Will the World Cup in Qatar deliver back-to-back wins for France, a record sixth title for Brazil, a perfect send-off for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, or none of the above? FRANCE 24 takes a look at five favorites to win football’s top trophy in Qatar – and the outsiders who could spring a surprise.
The FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday, November 20, with defending champions France hoping to become the first team to win back-to-back tournaments since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
While ‘Les Bleus’ rank among the tournament’s hot favourites, they will be well aware that recent World Cup history has been unkind to the title holders.
Here’s a look at the squads with the best chance of going all the way, from the in-form teams to the World Cup stalwarts you can never write off.France: title holders weakened by injuries
Four years after their triumph in Moscow, France go to the World Cup as the defending champions and the bookmakers’ second favorites after Brazil. Les Bleus, who also claimed the Nations League title last year, are blessed with an abundance of talent. Their main asset is undoubtedly the front line, with the formidable duo of Kylian Mbappé and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema leading the attack, supported by the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and reliable veteran Olivier Giroud.
Elsewhere, injuries have wreaked havoc on the title holders, knocking out talismanic midfield duo N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. In defence, Presnel Kimpembe is another late departure while Raphaël Varane’s fitness remains a concern. Off the pitch, France’s tournament build-up has also been rocked by a bizarre scandal involving allegations that Pogba hired a witch doctor to “curse” Mbappé. Les Bleus have struggled this season to bounce back from 2018, winning just one of their last six competitive games. They will be wary of another statistic: since 1998, five of the last six reigning champions have been knocked out in the group stage.
>> A family feud, blackmail and a witch doctor – what is the ‘Paul Pogba affair’?Brazil: the eternal favourites
Brazil have won more World Cup titles than any other nation and are tipped by many to build on that lead in Qatar. The five-time champions currently top the FIFA rankings and can count on a fearsome attack against France. Star striker Neymar has been in scintillating form for Paris Saint-Germain so far this season, scoring 15 goals in 19 games and setting up a further 12. He will be backed up by Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus.
Veteran coach Tite can also count on the tournament’s most experienced defence, supported by World Cup stalwarts Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Dani Alves. At 38, captain Silva will have his last chance to win a World Cup, eight years after the Selecao fell to a humiliating 7-1 home defeat at the hands of Germany.
Argentina: Messi’s last shot at glory
Paulo Dybala, Angel Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez, Cristian Romero and, of course, Lionel Messi… Argentina go to Qatar with an impressive list of football stars and arguably their most balanced squad in years. Led by coach Lionel Scaloni, the previously erratic Albiceleste have transformed into a relentless winning machine, going 35 games without defeat – just two games short of Italy’s all-time record.
Argentina is also the only team to have recently defeated another World Cup favourite, who prevailed over Brazil in the 2021 Copa America final. That win ended Argentina’s 28-year wait for a continental trophy. After finally winning a title with the national team, Messi now has one last chance to win the one trophy that still eludes him: the World Cup.Portugal: new generation steps up as Ronaldo’s star fades
Another football giant, another farewell tournament. Like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo will play in his very last World Cup in Qatar. More than his Argentine rival, however, Portugal’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner has seen his star fade over the past year, marred by a lack of games at Manchester United and an increasingly open feud with the club’s managers.
Fortunately for the Euro 2016 champions, coach Fernando Santos has enough talent at his disposal to compensate for the 37-year-old superstar’s decline. With the likes of Joao Cancelo, Danilo Pereira, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Nuno Mendes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao, the Portuguese have world-class options in every department. With other players finally free to step out of Ronaldo’s shadow, it may turn out that the fading of Portugal’s greatest footballer is still a blessing in disguise.Germany: ignore at your own risk
The last time Germany entered a World Cup as underdogs, after a 5-1 drubbing by England in Munich, the untrained “Mannschaft” battled all the way to the final. That was 20 years ago, but then as now, Germany simply cannot be written off.
For the first time since World War II, Germany have failed to reach the quarter-finals of the last two major tournaments, slumping to an ignominious first-round exit as title holders in 2018. Four years on from that fiasco, incoming coach Hansi Flick has concocted an exciting mix of seasoned players and raw talent to bring to Qatar. The former include Mario Gotze, Manuel Neuer and the tireless Thomas Muller – all three veterans of Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph. At the other end of the age spectrum, Dortmund’s 17-year-old wonder woman Youssoufa Moukoko will provide plenty of pace up front, as will Bayern Munich’s 19-year-old Jamal Musiala.
German football coaches are trying to play down expectations and have their sights set on a place in the semi-finals – hoping the team will go one step further when they host the Euro 2024 tournament in 18 months’ time.
England: While Germany rarely fail to deliver, England rank among the chronic underachievers when it comes to major tournaments, although their last two outings stand out as exceptions. The Three Lions reached an unexpected semi-final in 2018 and went on to lose the European Championship final three years later. Since then, young forwards Phil Foden and Mason Mount have matured further, bolstering an attack that includes World Cup veteran Raheem Sterling and 2018 Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. England have famously not won a major title since 1966 and manager Gareth Southgate will be under pressure to ditch his defensive tactics as he tries to end the nation’s long wait for a World Cup.
Senegal: Fresh from their Africa Cup of Nations triumph earlier this year, the Lions of Teranga hope to break the ‘glass ceiling’ that has so far prevented African teams from getting past the quarter-finals of a World Cup. On paper, star players Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Coulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane have what it takes to do just that. However, Senegal’s chances were dealt a major blow with Mane’s injury just weeks before the tournament. The Bayern Munich striker has been included in the squad, although he is unlikely to be fit before the knockout stage.11:54 EYE ON AFRICA © FRANCE 24
Spain: Euro semi-finalists last year, Spain ranks among the most promising teams in the tournament, full of new talent. The last of the generation that won the World Cup in 2010 have faltered, but Roja still sticks to his game plan: to control the ball and play with flourish in the opponent’s half. Luis Enrique’s youthful squad has few stars but can count on a formidable collective anchored by Barcelona’s midfield duo Pedri and Gavi – the last two winners of the Kopa Trophy for the best under-21 player.
Uruguay: The Celeste’s all-time top scorers, veteran strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will participate in their fourth World Cup and guide a new generation of talented young players, including the likes of Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez. Uruguay, who last won this tournament in 1950, are a long shot to win a third title in Qatar. But the nation of just three million has a long history of punching above its weight when it comes to soccer.