Here we go! The World Cup is set to kick off on November 20th as Qatar, the host country, will face Ecuador in the desert peninsula. Despite numerous controversies in the lead-up to the tournament, fans will be treated to non-stop soccer for the next three weeks. So what should we expect to see?
The French have Killian Mbappe and Karim Benzema, arguably the two best players on the planet. They are the favorites to leave Qatar with the World Cup Trophy. Mbappe is the best player in the world. He is explosive, skillful, clever, a deadly finisher, and has the vision of a hawk. After dazzling the world in the 2018 World Cup and winning the Best Young Player award the same year, he is now the favorite for winning FIFA’s Golden Ball (Best Player of the Tournament). Having Mbappe, paired with Karim Benzema (who just won the World Player of the Year award), spells trouble for France’s opponents.
However, the French team is a mess at the moment, with several key injuries, one of their star players being exploited by his own family members, and a few worrying ties and losses leading up to the tournament.
If the French falter, look to the Germans. Always pragmatic, disciplined, and laser-focused, they will be a force to be reckoned with. A new generation of attacking players with the ever-talented Neymar pulling the strings gives Brazil their strongest team since they won the tournament 20 years ago. Another key player, Vinicius Júinor, has been lighting up the competition with Real Madrid (one of the best Spanish league teams) over the last year and a half. With his ability to drive at defenders with pace, he could will Brazil to the final and help his country win their sixth World Cup.
The Dark Horses
This is most likely the final World Cup for Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentine legend Lionel Messi, two of the greatest players in history. Both players have strong but flawed teams behind them. We’ll see if either Ronaldo or Messi will have a storybook ending to their already legendary careers.
The Spanish are on their way back to the top. Their 2010-2012 national team won the World Cup and European Championship in a span of 2 years. They certainly aren't anywhere close to their former glory, but they are young, talented, and have a top coach in Luis Enrique. They will play some beautiful soccer and may even pull off a few surprise victories.
Belgium will also be a team to watch. While they have not lived up to the hype that has surrounded them for the last decade, the team was dubbed “the Golden Generation” because of extraordinary players like Kevin DeBruyne, Thibaut Courtois, and Eden Hazard. De Bruyne, a genius player with an ability to pass, shoot, and dribble that is second to none, is currently the best midfielder in the world. Belgium finished in 3rd place in 2018 and this will be the Golden Generations' last chance to take home the big prize.
After not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, American coach Gregg Berhalter has since put his faith in younger players. The United States has the youngest team at the World Cup, which will mean a lot of energy on the field. The Americans have adopted a type of play that involves long spells of possession of the ball combined with pressuring the opponent with high energy. This marks a shift from the America of old, which relied on a more pragmatic approach — battle, outwork your opponent, and be direct.
There is a lot of young talent in this squad. An American, Christian Pulisic, who plays at Chelsea FC in England, is the best player on the team — though he has not been in top form this season. Expect him to be revved up for this tournament: his ability to dribble with the ball at high speeds and under control will be the key to unlocking opposing defenses.
America is grouped with England, Iran, and Wales — they’ll compete against each other to make it to the next round. Every year, English fans think they will bring the cup home, but the English haven't won the World Cup since their 1966 victory. Despite this, the English are expected to win the group — they finished fourth overall during the 2018 World Cup. Fortunately for the Americans, second place and a trip to the knockout stages is up for grabs due to the nature of the group they are in.
Our first and last games — against Wales and Iran — will be the deciding factors in whether we make it to the knockout round. If the US beats Wales, we set ourselves up nicely for the remaining matches. The Welsh work well as a unit and have Gareth Bale (once a world-class player but still a game-changer). Despite this, the Americans should be able to compete against the Welsh team.
On paper, Iran is not as talented as Wales. Despite winning 15 out of the last 18 games, four months ago they fired the coach that got them to the World Cup. There’s no doubt the decades of political bad blood between the US and Iran will play a part in the game, as it did in ‘98, but the Americans' superior talent should propel them to victory. All things considered, I predict that the United States national team will finish second in the group and make it to the knockout stages.
Although the Americans should make it out of their group, the knock stages will likely be too tall of a task for them to surmount. Once the Americans bow out, will the French or Germans triumph?, Or might the Brazilians bring World Cup pride back to their country? Perhaps some unsuspecting challenger could even rise above them all.
This is it — a month full of mouth-watering games in the biggest sports tournament in the world.