When this year’s World Cup in Qatar drew closer, there were six teams who were heavily tipped in the betting markets to win it all. Brazil were the favourites to hoist their sixth World Cup trophy in the odds for world cup 2022, while defending champions France, Argentina, England, Spain and Germany rounded out the top six.
It was perceived that after the aforementioned nations, there was a considerable drop-off in terms of talent. However, what the early group games of the tournament has proven is that the 2022 World Cup winner is far from a forgone conclusion.
Whether it be Saudi Arabia’s historic win over Argentina, Germany’s shock defeat at the hands of Japan, or Morocco’s 2-0 triumph over the world number two ranked side Belgium – Qatar’s edition of the quadrennial event will be remembered as one filled with upsets.
With that in mind, does this year’s World Cup results suggest that it is one of the more competitive editions of the tournament in recent memory? Or conversely – that the top teams are weaker? We will have to wait until the knockout stages to determine that – however – it’s a question worth dissecting.
Read on as we take a look at the six pre-tournament favourites and why one of them reigning supreme is not as straight-forward as many people thought it would be.
While Brazil’s squad is as star-studded as it gets, they have had incredibly talented sides in recent tournaments who have failed to live up to expectations. The Selecao haven’t won or made a World Cup final since 2002, when they boasted the likes of all-time greats Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos.
The men from South America have had plenty of generational talents subsequent to their 2-0 triumph over Germany in the big dance in ’02 – however – their inability to deliver silverware in the past four World Cups have fans and pundits beginning to doubt their mettle in knockout games.
With that being said, Brazil are favourites for a reason – and with Neymar, Richarlison, Thiago Silva and Vinicius Jr. just a few of the world-class players at their disposal – write them off at your peril.
While France still have elite talent such as Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Adrien Rabiot suiting up in Qatar – the reigning champions’ downfall could be their laundry list of injured players. With Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, 2018 hero Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante just some of the big names who won’t take the field in the Middle East – going back-to-back will be difficult to do.
Although they were impressive in group wins over Australia and Denmark – as the tournament progresses – it’s possible that their fitness levels or lack thereof could prove to be their downfall.
Coming off the back of a Copa America title last year and entering this year’s tournament on a 36-game unbeaten streak – a large portion of the late betting money was for Argentina. However, similarly to their South American rivals Brazil – their level of talent hasn’t necessarily always translated to results. And that theory was given some credence after their opening game in Qatar – with Lionel Messi and company losing 2-1 to the 53rd ranked nation Saudi Arabia.
With this being Messi’s last World Cup, there’s no doubting there will plenty of motivation within the Argentina camp to send him out a world champion – however – has their loss to Saudi Arabia identified a weakness in their game that future opposition could take advantage of?
The Three Lions’ World Cup record is well-known. They haven’t won a World Cup since they managed to do so on home soil 56 years ago. Their lack of success over the past five decades has been down to a myriad of factors. At times it’s a less than stellar squad – and on other occasions – they have considerably underachieved.
Their results at major tournaments under current manager Gareth Southgate makes for good reading, with England progressing to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia four years ago, before securing a berth in the Euro 2020 final against Italy. However, their most recent performances in the Nations League – in which they didn’t register a win – won’t particularly fill their fans with a whole lot of confidence.
It’s difficult for the Red Fury to live up to the standards that the Spain teams set in 2008, 2010 & 2012 – when they secured two Euro championships and one World Cup title during that time. The Luis Henrique-managed side are going through somewhat of a transitional period – with concerns raised as to whether this year’s World Cup squad is too great a mix of the too-old and the too-young.
That potential imbalance in the make-up of their squad didn’t appear to be a problem in their opening game against Costa Rica, with Spain thrashing their opponents 7-0. However, whether that was a sign of things to come or simply a flash in the pan remains to be seen.
Much like Spain, Germany are going through a transitional period that has seen them drop to 11th in the world in the men’s FIFA rankings. After winning the World Cup in 2014 courtesy of a Mario Gotze goal, the Germans have struggled at major tournaments since. Although a semi-final appearance at Euro 2016 is nothing to be scoffed at, their failure to get out of the group stage in Russia and their 2-0 defeat at the hands of England in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 is indicative of where they are at currently as a squad.
Couple that with their 2-1 loss to Japan in their opening fixture at this year’s World Cup – and it hasn’t been the Germany team we’ve been accustomed to seeing in decades past.