It only happens once every four years, but oh what a special time it is: That's right, the World Cup is starting on Sunday!
In Qatar, 32 of the world's best nation's will hit the pitch, looking to claim the World Cup title, with a champion crowned shortly before Christmas.
As always, we've got you covered here at Aaron Torres Online, as soccer writer Alex Casale, has you covered, with his preview, picks and stayaways for this year's event.
Brazil enters this tournament as the favorite in the Betfred Sportsbook and I would have to agree with that. Brazil has a stacked roster and some of the most in form players in the whole tournament. They have the best goalkeeper in the world in Alisson Becker as well as Neymar Jr. up top who is still a top five player in the world. I also really like Brazil’s defense with the partnership of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos who have some of the most experience as a duo in the whole tournament. Brazil is also in one of the easiest groups in the tournament, so I don’t really see any scenario where they are upset before at least the semifinal. But overall, there really isn’t much to say about this team besides this: Watch out!
Whenever you have Lionel Messi on your team, you have a chance to win, and that is Argentina’s mindset heading into what is Messi’s last World Cup. It really seems like this Argentina squad is backing Messi completely to try and get him the last trophy he needs on his already near perfect resume and this should be scary for the rest of the teams in the tournament. Argentina is also currently on the longest unbeaten streak in the world at 36 matches and counting so they can be considered the most in form team in the world. I do have some questions however, mainly on if their defense can perform against heavy attacking nations such as France, Portugal, or Brazil as well as if their midfield will be able to create the chances for the attack, but overall, this squad will go far regardless, and you should never count Messi out of any game.
France is going into this tournament as the defending champions and are in a great position to repeat this winter. The best thing about this French squad is their depth. They have stars across all positions and no real weakness across the pitch. Their defense is really quick and can keep up with any attacker as well as their midfield being full of machines that can go box to box all game. You also can’t forget about Kylian Mbappe up top who is one of the best youngsters in the world and a vital part of the French win in 2018 and the reigning Ballon D'or winner in Karim Benzema alongside him. France has all the talent and experience that you want going into a world cup like this so I don’t see anything worse than the semi-finals for this squad.
Portugal might not be a clear favorite like the other teams here, but I think that Portugal can definitely make a run for the whole thing with the squad that they have right now. The first thing to look at is like Messi, this is superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s final World Cup and that means there is extra motivation for Ronaldo and the rest of the team. Another thing I really like about Portugal this year is that they have key players that play with each other at club level which is great for chemistry. They have defensive duo Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo that both play for Manchester City, as well as Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo both playing for Manchester United. I think the chemistry there can carry this Portugal team pretty far. What concerns me however is the drama coming out of Manchester United and Ronaldo who basically was cut from the team for having problems with the manager Erik Ten Hag. However I think that Ronaldo and the rest of the team can overcome that and if not, Portugal have the attacking depth to make up for a potential Ronaldo dud.
One of the most overlooked teams in the whole tournament this year is Uruguay and I think they can make a run all the way to the semifinals or even the final. Uruguay has one of the most well-balanced squads in the entire tournament and a ton of experience along with that too. They have one of the best midfielders in the world in Federico Valverde patrolling the middle of the park with the three headed monster of attack in Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, and Darwin Nunez. Uruguay are in a pretty tough group this year, but if they are able to get to the round of 16, then anything is possible for this squad.
Another sleeper that I really like this year is Denmark. Denmark really gave notice to the rest of the world by making it to the semifinals in the 2020 Euros and only losing in extra time to England. Going into this tournament, they don’t have any real-world class players, but a squad of really solid and experienced players who all know their role and how to execute to their best potential. Players like Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Christain Eriksen in the midfield, and Simon Kjaer in defense gives Denmark the experience and leadership that can take this squad far. Denmark is also a pretty easy group to get out of besides being with France but if they can beat Tunisia and Australia like they should, they can make another sneaky run like in the Euros two years ago.
Another sneaky pick I like to at least make it out of the group stage is Canada. The last time Canada made the World Cup was in 1986 so you know the squad that qualified this time has to be somewhat good, and it is. Canada’s best player Alphonso Davies from Bayern Munich is a superstar and could give Canada the edge in some of the games they play. They also just have a
very solid squad around Davies to where they can cause some problems. I don’t necessarily see Canada winning the whole thing, but I can see them making a sneaky far run.
United States (+15000)
It really hurts to put the United States in the stay aways but I just don’t see this American team making it far at all. For one, the USA is bringing the second youngest team in the tournament behind Ghana at an average age of 24-years-old. They don’t have any experience and most of their players are not in great form at the moment. Their group is also not easy and the US have potential to finish last. I don’t want to completely trash this USA team though, they have a very strong young core that is playing club football all over Europe, not only in the MLS. I think there is a lot of optimism and excitement for this USA team in the future. I just don’t think this tournament is where that potential is unlocked. I would look at the USA being a contender in the 2026 World Cup when they host the tournament on their home turf, but for now I would stay away but be optimistic.
Another team I hate to put in the stay aways is Senegal. Senegal is a team where I love their potential like in the Americans' case, but I don’t think they have it all together right now to make a run. This Senegal team is very top heavy in talent with world class players such as Sadio Mane in attack and Kalidou Koulibaly in defense, but besides those two I really don’t see much production in the rest of the squad. Also, their world class player Sadio Mane was almost ruled out of the World Cup due to injury, so he is not even 100 percent fit right now. I just see too many question marks with this Senegalese team and while I see a lot of people having them escape the group along with the Netherlands, I think a team like Ecuador is more balanced and in a better position to advance.
This is probably a very hot take, but I would stay away from England in this event. There is always a lot of hype surrounding England whenever they play but I just don’t see it this year. They will almost certainly get out of the group they are in, but I don’t see a far run past that and definitely not being the champions. I have several questions about England’s manager Gareth Southgate involving his plan and style of play, as well as Southgate leaving out some really good players from the squad like Ivan Toney, Jaden Sancho, and Fikayo Tomori. The defense is not really in form and I don’t see a lot of creativity coming out of the midfield. Overall, this England team is good but nowhere near a contender.