It’s very rare for a team to come from nowhere – or at the very least, way below the radar – and win the World Cup, but this year it’s a distinct possibility, with many of the traditional footballing powers having reasons for doubt at adding to their trophy collections come mid-July, and a highly competent chasing pack keeping pace and hoping for a great tournament and a bit of luck to swing things in their favour. At TBR we’ve been keeping up with the World Cup for the past few weeks – just take a look at all the detailed previews – but it’s been difficult to choose one particular surprise package. If there was to be one, who would it be?
It’s perhaps been overstated to the point of absolute non-surprise that Belgium could be in with an outside shot at the much-coveted World Champions moniker, but the claims are not without weight. Belgium have a genuinely talented squad – reaching from back to front, with a talented spine featuring well known Premier League names such as Vincent Kompany, Adnan Januzaj, Jan Vertonghen and Romelu Lukaku, as well as bright young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Wolfsburg wingman Kevin De Bruyne, the excellent Axel Witsel and a host of yet more exciting young talent waiting in the wings.
What is certain is that based on names alone, Belgium have to be considered among the big name countries for the title. If they don’t win the tournament – which is still, all things considered, reasonably unlikely – they’re still likely to make a good account of themselves. Will that be enough, however? Concerns have been raised about a slight lack of chemistry, with big name players used to being some of the most important men at their respective clubs. Dropped down to mere squad players, it will be interesting to see how they adapt mentally to their first major tournament since 2002. Alongside a relatively young squad, it’s understandable to see where doubts in Belgium’s actual credentials may be founded, but even so, an on-song Belgium later this month is a tantalising prospect.
Another one of the “not quite there in terms of pedigree, but widely acknowledged as being very good” brigade (use that phrase if you want), Chile’s odds were slashed after a comfortable 2-0 victory over England at Wembley in November. It’s perhaps surprising they weren’t reasonably short anyway – their campaign in 2010 was exciting if unfruitful under Marcelo Bielsa, pushing their weight in a tough group containing Spain, Switzerland and Honduras before falling to Brazil in the Second Round, but under new coach Jorge Sampaoli, the Chilean system has strengthened somewhat, Bielsa’s bombastic attacks being replaced with an equally exciting but less reckless approach which will no doubt win over many neutrals if they make it through the competition.
Juventus’ Arturo Vidal will be central to Chile’s hopes this summer, and if his club form is any indication of how his World Cup campaign will go, Chile will be in for a fruitful month with his midfield guidance. Alexis Sanchez continues to make good performances and go somewhat under the radar at Barcelona, and indeed was the best man on the pitch in the aforementioned friendly with England, while ex-Birmingham’s Jean Beausejour remains Chile’s best ever wide man. Like Belgium, Chile may not go all the way but they’re one of the teams most likely to light up the competition.
Graced with a squad packed to the rafters with talent, an excellent manager in Ottmar Hitzfeld, a reasonable if still slightly tough group, and of course the ability to out-yodel the other 31 countries at the tournament this summer, Switzerland travel to Brazil with a real chance of achieving something on an international stage, for probably the first time since the World Cup’s inauguration in 1930.
Switzerland, like Belgium, have a surprising amount of talent in their ranks – this year combining the ex-Basel trio of Schär, Xhaka, Shaqiri, and a handful of the Bundesliga’s bright young things in Josip Drmic and Freiburg’s Admir Mehmedi with the experienced core of Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Inler, Behrami and Barnetta. What is clear is that the gaps in the Switzerland teams of previous years have largely been filled with real quality; the only area of the team that may perhaps prove a stumbling block for the Swiss this year is the defence, where Phillippe Senderos and Johann Djourou still somehow included in the squad.
Hopefully for Switzerland, though, that pairing are included to bolster a generally youthful squad with know-how of some description, and take them through the knockouts. Who knows – with a weaker than usual France as well as Ecuador and Honduras, Switzerland could even coast to a top placed finish in the group and enjoy a decent cup run. Comparably to Belgium and Chile, though, success wouldn’t necessarily be judged by winning the trophy or not, more doing better than ever before. That’s not an unrealistic expectation, with the Swiss never going beyond the Second Round to date.
Japan’s progression as a footballing nation since co-hosting the World Cup in 2002 has been well documented. One of the most exciting teams at the Confederations Cup last year – who can forget that game with Italy – Japan have every hope of achieving their best result to date (a Second Round berth in 2002 and 2010 currently the furthest they’ve ventured into the competition), especially with one of the weakest groups of the tournament; a Falcao-less Colombia, the Ivory Coast and Greece are all potential banana skins, and will provide tough competition, but if an on song Japan turn up, should prove only a small problem in qualification.
Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda are the headline names in the Japanese squad, but Mainz forward Shinji Okazaki was a sensation in the Bundesliga this season while the likes of Yuto Nagatomo, Eiji Kawashima and Yasuhito Endo will provide all the know-how Japan need to develop on their previous best qualifications.
Again, merely getting out of the group will be seen as a success but this Japan team can achieve much, much more than perhaps tipped by many; perhaps a poor overall performance in the Confederations Cup will deceptively put people off getting fully behind them, but as a neutral team you can’t do much better than this entertaining Japanese squad.
It’s almost ludicrous to think that England are included on a surprise packages article when discussing this World Cup, surely? Hear me out, though: nobody seems to think England are in with a realistic shot of doing anything this time around – in stark contrast to recent years – thinking the pairing of Italy and Uruguay will make it through the group instead.
There’s a certain level of logic when you consider the last few summer outings (or non-outings including 2008), but given the relative strength of the other squads – who are, at best, as good as England – and their recent performances, both Uruguay and Italy struggling in recent friendlies with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland respectively, there’s absolutely no reason why England can’t hope to top them.
England’s squad is also more exciting than in recent years, with this season’s form players such as Shaw, Lallana, Sturridge and Sterling all included, while coach Roy Hodgson has made the brave decision to cut adrift a few stars, notably left back Ashley Cole, and potentially even abandon the 4-4-2 that has limited England against other technically gifted midfields in decades gone by.
England have arguably as much or more of a chance of lifting the Cup than any of the other four, and have much longer odds than the likes of Belgium. Additionally, finally accepting the underdog tag may free the team up to a certain extent – with a Quarter Final exit maybe actually being viewed as a triumph, performances permitting.
Three Arsenal youngsters who could help England bring football home in 2022
The Gunners’ academy continues to develop some of the very best youngsters.
After a successful tournament got the nation dreaming, England fell at the penultimate at the World Cup and may require Arsenal‘s help in 2022.
Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad exceeded pre-tournament expectations and suddenly Greg Dyke’s objectives for the 2022 World Cup seem within grasp – and the Three Lions now have four years to build towards glory in Qatar.
Come November 2022, when FIFA has confirmed the World Cup will commence, Southgate is likely to call upon a number of the players who starred for the Three Lions in Russia but changes to his squad are also inevitable.
“The two targets I have for the England team are – one, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and two, win the World Cup in 2022.”
Fortunately, English football is breaming with exciting young talent at the moment and Arsenal may hold the key to success with three of their most highly-rated prospects.
Bursting onto the scene in November 2017, Eddie Nketiah became an instant hit at the Emirates Stadium after netting twice against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup. Since then, the 19-year-old forward has gone on to make three Premier League appearances.
Competition for places at Arsenal is fierce, particularly following the captures of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the past 12 months, which means he may have to be patient to get his chance – but the situation is entirely different on the international stage.
In four England U21 appearances, Nketiah has scored two goals, per TransferMarkt stats, following on from eight goals in eight games at U18 level and four goals in two games for the U17 side. In just over a year, Nketiah rose to Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 ranks from the U17’s and shows no signs of stopping his rise.
Becoming a regular for Arsenal in Arsene Wenger’s final season at the Emirates Stadium, Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed his versatility by catching the eye playing as a full-back. His natural position is in midfield though and this is where he could be of value to England.
It is fair to say that England’s options in the middle of the park sitting in front of the defence are extremely limited, with neither Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier doing enough to cement their spot in the position for the long-term.
Maitland-Niles could become the man England are looking for in the coming years and further first-team experience with Arsenal looks set to follow under Unai Emery, as the 20-year-old penned a new long-term deal with the Gunners last month.
Arsenal fans have been excited about 18-year-old Reiss Nelson for a while now and saw the teenager break into the fringes of the first-team last term, as Whoscored data shows he finished the campaign with 15 appearances across all competitions.
Eight of those opportunities came as a starter, including two in the Premier League, and there is every chance Nelson could earn further action under the guidance of Unai Emery next term – especially as Alex Iwobi has not done enough to warrant continued action.
Should the Nigeria international continue to suffer with poor form, the eight-cap England U19 international could be Arsenal’s breakthrough star of the year – following in the footsteps of players like Maitland-Niles, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin.
Who will bring football home? England’s predicted World Cup 2022 squad
Players from Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and even Bristol City feature.
England were desperately close to making it into the World Cup final, after defeat to Croatia in the semi-finals.
The Three Lions did however bring back some pride and promise from the long-suffering England fans.
With England also the World Under-17 and Under-20 Champions, the future is brighter than ever.
So who will be at the World Cup in 2022?
It seems impossible to guess four years in advance. Not many would have suggested the likes of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire or Jesse Lingard four years ago.
The squad, hopefully, will not change much and the experienced players in the squad will likely still be around.
However, for the sake of the article and debate, anyone who will be over 30 in 2022 has been ignored. That leaves Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck in the cold, even if some of them will likely be present.
Eric Dier also got nudged out, as his form recently has been a concern and Nick Pope has been replaced.
So who makes the XI and the overall squad of 23?
The Everton stopper cemented his place as England’s new number one during the quarter-final triumph over Sweden. Highly-rated by club and country and with excellent distribution it will be no surprise if he remains England’s first-choice in 2022.
What a deputy. The Stoke City goalkeeper could easily be our number one. The Potters relegation will hopefully not set him back and he should push Pickford for years to come.
The son of a Scotland international has so far rejected their international calls. Recently joined Southampton for £13.5 million and will hope to cement his place as a Premier League regular.
Honourable mentions: Nick Pope, Freddie Woodman, Dean Henderson.
Despite one lapse of concentration which cost England crucially against Croatia the Manchester City man was excellent in Russia.
If he maintains a starting place at City and his career is not derailed, then Stones will be one of the leaders in Qatar.
Became a national hero this summer. A swashbuckling defender with an eye for a goal and a great meme. Should be a multi-cap England international.
Replacing Kyle Walker as the pace-man in a back three is Liverpool’s Gomez. If he can combat his recent injury troubles he will be a certain future England player. Remember how he shackled Neymar back in November.
For many people, the Newcastle captain should have been in Russia ahead of Phil Jones or Gary Cahill.
Rightly so. A brilliant leader who would slot into a back three perfectly and deserves to be in the England fold for the next four years.
The Middlesbrough defender is one inclusion that may cause derision. But this lad is extremely talented.
A reliable defender, good with the ball at his feet and a favourite at St George’s Park. Fry will hope to emerge as an England hopeful in the years to come.
Honourable mentions: Eric Dier, Alfie Mawson, Michael Keane, Ben Wilmot.
Already in the England picture and shone v Belgium. Will likely play in the ¾ play-off this weekend. In four years he might be playing in the final.
A tough call this but the Everton defender is like the Kieran Trippier to Alexander-Arnold’s Walker-like characteristics.
Whilst the Liverpool man has the pace and the power Kenny is more deliberate and his crossing is fantastic.
A favourite with the England youth management and the eventual successor to Seamus Coleman at Goodison Park.
Honourable mentions: Kyle Walker-Peters, Dujon Sterling, Steven Sessegnon.
A shoe-in for 2022 if he remains fit and healthy. The Fulham star is perhaps England’s most exciting prospect.
He might even be considered an attacker by 2022 but for now, he would be an excellent left wing-back and will hopefully make his England bow this season.
This might be the biggest swing and potential miss in the squad. The Bristol City star is wanted by a host of clubs this summer after his fantastic form at Ashton Gate.
But he is a hard-working and super-fit young man who, given the right opportunities, is easily capable of playing for his nation.
Honourable mentions: Lewis Gibson, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell
Absolutely adored by the England camp the Bournemouth man has already made his England debut. More positive in his passing than Jordan Henderson and more dynamic than Eric Dier, he is surely the future of England’s composed holding role.
Set for a big break at Tottenham this season he has the potential to be an England star. If he can overcome his current injury trouble he would seem like being a shoe-in for 2022.
England lacked a midfielder who could pick the locks of the Croatia defence in the semi-finals. This is the young man to do just that. The Manchester City youngster needs to break into the first-team fold but given what he has already achieved that should not be a problem.
A lot depends on his next move, as Chelsea does not seem to be the right place for RLC to develop.
Showed in all his England performances that he is a talent to keep an eye on for the future and England will surely nurture him.
May not have set the world alight in Russia, but the Tottenham star’s talent cannot be overlooked.
If he can get to the level he is capable of, then Alli is a 100-cap man with ease.
Can he continue to prove people wrong for another four years?
Excellent at the World Cup and been in fine form for Manchester United. If he continues to progress in this way, then he should still be in the England set-up four years from now.
A tough choice considering the wealth of attacking midfield talent but the Leicester newbie seems the most likely to reach the levels necessary to play at a World Cup.
The £24 million talent can play a number of positions and is a special talent the Premier League will enjoy watching next term.
Honourable mentions: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Kieran Dowell,
He divided opinion among some at this summer’s World Cup. But under the guidance of Pep Guardiola he will continue to improve.
Whether out wide or through the middle, England will surely stick by the attacker.
The nation’s current captain and front-runner for the Golden Boot award at this summer’s tournament it is hard to see how he won’t lead the line again in four years time.
If he keeps going at his current rate, Kane will surely take Wayne Rooney’s goal-scoring record for England.
Some felt the Everton attacker was unlucky not to go this summer. After thriving on loan at RB Leipzig it seemed he might make a late lunge.
This summer is big for Lookman. He needs to decide where is best to carry on his career which could be key to a future England career.
The Manchester United talent can surely only get better. If he can become a regular starter, wherever he happens to play his club football then the teenager will hope to secure a place in Qatar.
Honourable mentions: Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eddie Nketiah.
Who did we miss? Can England bring football home in 2022?
Three Everton players who could help England bring football home in 2022
Everton have a long list of top talents coming through that could make it into the England team.
England are out of the World Cup following defeat against Croatia in the semi-finals last night. But the future looks bright for England. They had the second youngest team in the tournament and are the current under-20 and under-17 World Champions.
So who could help them bring football home at Qatar 2022?
When looking at Everton’s current crop, it is hard to pick just one.
Ademola Lookman is an excellent attacker, although could be on his way. Callum Connolly’s versatility makes him a manager’s dream whilst Tom Davies had a brilliant 2016-17 season, even if last term was less impressive.
But here are the three Everton players who might have a chance of heading to Qatar in four years time.
Like England’s summer hero Harry Maguire the 21-year-old came through the ranks at Sheffield United. Since joining Everton his progress has been astonishing.
He is already a hero for England. He scored the winner for England’s under-20s last summer as they won the World Cup.
With striking positions set to be up for grabs in four years time, DCL will no doubt be in the running.
The spindly playmaker is adored in the England and Everton set-ups for his God-given natural talent.
Stormed into a loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season, which admittedly dwindled toward the end.
But with his dexterity and ability, only injury and himself could hold Dowell back from making it to Qatar.
Dowell’s best mate and England’s trusted right-back at youth level. His cross-city rival Trent Alexander-Arnold may be catching the eye but Kenny is no slouch.
An exquisite crosser of the ball and defensively sound he is the Trippier if Alexander-Arnold is the Walker of England’s future right-back choices.
Like Dowell, eligible for Ireland, so England, must ensure the Everton pair are aware of their pathway.