It doesn’t seem like two minutes since a 19-year-old wonderkid named Kylian Mbappé blasted home in France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia in 2018. But here we are, four years later, with football’s first-ever winter World Cup just around the corner.
Qatar will play host to one of the planet’s top sports events. As the group stage gets underway on November 21st, we take the opportunity to look at four teams who could win this year’s trophy.
France enters this year’s tournament as the defending champions. No one can deny that Les Bleus were worthy winners four years ago, defeating Croatia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Argentina en route to lifting their second FIFA World Cup.
The French disappointed last summer, however. At Euro 2020, they were undefeated in topping Group F – a group which contained both Germany and Portugal nonetheless. That was as good as it would get though, losing out on penalties to Switzerland in Bucharest with superstar Mbappé missing the decisive spot-kick.
Both France and Mbappe bounced back impressively just three months later. They defeated Spain 2-1 to lift the UEFA Nations League in the San Siro, with PSG’s number 7 bagging the all-important winner. That win should set the reigning world champions up nicely to defend their crown in Qatar.
Italy is flying high. They always seem to show up when it matters the most, just as they did last summer en route to Euro 2020 glory. Not many pundits fancied the Italians to lift the European Championship, but after Gianluigi Donnarumma’s heroics at Wembley, they did exactly that.
Since that wonderful July evening, things haven’t gone according to plan for Roberto Mancini’s men. They finished behind Switzerland in their qualifying group meaning that they will once again have to fight their way through the lottery of the playoffs.
Four years ago, they also had to navigate their way through the playoffs. They couldn’t manage it though, losing out to four-time semi-finalists Sweden. 2018 was the first time in sixty years that the Azzurri didn’t attend football’s biggest party. This time around, they will have to defeat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal if they want to be on the plane to Qatar.
It seems that all England knows is heartbreak. They were defeated by Croatia at the semifinal stage four years ago. They were also defeated by aforementioned Italy in the final of Euro 2020 last year – in their home stadium nonetheless.
But hope is on the horizon. England’s new crop of stars – containing names such as Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, and Bukayo Saka – are led by captain Harry Kane, arguably one of the best strikers in the world today. 2018 and 2020 may have been a touch too soon for the Three Lions, but as this year’s world cup comes around, it may be the perfect time for their coming-out party.
After semi-final and final defeats, surely the next step is a final victory and the crowning moment of Gareth Southgate’s impressive reign as manager.
Brazil has also suffered its fair share of pain in recent years. Not only are they still reeling from their humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on home soil eight years ago, they too experienced defeat in a major tournament last summer. They lost to bitter rivals Argentina at the Maracana in the Copa América final, giving Lionel Messi his first-ever international honor in the process.
It seems that the Seleção are always considered as favorites in major tournaments. Four years ago, a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium shocked the South Americans, winning 2-1 at the quarter-final stage. That defeat was the third time in the last four World Cups that they had exited at the last eight. But can Neymar – perhaps his final showpiece at the peak of his powers, he’ll be 34 by the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around – lead his country to glory?