The most popular sport on the planet takes center stage when World Cup 2022 kicks off on Sunday, November 20, in the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar with the biggest prize in international men’s soccer on the line.
The World Cup is played every four years, like the Olympic Games, and is usually held in June and July. But with the intense summer temperatures in Qatar, which can top out at 112 degrees, the tournament was pushed to be played from November to December with the final scheduled for December 18.
Teams from 32 nations will compete in the tournament. Eight groups of four teams will engage one another with the top two teams in each group advancing to the round of 16. After that, it’s a single elimination knockout tournament through the quarter and semifinals.
I’ve been a soccer fan my entire life. My people were immigrants from Eastern Europe so I grew up watching the sport. The last time the World Cup was played in the United States in 1994, my family and I attended all 4 matches that were played at the Pontiac Silverdome. Those games remain highlights of the live sporting events I’ve witnessed in person. And I hope to be there in 2026 when the tournament returns to North America with games to be played in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
Of the 32 teams in the tournament, these are the ones I think you need to look out for.
The #1 ranked team in the world look to add a sixth title to their all-time World Cup trophy count. Brazil last won the Cup in 2002, and if they don’t win it all in Qatar, the country will match its longest World Cup drought by the time the 2026 tournament begins. Brazil heads into the World Cup with only one loss over the last two years. They went undefeated in 17 qualifying games. The expectation for Brazil is almost always to win the World Cup and they’ll arrive in Qatar as favorites due to their depth in attack. Players to watch include forward and bad boy of soccer Neymar, winger Vinicius Junior, center back and team captain Thiago Silva and midfielder Lucas Paqueta.
The defending World Cup champions have one of the finest collections of soccer talent the game has to offer. The 2022 squad is experienced, with a coach and a number of players who won the whole thing in 2018. France is expected to win Group D with ease and the only thing that could get in their way of a repeat is themselves. Players to watch include forward Kylian Mbbappe, forward and reigning Ballon d’Or winner (the award for player of the year) Karim Benzema, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni.
If there’s a team of destiny in Qatar in 2022, it’s the Argentinian national team. With a potent front three and a heavily attack-minded midfield, Argentina should have little trouble advancing in Group C. Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time and this may be his last chance to win the only trophy in his career that’s alluded him. Players to watch include forward Messi, goalkeeper Emi Martinez, striker Lautaro Martinez and center back Cristian Romero.
The expectation for Spain is that they will go deep into the 2022 tournament. With a mix of young stars, experienced veterans and a savvy coach in Luis Enrique, anything less than a run to at least the semifinals would be a step backward. Players to watch include midfielder Pedri, forward Alvaro Morata, midfielder Sergio Busquets and midfielder Gavi.
The Germans want redemption after a disappointing 2018 World Cup where they were eliminated in the group stage after winning the whole thing in 2014. The team has the right mix of veterans and newcomers to go far in the tournament. Players to watch include forward Kai Havertz, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, forward/midfielder Thomas Muller and forward Jamal Musiala.
The small Balkan nation is coming off its best-ever World Cup finish after making it to the final match in 2018 where they ultimately succumbed to France. This year the Croatian veterans will need plenty of support from younger players in order to advance deep into the tournament. Players to watch include midfielder and Croatian national hero Luka Modric, winger Ivan Perisic, midfielder Mateo Kovacic and center back Josko Gvardiol.
Belgians consider the team suiting up in 2022 as a “golden generation” of players. Belgium has a high octane attack but some definite defensive shortcomings. They’re going in to the tournament having won 10 of their last 12 World Cup matches including wins over giants like Brazil and England in 2018. Players to watch include midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, forward Romelu Lukaku and winger Jeremy Doku.
The roots of British soccer run deep and the disappointment felt by their fans nearly rivals that of our own Detroit Lions. England hasn’t won a World Cup since 1966. They had a fourth place finish in the 2018 tournament. As one of the greatest producers of soccer talent in the world, England has always struggled to meet their fans lofty expectations. But the team shouldn’t have too much trouble with their opponents in Group B, which includes the U.S. team. Players to watch on England’s national team include striker Harry Kane, winger Raheem Sterling, midfielder Declan Rice and midfielder Phil Foden.
After watching the 2018 World Cup from their couches at home, the U.S. men’s national team returns to the world’s biggest stage looking for vindication. Call them the “Redeem Team”. Everything has been building for 8 years for the U.S. The talented young players have grown into consistent roles with the national team. Anything less than an appearance in the knockout stage would be considered a failure for the squad. Players to watch include forward Christian Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams, fullback Sergino Dest and winger Tim Weah.