Updated:Nov 12, 2022 4:52 pm
Can Brazil or Argentina triumph in Qatar?
It’s World Cup month! In just over a week, the ball will be on the centre spot at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar with the hosts ready to kick off their first-ever World Cup against Ecuador. We’ve had to wait a little longer for this tournament but the usual stars will be ready to give us the feast of football we’ve come to expect from every international tournament.
It’s been 20 years since a non-European team won the trophy, that was Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. The legendary striker Ronaldo scored twice in the final as Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win their fifth World Cup and write themselves into history books. To this day, no nation has won the tournament more times than ‘A Selecao’. Germany and Italy are currently tied at four victories each but with the latter failing to qualify and The Germans having won just two games all year, it seems unlikely that the samba stars will be losing their record this year. Of course, as we’ve learnt countless times, you should never write The Germans off.Embed from Getty Images
Brazil, managed by the 61-year-old Tite, has rarely looked stronger. They’ve won their last seven games and are unbeaten since losing to rivals Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final (more on them later). The Brazilians have quality all over the pitch and their forward players have been firing on all fronts lately. They’ve scored less than three goals just once during these seven wins, in a 1-0 victory over Japan. Their incredible scoring is to be expected however due to their remarkable depth in forward areas. North London duo Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison will both be vying for that number nine role with the latter being preferred by Tite in the most recent internationals. The Tottenham man has repaid his manager’s faith by scoring four goals in as many games for his country and he is expected to lead the line in Qatar.
Perhaps Brazil’s strongest area is their wide players. Everyone knows their incredible quality of Neymar and the PSG man will want to make the most of what is expected to be his last World Cup. A player who will feature in his first World Cup is Real Madrid’s, Vinicius Junior. The 22-year-old has developed into a truly world-class winger and will undoubtedly have a big say in Brazil’s tournament. While Neymar and Vinicius will likely be the starting wingers for the five-time winners, their ‘back-ups’ possess their own frightening talent. Antony has managed seven goal involvements for Ajax and Manchester United combined this season but hasn’t scored for Brazil since February. The 22-year-old will be eager to show the world what he can do when the tournament kicks off but easing Vini Jr or Neymar out of the side will be a tough task. Likewise, ex-Leeds forward Raphinha, another who will make his World Cup debut, is looking to get his noes in despite a less than an inspiring season with Barcelona so far. The 25-year-old has managed just two goals and four assists for The Culers since his big-money move in the summer. However, his record on the international stage is fairly impressive, with five goals in 11 games for his country.Embed from Getty Images
In defence, Brazil has no worries. They boast two of the world’s best centre-backs in Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, despite the latter being at the grand old age of 38. PSG’s Marquinhos is used to playing in winning teams, he’s won seven league titles and 20 domestic cups during his time in France and has added two international honours to his incredible collection, an Olympic gold medal in 2016 and a Copa America title in 2019. Similarly, the veteran Thiago Silva has had a glittering career with multiple French titles and a UEFA Champions League winners medal to his name. Real Madrid’s Eder Militao and Juventus man Gleison Bremer will provide depth and both have proved extremely capable during their time in European football.
The big shock in the squad announcement was the inclusion of the 39-year-old Dani Alves, who currently plays in Mexico for PUMAS. The Barcelona legend is the most decorated player in football history with 45 major honours to his name. It remains to be seen how much game time he will get in Qatar with Tite seemingly preferring Juventus’ Danilo in that position but I’m sure every football fan would love to see Alves back in World Cup action at some point.Embed from Getty Images
In addition to world-class defenders, Tite also has two of the best goalkeepers in the world to choose from in Ederson and Alisson. Both have risen to become two of the Premier League’s finest shot-stoppers and picking just one to play would be a challenge for any manager. It seems that the Brazilian boss will opt for Liverpool’s Alisson for the number one shirt, however. The 30-year-old has started five of his country’s last six games with the City man’s last international game coming back in February in a 4-0 win against Paraguay. The third option for Tite is Weverton, who earns his trade with Palmeiras. The 34-year-old has a wealth of club experience but has only featured eight times for his country, not including six games during their Olympic run, and is unlikely to challenge Alisson and Ederson for a starting spot but this is unsurprising given the quality of the two Premier League men.
Neymar and co have been placed in Group G where they will face Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon. The Swiss will still be on a high after their eventful Euro campaign last year, during which they knocked out current world champions France and will prove a tough test. Serbia, led by a strike force of Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksander Mitrovic, have been labelled by some as the dark horses of this year’s tournament, especially among Europeans. As well as their devastating forwards, they possess extremely gifted players such as Dusan Tadic, Filip Kostic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The Africans, Cameroon, come into the tournament in poor form. Just one win in their last five games has fans wondering whether their best footballing years are behind them. With no standout talisman like the Roger Milla’s and Samuel Eto’o’s they’ve had in the past, it’s a struggle to imagine them overcoming any of the other nations and making it out of the group stage. We can only hope we are proved wrong, however. Brazilians and fans all over the world would expect them to come out of this group largely unharmed given their immense quality, but none of these countries intends to roll over for Tite’s men and watching the outcome of Group G will be a truly fascinating spectacle.Embed from Getty Images
It’s not just the Brazilians who stand a good chance of returning the World Cup to South America. Their neighbours and fiercest rivals Argentina look like they’re ready to mount another assault, having been runners-up in 2014, and many fans are desperate to see Lionel Messi finally get his hands on the trophy. Leo has already said that this will be his last World Cup and has got his sites set on winning a third world title for his beloved country.
‘La Albiceleste’ (‘The White and Blue’) are currently enjoying one of the best periods in their footballing history form-wise. They’re unbeaten in three years and have won two trophies in that time, with the last team to taste victory against them being Brazil in July of 2019 when goals Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino secured a 2-0 win.
Like Brazil, The Argentines boast incredible attacking depth. Lionel Messi will be the one spearheading the team but the players around can be equally threatening at times. Players like Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez have enjoyed fine seasons so far. The 25-year-old has scored eight goals and added four assists in all competitions for an Inter side that have been well below its best. Martinez has largely been lethal for his country. Since his 2018 international debut, he has picked up 40 caps and scored an impressive 21 goals. Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa has shown glimpses of his quality this season but he is another player who can be a real handful on his day. Giovanni Someone of Napoli has struggled for regular minutes in Serie A this season with his best form coming in the Champions League where he has four goals in five group-stage matches. Another contender for the striker position is new Manchester City man Julian Alvarez. The 22-year-old, who moved to the Etihad from River Plate in the summer, has made an impressive start to life in English football, notching seven goals in all competitions so far.
Unfortunately for manager Lionel Scaloni, Argentina expected to be without Paulo Dybala after the Roma man suffered a freak hamstring injury during a Serie A game back in early October. The 28-year-old pulled up after scoring a penalty in his side’s 2-1 victory over Leece, later scans showed the damage to the forward’s hamstring meant he wouldn’t be fit to represent his nation in Qatar. Dybala had scored nine goals for Roma this season before his injury and would’ve been a big miss for Scaloni. However, the former Juventus forward was named in Argentina’s 26-man squad despite an estimated return date of November 30th, 10 days into the tournament. This is great for Argentina supporters as this will boost their attacking fire power even more and give them a greater chance of seizing glory.
Deeper on the field, the two-time world champions are blessed with talent equal to that of their rivals. It remains to be seen whether Giovani Lo Celso will be fit to play in the tournament after his latest injury, but Leo Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul will certainly feature. Despite not cutting it in the Premier League with Tottenham, Lo Celso, now of Villarreal, has always performed on the international stage. He featured in six of their seven games during their 2021 Copa America win and his versatility is useful to Scaloni’s midfield set-up due to his ability to play wide, deeper or as a number ten. Another player who could be playing his last World Cup is Angel Di Maria. The former PSG and Manchester United man is now 34 but has proved himself to be one of Argentina’s most valuable players over the years, scoring the winning goal in their 1-0 over Brazil in the Copa America final last year. Di Maria left Paris to sign for Juventus this summer and while a mixture of injuries and suspension have reduced his game time this season, he is still expected to play a pivotal role for his country this winter.
In terms of defensive partnerships, there are few better than Argentina’s. Lisandro Martinez and Cristian ‘Cuti’ Romero are fast establishing themselves as two of the Premier League’s finest centre-halves. Romero has had an injury-hit season for Tottenham but has sat out their last few games in an attempt to be fully fit for the tournament. He was also an integral part of their Copa America success and his aggression and passion are of great importance to the team’s backline. Likewise, Martinez, known affectionately as ‘Licha’, has a similar style of play. Since signing for Manchester United, he has won the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful with his stellar defensive abilities and tough nature. Scaloni also has the option for a more experienced player in Benfica’s Nicolas Otamendi. The 34-year-old has 92 caps at international level since his debut back in 2009 and can offer a cooler head to a predominantly younger back-line.Embed from Getty Images
Argentina are joined in their group (Group C) by Poland, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Like Brazil, this is a group they should get through comfortably. They have the quality to breeze past these teams, even Poland and their talisman Robert Lewandowski. Despite this, the South American champions will still need the magic of Messi to get them through and the Barcelona legend will surely have something to say in what will be his last attempt at a World Cup victory.
While Brazil and Argentina will certainly be grabbing the headlines in Qatar, South America’s other representatives shouldn’t be forgotten. Uruguay and Ecuador and two other nations enjoying relative success. Ecuador are unbeaten in 2022 and have been drawn in Group A along with the hosts Qatar, a Senegal side likely to be without Sadio Mane, and Louis Van Gaal’s Netherlands. While the Dutch are expected to win the group, The Ecuadorians will feel they stand a good chance of progressing to the last 16 due to the Qatari’s inexperienced squad and Mane’s injury.Embed from Getty Images
Meanwhile, the Uruguayans face off against a talented Ghana, South Korea captained by Heung-Min Son and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in what promises to be a very entertaining group.
All of these nations will feel they have the ability to go through and maybe even win the group and Uruguay will be no different and their new star man Federico Valverde will eager to show the world his talents and what will be his first World Cup.
Despite an underwhelming defeat to Iran in September, Diego Alonso’s team come into the tournament in flying form having won seven of their last nine games. Luis Suarez will hope that he can make his World Cup his best yet and the Uruguayan’s immensely talented squad will want to make that happen for their nation.