World Cup season is here— but who is going to be crowned the King of the World this time around? as the tournament kicks off in Qatar, Football is often described as a sport with a strict hierarchy, and that concept can be explicitly seen at the FIFA World Cup. After 21 editions, only eight nations from two continents have ever won it; those teams being Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, France, Uruguay, England and Spain. It takes a lot to win the World Cup; each nation that has won it usually has a large population, a huge fan culture and a powerful domestic league. Thus meaning that the World Cup hegemony will always be hard to break. That is not to say that new teams haven’t tried, recently, teams like the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and even Turkey have made it as far as the semifinals or the final add adjective. Croatia even made it to the last World Cup Final in 2018. Then historically, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Chile have all flirted with success.However, all these teams at some stage before they could reach glory. In fact, the last time a new team won was Spain in 2010 and that was hardly a surprise given that Spain were perennial underachievers until the late 2000s when they finally fulfilled their potential. So, heading into Qatar 2022 and with a lot of the big teams in shaky form, is it possible for a new team to finally win the World Cup? Let’s take a look at the most possible contenders this time around.
Pele once said that an African nation will win the World Cup before the year 2000. Well, it’s 2022 and an African team hasn’t even made the semifinals, which just goes to show the strength of Europe and South America. However, if an African team were to win in 2022, it would no doubt be Senegal’s. The reigning African Cup of Nations Champions, Senegal have a solid squad headlined by truly world-class players like Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy. Even more importantly, Senegal is built upon a strong team collective which is what brought them so much success in recent years. There are some drawbacks though, Senegal has injury problems with their starting fullbacks, not to mention that Mane himself picked up a knock, though he looks like he will still feature. Koulibaly and Mendy aren’t in the best form either. Senegal are in a really tough group so the odds are against them, but Senegal has surprised before at the World Cup; in particular, the run to the quarter-finals in 2002.
Out of all the teams to never win the World Cup, the Netherlands have been the closest, making the World Cup Final on three separate occasions, losing all three times, most recently in 2010. Besides making the final, the Netherlands have gone far numerous times but still have nothing to show for it. But after surprisingly missing the 2018 World Cup, the Netherlands are back in 2022 and are serious contenders. The strongest part of this team is the defense, boasting center-backs like Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake and Daley Blind. It’s so strong that Stefan de Vrij and Matthijs de Ligt are relegated to the bench. This defense is also backed up by a creative midfield and while the attack is a bit lacking in comparison, it’s still nothing to glance over. Recent form also favors the Dutch as they are unbeaten in their last 15 games. If they top their group, their path to the final gets extremely hard with likely matchups against Brazil and Argentina, the two favorites. If not for that fact, I would’ve said the Netherlands are the strongest candidate to win their first World Cup.
The meteoric rise of the Danish National Team is one that should not be overlooked. Denmark had a respectable Round of 16 exit four years ago but they really made their mark with their magical run to the semifinals at Euro 2020. And since the Euros, they’ve gotten even better with the return of Christian Eriksen. Similar to Senegal, there are talented individuals in this team such as Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Mikkel Damsgaard, but what makes Denmark so good, is the powerful team collective. However, Denmark also plays with an energetic, dynamic and thrilling style of play which has scalped many big teams as of late. For example, the Danes convincingly beat the reigning champions, France, twice this year. Denmark’s problem is that their squad is not particularly deep though and one feels that a major injury or bad run of form could derail the whole team. Still, if Denmark top their group, they have a reasonable path to the semifinals. This would require Denmark getting the better of France a third time though—in the group stage. It would be crazy to see Denmark actually win the World Cup but it’s not completely unrealistic given their shock victory at Euro 1992. Hopefully, Philadelphia Union’s own Mikael Uhre gets a call-up.
If there was one team that was to break the World Cup hegemony in 2018, it should’ve been Belgium, it almost seemed written in the stars. The Belgians were in the midst of a golden generation with most of their players hitting their peak around that time. Unfortunately for them, they fell short. While they did win bronze, they can’t help but feel they could’ve done more. Since the 2018 World Cup, this team has started to decline. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen who were the spine of this Belgian defense and at one point two of the best defenders in the world, are now on the wrong side of 30 and not playing at a top level anymore. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard, who was once a top-five best player in the world, is now lucky to play a single game for Real Madrid after he has been ravaged by injury. It almost seems that the time for Belgium has passed. That being said, they still possess some of the absolute best players in the world in Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku as well as some new talent like Charles De Ketelaere. If these players have a tournament to remember, Belgium’s fading golden generation could go out with a bang.
Four years ago, the small nation of Croatia came painstakingly close to an unprecedented World Cup victory, losing only to France in the final. In fact, I would argue they actually were the better team in that match but were simply unlucky. Can they go a step further in 2022? Well, it certainly would be much tougher. Many of the veterans who dragged Croatia to the final in 2018 are no longer there with many of them retiring. Even the ones who stayed such as Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Domagoj Vida are visibly older, albeit, still very talented. On the other hand, Croatia has recently seen several current players reach their prime as well as a few new names in the fray meaning they will remain a very strong team. However, these replacements do not match the quality of those who left in 2018 like Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Danijel Subasic. But who knows? Maybe lightning will strike twice.
For nearly the last 16 years, Portugal was a team that could be described as Cristiano Ronaldo and ten others. All success would be found through Ronaldo. And truthfully, this wasn’t the absolute worst system given that Ronaldo is easily the best player of his generation alongside Lionel Messi. And with Portugal’s astonishing Euro 2016 win, it did produce a trophy. Nowadays, this is no longer the case. Whether it be Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo at the back, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes in the midfield or Rafael Leao and Joao Felix up top, Portugal actually have a team to support Ronaldo. Judging solely by player quality, Portugal are right up there with Brazil, Argentina and France in terms of the best squad of the tournament. What ultimately holds them back, is their manager, Fernando Santos. Portugal owes a lot to Santos as he led them to their only two trophies in the nation’s history. However, it must be said that this squad filled with world-class attacking talent has moved past Santos’ pragmatic and defensive style. Although recently, Santos’ hand has been forced and he did switch things up a bit. You also can’t forget that deep World Cup campaigns are often led by heavy emotion and players hitting form at the right time, regardless of tactics. When Portugal won Euro 2016, it certainly wasn’t pretty, as they continuously hobbled over the finish line in each match. This goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to play the best football to win a tournament. And while he’s much older and not having the best time at Manchester United, you still can’t look past Ronaldo and his ability to win games on his own accord. While Portugal definitely has many obstacles in their way, they are still, in my opinion, the most likely of any nation to win their first World Cup at Qatar 2022.
When it comes to the most likely winners of the 2022 World Cup, most people are saying Argentina or Brazil given their incredibly talented squads and current winning streaks. Despite their wobbly form, the defending champions, France, are right on their tails as well as other European giants like England, Spain and Germany. But is there any room for a new nation to finally win the World Cup and spoil the party of the elite? While maybe not probable, it is definitely possible and within a World Cup that is already unique in many regards, the future is wide open.