With the clock ticking down to 100 days before the start of the World Cup, here are five things to ponder as we await the opening kick in Qatar.
The World Cup is just 100 days away! As the first-ever winter World Cup and the first held in an Arab nation nears, the excitement around the tournament continued to grow.
The start date is scheduled for Nov. 21, but organizers have requested changes that would make the World Cup start a day earlier so the host nation can have a featured place in the opening game.
FIFA has yet to make a final decision. In the meantime, the days tick away. As the tournament gets closer, speculation grows as to who can lift the trophy, what dark horses to watch for and what teams will fall flat.
It will also be interesting to see whether players like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo can shine, two of the world’s best playing in what will arguably be their final World Cup.
Here are five things to watch for heading into the final 100 days.
Who are the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup?
Since the World Cup isn’t being played on European soil and given the Middle Eastern climate, Brazil and Argentina are the big favorites to win the World Cup. The South American rivals are also favorites because of their stacked rosters and winning traditions.
France, the defending World Cup champions, are looking to repeat. It isn’t easy given that the last team to do so was Brazil, winners of back-to-back tournaments in 1958 and ’62. No team has done it since.
Who are the dark horses going into the tournament?
Portugal, Germany and Denmark lead the list of dark horses. Portugal is led by Ronaldo, while the Danes, fresh off a dazzling 2021 European Championship, have shown that they have some surprises up their sleeves.
Germany, meanwhile, are rarely seen as a dark horse and are typically listed among the favorites. But the Germans have had to rebuild over the last few years, but never count them out from going deep at any World Cup.
Who are the pretenders?
The host nation, Qatar, has little soccer pedigree and has been inconsistent in recent years. Yes, they will have the home support behind them but little else. They could very well fail to become only the second host country, after South Africa in 2010, to not advance past the group stage.
Belgium and England are the other two. Belgium’s Golden Generation has gotten that much older. England, meanwhile, have found ways to play poorly at the highest level since winning their only World Cup in 1966.
What about the USMNT’s chances?
The United States, back at the World Cup after missing out on Russia in 2018, have a young team. The aim for them is to get out of the group stage. It is certainly something that’s a possibility.
The USMNT are in Group B along with Wales, England and Iran. The team’s second match, on Nov. 25 (the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday) against England, will be the biggest game of the group. It is also among the five matches you can’t miss at the upcoming tournament.
Who will win the Golden Boot as tournament top scorer?
Three players quickly come to mind: Neymar, Messi and Karim Benzema. Teammates at Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar and Messi are in top form at the moment. Both are expected to lead Brazil and Argentina, respectively, to the knockout round.
France’s Benzema had a terrific club season with Real Madrid, leading the Spanish club to the Champions League title. He also finished the tournament as top scorer with 15 goals. If Benzema keep up with that form, he will zoom to the top of the goals list come World Cup time.