With just four weeks to go before the start of the World Cup, here are five storylines to watch for before the tournament kicks off in Qatar.
As we count down to the start of the World Cup, questions continue to swirl over that kind of tournament it will be and which nations will emerge as contenders for the title.
The World Cup, held during the winter for the first time in history, will kick off in Doha on Nov. 20 when host nation Qatar squares off against Ecuador. The Arab nation will make history by becoming the first Middle Eastern country to host the quadrennial event.
But there’s plenty more history that will happen once the 32-nation competition gets up and running. There are plenty of storylines to satisfy fans in the days ahead of the World Cup and throughout it.
Superstars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will again see the spotlight placed firmly on them. Perennial contenders such as Brazil, a five-time World Cup winner, and France, the defending World Cup champions, enter the tournament as favorites.
Below are five storylines to watch for as the countdown toward Qatar 2022 continues.
5. Lionel Messi looking to win his first World Cup
Argentina has not won a World Cup since the legendary Diego Maradona led them to victory in 1986. Since then, the Albiceleste have fallen short. Lionel Messi, the best player to emerge out of Argentina since Maradona, continues to live in his shadow. Some consider Messi the GOAT, but others have argued that he needs to win a World Cup in order to have that title.
This Argentina side is riding a wave of success heading into Qatar. They are on a 35-game unbeaten streak and won the Copa America in 2021. Messi named Brazil and France as the biggest World Cup favorites, but many will add Argentina to that list. For Messi, this World Cup could be his last chance to give Argentina ultimate glory.
4. Mexico once again target the quarterfinals
Mexico has had a tough go of it the past two years under manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino. The Mexican public would love to see El Tri go on a deep run, but history could get in the way. Mexico has reached the round of 16 since the 1994 World Cup and for the last seven tournaments have failed to reach the quarterfinals.
The last time Mexico achieved reached that “fifth game” was when they hosted the World Cup in 1986. Some think Mexico is cursed. Mexico will not only have to overcome roster and tactical issues, but they could see history work against them.
3. Hosts Qatar want to make history on the field
Qatar will make history as the host nation, but what takes place on the field is another matter. Placed in Group A with Senegal, Ecuador and the Netherlands, Qatar will be trying to finish at least second in order to gain a berth to the knockout stage.
Only one host nation (South Africa in 2010) has ever failed to advance past the first round. Qatar does face other challenges. They are not a traditional soccer power and have spent nearly a decade trying to develop talent. Nonetheless, the home crowd could go a long way in helping them.
2. France look to buck history and stave off early elimination
Once again, history is a guide regarding what could happen in Qatar. The last three defending champions (Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018) were dumped out of the tournament in the group stage.
Indeed, a four-year gap between tournaments isn’t always good for national teams. France is among one of the favorites, but they do face some issues. Midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are both injured and won’t make the plane to Qatar. Star striker Kylian Mbappe was the budding star back at the 2018 tournament. This time, Les Blues will be looking to him to lead the way.
1. The USMNT’s mixed outlook on reaching the knockout stage
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, the United States has rebuilt its roster under coach Gregg Berhalter. The USMNT will have the youngest roster at the tournament and there are some pluses and minuses that go with that.
The United States are in Group B with Wales, England and Iran. While Wales and Iran are beatable, the match against England will be a tough one. The United States has, at past World Cup, found a way to advance out of the group. Striker Christian Pulisic is a very good player, but questions about who will start in goal and the defense could ultimately lead them to sputter.
The soccer calendar is a very busy one this month. The Champions League group stage is winding down, while the MLS Cup Playoffs are in full swing. Both will end before the World Cup starts. Europe’s domestic leagues, meanwhile, will take a hiatus during the World Cup. Between now and then, expect these storylines to be debated ahead of Qatar 2022’s start.