One last chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kylian Mbappé back on the biggest stage of all. Brazil vying for a record sixth title. One of the most anticipated World Cups in memory – as much for reasons off the pitch as for those on it – is fast approaching in Qatar and excitement is building after the end of the qualifying period . (More football news)
Thirty-two teams, 64 games, 28 days. The first World Cup in the Middle East. The tournament begins on November 21 and the final is set for December 18. Here are some things to look out for when the tournament takes place in the smallest country to host a World Cup:
Brazil (n°1 in the FIFA rankings): Neymar, Vinícius Júnior and the rest of the flair-filled Selecao peak at the right time. Is a first world champion title since 2002 on the horizon?
Belgium (n°2): The “Golden Generation” is breaking up little by little but Kevin De Bruyne remains at the head of the Belgian charge.
Argentina (#3): No world champion title since the days of the great Diego Maradona. It will be the first World Cup since his death in November 2020 and Argentina are improving, with Messi still at heart.
France (#4): The defending champions. Still the country with the most depth in their squad. Now with Mbappé and Karim Benzema leading the attack. No team has retained its World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
England (#5): Semi-finalist in the World Cup in 2018, finalist in the European Championship in 2021. The worst performing national football team is moving in the right direction.
Lionel Messi (Argentina): The seven-time World Player of the Year might have saved his 35-year-old legs for one final push towards a World Cup-winning medal that many believe would solidify him as football’s greatest ever player.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): He won the European Championship, but the top scorer in men’s international football has not played in a World Cup final, let alone won one. He’s 37 now, enjoy it while you can.
Kylian Mbappe (France): The star of the last World Cup at 19 and he’s only getting better. The speedy striker could match Brazilian great Pelé in being champion in his first two World Cups.
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium): Widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, his drive-thru runs are some of the best sights in football. Belgium can only hope that he arrives in good health.
Neymar (Brazil): Increasingly overshadowed by Mbappé and Messi at Paris Saint-Germain, still Brazil’s main man. Beware of tips and tricks, as well as some histrionics.
HOW IT WORKS
Get ready for a football feast. There are eight groups of four teams, with the top two qualifying for the 16-team knockout stage. There will be four consecutive matches per day – yes, four! — for each of the first two series of group matches, then simultaneous kick-offs for the last two matches of each group.
There will be no break for the knockout stage, which begins the day after the group stage ends. The first day without football will be on December 7, the 17th day of competition.
GAMES TO SEE
Senegal vs Netherlands (November 21): The first match of the tournament and always a date to remember on the calendar. With Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk on the pitch, it’s also interesting.
Argentina vs Mexico (November 26): The first of the big continental rivalries in the group stage, with Messi potentially sealing his and Argentina’s place in the last 16.
Spain vs Germany (November 27): Surely there haven’t been many more important group stage matches than this at a World Cup? Two recent champions, two giants of European and world football.
Iran vs USA (November 29): It was labeled as “The Mother of All Games Part II”. Just like in the World Cup in 1998, the two countries will meet in the group stage in a politically charged game. Diplomatic relations have yet to be restored between the nations since they were severed in 1980.
Ghana v Uruguay (December 2): Does anyone remember the night of July 2, 2010? In the last minute of extra time in a World Cup quarter-final match between Uruguay and Ghana, Luis Suarez deliberately stopped the ball with his hand on the goal line, was sent off, only for that Ghana miss the penalty and lose in a shootout as Suarez celebrated on the sidelines. Revenge would be sweet for Ghana.
UPCOMING FRIENDLY MATCHES
With this World Cup taking place in the middle of many countries’ domestic seasons, there won’t be the usual build-up of friendlies before the tournament. Indeed, for European countries, the Nations League qualifiers which will take place from September 22 to 27 will represent the last games of the teams before the World Cup.
Highlights include Italy v England (September 23), Netherlands v Belgium (September 25), England v Germany (September 26) and Portugal v Spain (September 27). ). The United States will face Japan on September 23 and Saudi Arabia on September 27, with both friendlies taking place in Europe.