With the World Cup kicking off later this week, we’re sizing up the field. Taking squad lists, player fitness, and other intangibles into the equation, here’s how we think all 32 teams stack up heading into the competition.
1. Brazil ??
The most balanced team in the tournament. Brazil heads to Qatar eyeing a record-extending sixth World Cup title. Thanks to an ideal blend of obscene attacking talent – headlined, as always, by Neymar – and stout defensive structure, the Selecao are favored to capture the trophy for the first time in 20 years. By Brazilian standards, that’s an eternity.
2. Argentina ??
Argentina is whole again. Emerging from the ashes of Lionel Messi’s semi-international retirement in 2016, La Albiceleste enter the World Cup on a 35-match unbeaten run. Crucially, Messi has returned to form and seems to relish his role as captain. The scrappy ensemble by his side will do everything it can to crown his legendary career with success in Qatar.
3. Spain ??
Spain could’ve won Euro 2020. La Roja outplayed Italy in the semifinals, and while they ultimately lost on penalty kicks, they showed the world they had returned as a formidable force. Head coach Luis Enrique continues to favor youth over experience, and with the likes of Pedri and Gavi playing beyond their years, it’s easy to understand why.
4. France ??
The reigning champion looks vulnerable. Several key injuries have hit Didier Deschamps’ squad. Witch doctors may, or may not, be conspiring against star forward Kylian Mbappe. There have been disputes between players and the federation over image rights. And yet, despite all the drama, France is rife with more pure talent than anyone. It’s hard to overlook that.
5. Belgium ??
Belgium’s vaunted “Golden Generation” has one final chance. This is it. Unfortunately, two key members of that core, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, are either out of form or injured, while the rest of the aging team has weaknesses to be exploited. But with majestic midfielder Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings, anything is possible for the Red Devils.
6. Germany ??
Can Germany rediscover its status as a “tournament team” that always comes through in the clutch? Or will we see a repeat of the humbling group-stage exit from four years ago? The reality is likely somewhere in the middle. That’s where Hansi Flick’s side is stuck right now; not in the upper echelon of true contenders but too good to be content with anything but a title. It’s created an odd dynamic for a team yet to show consistency under Flick.
7. Portugal ??
Head coach Fernando Santos is the only reason Portugal isn’t in the top five. Portugal is stacked with talent in every position, particularly in attack, but Santos’ risk-averse approach continues to shackle the country’s most creative players. While Cristiano Ronaldo remains Portugal’s talisman, Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leao, and Bruno Fernandes make up a compelling supporting cast.
8. England ?gbeng
England has struggled to recapture the spirit it rode to the Euro 2020 final. Winless in their last six matches, the Three Lions look as disjointed as they ever have under the supervision of Gareth Southgate. The team he selected isn’t even the best one available to him: With Ben Chilwell and Reece James out injured, Harry Maguire somehow displacing Fikayo Tomori, and Ivan Toney’s scoring form overlooked, England has plenty of doubters to prove wrong.
9. Denmark ??
The Danes are looking to build on their inspiring run to the semifinals at Euro 2020. What Kasper Hjulmand’s malleable team lacks in outright star power, it makes up for with unity and cohesion. Denmark, more than most, is a “team” in the truest sense of the word, and, led by the playmaking ability of Christian Eriksen, is capable of making a very deep run.
10. Netherlands ??
Abandoning the classic 4-3-3 formation may be sacrilege in the Netherlands, but headstrong manager Louis van Gaal has been vindicated by recent results and believes strongly that his 5-3-2 system gives the Dutch their best chance of finally – mercifully – ending their World Cup drought. Frenkie de Jong and Cody Gakpo, in particular, should thrive in Qatar.
11. Senegal ??
Will Senegal become the first African nation to reach the semifinals of a World Cup? More importantly, will Sadio Mane play at all? The 30-year-old suffered a leg injury last week that’s expected to rule him out of Senegal’s Group A matches against The Netherlands, Qatar, and Ecuador. But the Lions of Teranga are reigning AFCON champions and have leaders in goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and center-back Kalidou Koulibaly.
12. Uruguay ??
It’s a new era for Uruguay. Sort of. Oscar Tabarez won’t be on the bench this time around. But his replacement, Diego Alonso, is relying on several war horses that served his predecessor so well for years. Still led by the likes of Diego Godin, Luis Suarez, and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay has six players aged 35 or older in its World Cup squad. Fede Valverde leads the next generation, but the old guard has one last foray.
13. Croatia ??
Croatia is hoping a revamped defense and the unrelenting skills of iconic captain Luka Modric will help the team go one step further than it managed four years ago. The 2018 World Cup finalist has one of the best midfield cores in Qatar, with Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic providing the foundation from which everything else stems for manager Zlatko Dalic.
14. Switzerland ??
Switzerland is looking to shake its longstanding reputation as a solid, yet unspectacular team. The Swiss have pulled off some memorable victories in recent years but have never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at a major tournament. They’ve never had this high-flying version of Granit Xhaka either, though. The revitalized midfielder will look to carry over his Arsenal form.
15. Serbia ??
Serbia’s looking to reach the round of 16 for the first time since the 1998 World Cup. It certainly has the tools to do so. With Sergej Milinkovic-Savic patrolling midfield, Filip Kostic causing chaos on the flank, and Dusan Vlahovic running at defenders, Serbia can outmuscle and outscore the opposition.
16. Poland ??
Will someone step up to help Robert Lewandowski? Poland’s talisman has often been left to fend for himself up front, carrying his country with little help from his teammates. The Poles have several talented supporting actors at this tournament, though, with exciting attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski, in particular, capable of making a big impact.
17. Canada ??
Canada’s men’s national team finished in first place in CONCACAF, beating both Mexico and the United States in a historic qualifying campaign predicated on teamwork and individual sacrifice. Alphonso Davies is the star of this ensemble but far from the only bright light. Keep an eye on Lille’s Jonathan David, who enters the tournament as one of Ligue 1’s top scorers. Shifty Club Brugge winger Tajon Buchanan is another standout.
18. United States ??
Gregg Berhalter has at his disposal the most exciting array of players ever assembled by the United States heading into the World Cup. But does he know how to properly use his young, exuberant roster? That’s been a source of frustration throughout his tenure. The jury is still out. There have been too many abject performances for such a skilled group. The World Cup is the perfect place to flip that script.
19. Mexico ??
Mexico arrives in Qatar in disarray. Gerardo “Tata” Martino is under enormous scrutiny, fans are openly calling for his dismissal during matches, and injuries are a big concern, especially up front. El Tri, desperate to break their streak of last-16 eliminations, head to the World Cup in suboptimal condition. Perhaps the lowered expectations will actually serve Mexico well?
20. Morocco ??
Underestimate Morocco at your own peril. This team has skill and graft in every outfield position. Right-back Achraf Hakimi is arguably its most explosive player. Hard-nosed center-back Romain Saiss wears the armband. Right-winger Hakim Ziyech is back in the squad after a change in manager. And midfielder Sofyan Amrabat – a bulldozer who eats up huge portions of the pitch – could emerge as one of the World Cup’s breakout stars.
21. Ghana ??
FIFA’s lowest-ranked team in the tournament, the perception of Ghana is still being unfairly hindered by the disastrous reign of former manager Milovan Rajevac. There’s much more reason for optimism under the current regime, though, with new boss Otto Addo convincing the likes of Tariq Lamptey and Inaki Williams to swap allegiances and suit up for the Black Stars.
22. Wales ?gbwls
How far can Gareth Bale carry his country in what may be his international swan song? The 33-year-old forward, who always seems to deliver when it counts for Wales, still has the ability to conjure up special moments on the biggest stage, even if his club career has largely stagnated. The Welsh possess team spirit in spades, but Bale’s performances will ultimately determine their success.
23. South Korea ??
Will Son Heung-Min be fully fit? South Korea’s prospects at the World Cup change drastically depending on whether or not the nation’s best player – by some margin – is at his incisive best after recently undergoing surgery for a facial fracture suffered with Tottenham Hotspur. An impressive pairing in central defense provides a good backbone for Paulo Bento’s team, but Son is unquestionably the focal point around which everything else orbits.
24. Ecuador ??
Gustavo Alfaro has built Ecuador into a robust side that’s resilient and difficult to break down. A young squad headlined by all-action midfielder Moises Caicedo, a rapidly rising star with Brighton & Hove Albion, Ecuador’s physicality will cause headaches for the opposition. But, ultimately, serious question marks over the team’s ability to score goals loom large.
25. Japan ??
The wealth of attacking midfield talent in this squad is somewhat ruined by its lack of a clinical finisher; none of the center-forwards in the World Cup squad scored any of Japan’s 12 goals during the final phase of qualifying. There’s also a huge risk in giving veteran defenders Yuto Nagatomo, Maya Yoshida, and Hiroki Sakai too many minutes in Qatar. The three players have a combined age of 102.
26. Cameroon ??
Getting a result from Brazil might be a stretch, but if all-round midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa can find his Napoli form on the international stage, Cameroon could cause Serbia and Switzerland problems in Group G. Head coach Rigobert Song is also hugely popular with the squad and there are other stars in this squad – such as goalkeeper Andre Onana and forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – who boast big-game pedigree.
27. Australia ??
There’s some excitement about Garang Kuol, the teenager who’s set to join Newcastle United in January, but he’s yet to start a match for the A-League’s Central Coast Mariners and has just one substitute appearance for Australia. Don’t put too much pressure on the lad. Elsewhere, some players missed the squad due to injury or a lack of playing time, while there are others – like Awer Mabil, Kye Rowles, and Harry Souttar – who made it despite being in a similar predicament. They may find it difficult to get up to speed.
28. Qatar ??
Qatar has thrown a lot of money into developing football since being awarded the 2022 World Cup, with most players in the national team squad hailing from Doha’s Aspire Academy. The crowning achievement so far of this huge investment has been the Under-19 Asian Cup victory in 2014, where every player was developed at Aspire. However, Qatar reaching the World Cup knockout rounds in 2022 would be a miracle.
29. Iran ??
Iran will need to find its focus amid political unrest back home and following some upheaval in the national team camp. Dragan Skocic’s controversial firing, re-hiring, and then dismissal in favor of Carlos Queiroz this summer created divisions in the camp – Sardar Azmoun proudly backed Skocic while fellow attacking standout Mehdi Taremi wanted the Croatian gone – but Saman Ghoddos told theScore there’s now “more intensity” in training. And, of course, Queiroz will look to make Iran a stubborn defensive unit in Qatar.
30. Tunisia ??
Sometimes, it’s OK to skip a World Cup match, and at this tournament, you could probably put Tunisia on the chopping block due to its uninspiring, defensive, risk-averse football. There have been some positive results in the lead-up to Qatar 2022, but don’t expect Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni to put you on the edge of your seat. This will be a grind.
31. Costa Rica ??
How is Celso Borges only 34? And Bryan Ruiz is still trundling along at 37? Some names in this squad seem to have been around for decades, but don’t be fooled: Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suarez has used 77 players since he was appointed in mid-2021. This is supposed to be a new era. Jewison Bennette, 18, is primed to headline the next generation and has already turned heads with a handful of substitute appearances for Sunderland. But will Costa Rica make a significant impact in Qatar right now? Don’t count on it.
32. Saudi Arabia ??
The Saudi Arabian game is on the rise under Herve Renard, as the national team played pass-heavy, attacking football during its AFC World Cup qualification campaign. Still, the gap between Saudi Arabia and most of the teams from other regions in this competition is considerable, especially when the Green Falcons’ historically strong attack lacks bite. The Saudis arguably have the toughest assignment in Qatar with Argentina, Mexico, and Poland rounding out their group.