further Down the Road

The 2022 edition of the World Cup will be unique in many ways. Not least due to the timing of the tournament, which will be played in November/December for the first time.

The implications of this are not likely to become fully apparent for some months. All the world’s major leagues have paused for the World Cup, which could result in some strange results playing out across these leagues as they draw to a close next year.

For example, some teams will have a huge number of players playing for their national sides at the World Cup, whereas others may lose only a few. This means that some of the teams that are currently lower in the table, but don’t have as many players involved in the World Cup will have extra time to train together and potentially further galvanise their squads than those teams whose players are all competing against each other at the World Cup.

It should also be noted that Erling Haaland, seen by some as the most in form player in world football currently, is not going to the World Cup as his home nation Norway did not qualify. Haaland has burst onto the scene since an off-season move to Premier League title holders Manchester City.

Having only arrived relatively recently, Haaland will now have two months to train with manager Pep Guardiola and the rest of the Manchester City squad who are not playing in the World Cup. Haaland has already scored 18 goals in 12 games this season and having extra time to train whilst the World Cup is on will only benefit him, you would think.

All this points to a changed set of circumstances for the leagues around the world as they enter the second half of their seasons. It may be that we see several strange results across the top football leagues if the biggest teams are disproportionately affected by playing in a World Cup that’s being held in the middle of the season for the first time.

Can Germany Bounce Back and Escape the Group of Death?

Germany will be looking to bounce back after missing out on the knockout stages of the tournament in 2018.

Traditionally one of the World Cup’s best performers, it’s unlikely that the Germans will fail so dismally twice in a row.

That being said, they find themselves in what many describe as the Group of Death at this World Cup.

It is their first major tournament without long-time manager Joachim Löw and current manager Hansi Flick will be keen to add his name to the long list of successful managers of German national sides.

They are up against 2010 winners Spain, 2019 AFC Asian Cup finalists Japan and a Costa Rican side led by 3-time Champions League winner Kaylor Navas. It’s likely that the Germans will be back on their game, but they will have to overcome some decent sides to qualify from their group. They’re currently second favourite to win the group behind Spain.

Belgium’s Last Chance

Belgium might be one of the more underrated sides at this World Cup. They are currently ranked 2nd in the FIFA Rankings for national teams and spent most of the last 4 years ranked at number 1 (September 2018 – March 2022).

Belgium have enjoyed their own golden generation in recent years, with players like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and now retired former captain Vincent Kompany all playing major roles in some of the world’s biggest teams in recent years.

Unfortunately for followers of Belgium’s Red Devils, that hasn’t coincided with tournament success.

This might be Belgium’s last chance to win a major trophy for quite some time as their best players are all over 30. De Bruyne (31), Hazard (31), Lukaku (29), Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld (33) and Axel Witsel (33) will all be well north of 30 by the time the next World Cup rolls around.

Some may even argue that the Euro 2020 tournament was Belgium’s last chance for a major tournament victory with this current generation of players, but they will want to frank their form over the last 4 years and win a major trophy before their best players retire.

Can Cristiano Complete His Collection?

As well as Lionel Messi, it is also likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup tournament. Having won the European Cup competition with Portugal in 2016, the World Cup is the last major trophy that is missing from Ronaldo’s already extensive collection.

Beyond just team success, Ronaldo will be looking to add to his individual tally of records. Should he score at this World Cup, Ronaldo will be the first male player to score at 5 separate World Cup tournaments. Having made his debut and scoring with Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, he added to his tally at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 tournaments. Ronaldo already holds the record for the most international goals with 117, but a goal at this World Cup will be testament to his longevity.

Ronaldo has caused controversy in recent days after coming out in an interview with TV anchor Piers Morgan and slamming his current club Manchester United. A World Cup where he can leave the tumult of his club and return to the Portugal team where he’s enjoyed so much success might just be the perfect distraction for Ronaldo who will be looking to prove many of his doubters, including those at Manchester United, wrong.

Enjoy This Format While It Lasts

This will be the last time the World Cup finals are played with a 32-team competition. The 2026 edition will see the competition increased to 48 teams, a move that has seen much criticism from football fans due to a perceived dilution in quality for the teams competing in the world’s premier tournament.

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has even been quoted as saying his preference is to hold a World Cup tournament every two years instead of every four.

Regardless of what is likely to happen with World Cup, it seems that FIFA is agitating for a change in the format despite there being no guarantee that it will improve on what we have now.

For that reason, it’s worth appreciating the World Cup in the form it still exists during this year’s edition of the tournament.

The 10 must-see games...

France vs Australia – Wednesday 23 November 6am AEDT

Australia’s first game and the first game for reigning champions France. All eyes will be on France to see whether they can overcome recent controversies and injuries to their best midfielders, but Australia will be looking to stay close to France so we maintain a healthy goal difference.

Goal difference kept Australia from progressing in the 2010 World Cup and if we are to have any chance of progressing from this group, then we will need to stay within touching distance of France for most of the game. If Australia can scrape a draw in this game, it will greatly improve our chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Belgium vs Canada – Thursday 24 November 6am AEDT

A Pivotal game that is likely to have broad implications within Group F. Croatia, Belgium and Canada will all feel that they have a good chance to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition, but with Croatia likely to beat Morocco, it will be a huge blow for either of these teams to lose this game.

It will be interesting to see how Canada, led by their young starlets will fair against Belgium’s ageing stars.

Tunisia vs Australia – Saturday 26 November 9pm AEDT

Australia’s second game and biggest chance to get a win at this year’s World Cup. If we are somehow able to scrape a draw against France, then the Socceroos will be absolutely fired up to get the win in this game.

Tunisia will also fancy themselves against the Socceroos. They are ranked 30 in FIFA’s World Rankings, 8 spots above Australia who are at 38.

It is likely that both sides are likely to play a slightly more attacking style of this game compared to the games they face Denmark and France, so it is likely to be a game of attacking, entertaining football.

France vs Denmark – Sunday 27 November 3am AEDT

This game is likely to decide Group D at this year’s World Cup. Denmark have beaten France in their two most recent meetings in the Nations League, but the World Cup is a different story.

If Denmark can repeat the form they showed against France in September and June then they will likely top the group, something they have not done at a World Cup since 2002 and it relies on them winning this game. France will have an opportunity to turn the tables on their Nations League defeat and will be keen to make amends for recent results.

Argentina vs Mexico – Sunday 27 November 6am AEDT

Argentina will be many people’s sentimental favourite for the tournament with it likely to be the last major tournament for Lionel Messi, but they will have their work cut out against Mexico.

Argentina are currently ranked 3rd in FIFA’s World Rankings, but Mexico only sit ten spots below them at 13th.

Lionel Messi’s men will feel that they have a good chance to qualify top of their group at the World Cup this year, but they will have pencilled in this game against Mexico as one to watch out for as Mexico are a side that’s worthy of respect.

Spain vs Germany – Monday 28 November 6am AEDT

This could be the best match of the group stages of this year’s tournament.

Both these teams have won the World Cup within the previous three editions of the tournament, and both traditionally find themselves at the pointy end of Euro’s and World Cups.

This game is likely to decide the winner of Group E, so both sides will have earmarked this game as one to look forward to.

Some of the best players in the world play for Spain and Germany, so it’s likely to be a game of the highest quality.

This game wouldn’t be out of place as a Semi-Final or even a Final of a major tournament, so it’s a real treat to find these teams paired together in the group stage.

Portugal vs Uruguay – Tuesday 29 November 6am AEDT

In what is likely to be the match that decides Group H, all eyes will turn to the attackers in these teams to see whether Cristiano Ronaldo and his team can get the job done against Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Co.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez are never far from the headlines at a major tournament like a World Cup, so you can be sure that there will be some fireworks when these teams clash.

Ecuador vs Senegal – Wednesday 30 November 2am AEDT

Despite winning the most recent Asian Cup, Qatar are relative unknowns at this World Cup as it’s their first appearance at the World Cup Finals. For that reason, I think this game between Ecuador and Senegal is likely to decide the second qualification spot in Group A.

Ecuador are slightly favoured to qualify from Group A at $1.80 marginally ahead of Senegal at $1.90, but Senegal have more star players.

Senegal might be without their best player Sadio Mané, but their team also includes Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) Idrissa Guaye (Everton) and Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham) and will fancy themselves against their South American opponents.

Ecuador will see it as a golden opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the second time in their history.

Wales vs England – Wednesday 30 November 6am AEDT

You may have seen Michael Sheen’s rousing speech do the rounds on social media when asked to deliver a speech to the Welsh side before they play England at this year’s World Cup.

Needless to say, the Welsh are fired up to take on their British neighbours and will be looking to cause an upset that will go down in Welsh folklore should they get the job done.

England will feel confident that they can win, but there’s something about games that are as emotionally charged as this one that can throw up strange results.

Within Group B, England (5), USA (16), Wales (19) and Iran (20) are all ranked within 15 places of each other in FIFA’s World Rankings, so they will all feel that they have a chance to qualify.

Gareth Bale and his Welsh teammates will want to capitalise on the extra emotion in the game against England and cause an upset against their highly fancied neighbours.

Denmark vs Australia – Thursday 1 December 2am AEDT

Australia’s third game and one that is likely to be pivotal if the Socceroos are to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.

If Denmark lose to France, and Australia beat Tunisia, we could be level on points with Denmark heading into this game.

Denmark will be confident having beaten Australia at the 2018 World Cup, but stars Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Eriksen are ageing and the Australian team is much different from the team that lost to Denmark four years ago.

My Best Bets for the FIFA World Cup...

Top Goal-Scorer

Harry Kane ($8)

He’s the favourite, but my thinking is that he has less competition for goals than many of his major opponents for this award. Kane is England’s primary target up front and the way England play will likely favour Kane’s strengths.

Neymar is likely to split goals with teammates Richarlison/Jesus and Mbappe and Benzema are both just likely to score for France as each other. Lionel Messi is the main danger in my view, but he’s 35 now and has traditionally played a slightly higher role for Argentina than he does at club level.

Harry Kane also scores more ‘tap-in’ goals than Messi.

Lautaro Martinez ($34 value)

It’s hard to find much value in this award with the favourites likely to run away with it, but Lautaro Martinez might be the one.

He’s Argentina’s central striker and will have players like Lionel Messi and if they are fit Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria feeding him assists.

Martinez has been in decent form for his club side Inter Milan this season and sits equal second on the goal-scoring table for Serie A with 7 goals, one behind leader Victor Osimhen.

At $34 and with Argentina likely to go a long way into the tournament, Martinez looks over the odds.

My Outright Winner

Best: Brazil ($5)

Brazil are traditionally one of the better performers in World Cup competitions and the current Brazilian squad have the talent to win this year’s tournament as well.

Led by Neymar, who at 30 years old is now entering the twilight of his career, Brazil have largely rejuvenated their squad from the team that lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup.

Brazil lost to Argentina in the 2021 Copa America Final, their most recent major competition, but with injuries to Argentinian stars Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria, Brazil will be looking to capitalise on a clean bill of health and go one better at this year’s tournament.

Value: Belgium ($17)

At $17 Belgium look the value after their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. Their price is likely affected by their failure at the Euro 2020 tournament, but this will be the last chance to win a tournament for some of the best players that Belgium has produced, so they will be keen to perform well.

Belgium finds themselves in a tricky group against 2018 finalists Croatia, Canada, who are led by emerging 22-year old superstars Alphonso Davies and Jonathon David and Morocco, who are ranked 22nd in the world and whose squad includes 20 players from top European Leagues.

Despite this, Belgium are heavy favourites to win their group ($1.53) and if they do then their odds to win the tournament are likely to shorten significantly.

Other Best Bets

Multi – Argentina, Brazil, England and Netherlands all to win their group - $3.67

In some ways this is a big risk because you’re betting on there to be no surprises and the World Cup usually throws up a surprise or two, but all these teams should win their group fairly easily.

Group A Forecast – First: Netherlands, Second: Senegal $3.50

Senegal will be nervously waiting on an injury update on their best player, Sadio Mané, who limped off for Bayern Munich at the weekend. However, they have still selected him in their 26-man squad.

Netherlands are likely to win group A and Senegal have a great opportunity to get second against Qatar and Ecuador.

Ecuador have struggled against Asian competition in recent games, with 0 – 0 draws in their 3 most recent games against Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. With Qatar the most recent Asian Champions, this doesn’t bode well for Ecuador.

Qatar have also struggled in recent times, losing their last two games including a 2 – 0 defeat to Croatia’s Under-23 team in their most recent game and despite being at home in this World Cup, they haven’t been to the World Cup finals before in their history.

Even if Sadio Mané isn’t able to play for Senegal, they have top players Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) Idrissa Guaye (Everton) and Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham) who can all step up to fill the void left by Mané.

They should be able to get second in this group.

Denmark to Win Group D $3.75

Denmark have beaten major opponents for the group France in the last 2 games they’ve played. They won 2 – 0 on the 26th of September and 2 – 1 on the 4th of June this year.

France have their fair share of injury issues with both Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté missing from this year’s world cup.

France will also have to overcome the trend of recent World Cup winners failing to make it out of their group and Denmark have a winnable first game against Tunisia, so they’re likely to be ahead of the ledger when they play France in their second game.

It’s hard to find much value in the group betting, so $3.75 looks over the odds for Denmark to win the group against a France side they have beaten twice this year.

Enjoy the football World Cup!

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