The World Cup has always been dominated by nations from Europe and South America. For the last two decades, Europe has led the way, winning every World Cup since 2002 as well as having both finalists apart from Argentina in 2014. Could it be time for a South American nation to step up and end the drought?
To no surprise, South America has a strong hand to play in this year’s World Cup. Two of this year’s front runners, Brazil and Argentina, enter the tournament on the back of an unbeaten qualifying campaign.
Brazil, the current outright favourite and the highest ranked side should have every chance of repeating 2002’s success. But could Messi finally take Argentina to a World Cup success after 2014’s disappointment?
At 35 years of age, this is Messi’s 5th and likely last World Cup. Major success on the international stage is one thing Messi has yet to achieve. This could prove to be the perfect way to bow out of International duty after a glittering career.
As well as front runners Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Ecuador are also seeking glory.
Uruguay won’t have it easy
Uruguay have a relatively tough task on their hands. They’ve been drawn alongside Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. On paper, Uruguay should have what it takes to progress but the task won’t be straightforward.
Ghana qualified thanks to a strong display against a powerful Nigerian side in the African playoffs. South Korea showed their class with an impressive 7 game win streak in their qualifying campaign.
And Portugal speaks for themselves. Although underwhelming in the qualifiers, Portugal remains a threat to any side with some of Europe’s best talent in their ranks. Their squad includes some of the biggest names in football: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes.
Manchester United’s Ronaldo has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, finding himself on the bench for all of United’s opening league games. But Ronaldo has been the main figure in this Portuguese side for the past 10 years. In his last World Cup, he’ll be desperate to make it a successful tournament. It’s the perfect stage to put the past 6 months behind him and remind Ten Haag and United what they’re missing out on.
Uruguay aren’t short of big names themselves. Although they’re an ageing squad, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin are still more than capable. Uruguay are the second highest ranked side in the group, sitting in 13th behind 9th ranked Portugal.
They had a mixed 2021 campaign, falling short of expectations in the Copa America, only making it to the quarters. In their World Cup campaign, out of 18 games, Uruguay won 8, drawing 4 and losing 6.
The top two, Brazil and Argentina surged clear. The top two showed a gulf in class with Uruguay proving best of the rest in third.
To sum it up, Uruguay may not have what it takes to come out on top against some of the elite sides. Although, the experience and class of some of their star players should see them make it into the round of 16. I imagine this group will throw up some fiercely close encounters, with four very capable sides.
Brazil: South America’s biggest hope
Brazil and Argentina, two runaway leaders of CONMEBOL’s qualifying group, should have a huge part to play. Both nations will be hoping to end Europe’s 20 year World Cup dominance and bring the coveted trophy back to South America.
Brazil are drawn in Group H alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon. Group H European nations Serbia and Switzerland enjoyed a strong qualifying campaign. Both nations will be high on confidence, but face a bigger challenge in Brazil.
Serbia topped a group including 9th ranked Portugal and remained unbeaten. After a poor display in not reaching Euro 2020, they bounced back with a strong 2021 showing. Dusan Tadic, Fulham’s Mitrovic and Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic lead the way in a strong Serbian attacking unit. This is largely down to former Belgrade midfielder Stojkovic, who took over in March 2021. Since his appointment, his side have only lost twice.
Switzerland also stormed through the qualifiers. Yakin’s side finished above Italy and only conceded twice during an 8 game campaign. Impressive.
Switzerland haven’t yet faced a side with Brazil’s attacking flair yet, though. Brazil’s attack is possibly the best in International football. In my eyes they certainly are. Neymar, Vinicius, Raphinha and Gabriel Jesus should give every side a serious challenge. Although, if Switzerland can show the defensive discipline here, it could be a frustrating game for Brazil’s forward line (game played 28th November).
On paper, Cameroon are the least likely to trouble the Brazilians. Cameroon overcame Algeria in their qualifying play off with an extra time winner in the second leg. The tie was drawn 2-2 overall with Cameroon qualifying thanks to the away goal rule.
They were unlucky not to reach the AFCON final, narrowly missing out on penalties to Egypt. Arguably the better side, Cameroon would have felt hard done by.
Cameroon’s hopes will lie on the experienced attacking duo of Bayern Munich’s Choupo Moting and Captain Aboubakar. If these two can play their best football under new coach Rigobert Song, there could be a repeat of their 1990 World Cup heroics.
Brazil haven’t landed the easiest group. But with the players at their disposal, they should be confident in comfortably passing through to the round of 16 without much hassle.
There looks to be a strong possibility of a South American clash in the round of 16. If Brazil wins the group as expected, and Uruguay finishes second, both sides will face each other. Brazil would be one side Uruguay would want to avoid after the qualifiers, so top is even more important.
Brazil sit at odds of 1.38 to top the group, with Switzerland and Serbia at odds of 6.00 and 6.50 respectively. The group’s outsider, Cameroon’s current odds are 13.25 to shock Group G.
Argentina: Messi’s magic moment
Argentina will line up in Group C, alongside Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Poland. They face decent threats in Mexico and Poland, similar to Brazil’s group in some aspects.
Mexico scraped through qualifying without being too impressive. They just kept doing enough to win the games. No doubt a good result, but they’ll need a lot more to trouble this Argentinian side. One strength to this Mexican side is the lack of goals they concede. During their qualifying campaign, the Aztecs conceded only 8 goals from 14 games. This side is built on a solid defence, which could prove to be frustrating for Messi and co.
Mexico is a well known resilient side and will give any side a tough match. They’ve recently been dealt a huge blow with attacking star Jesus Corona looking likely to miss the World Cup. The Sevilla attacker has reportedly broken his leg and damaged ligaments, putting him in serious doubt for November.
Other Mexican starlets include Wolves striker Raul Jimenez and Hector Herrera, of Atletico Madrid.
Poland, ranked 26th in the FIFA rankings, brushed Ibrahimovic’s Sweden aside to book their place at the World Cup. Led by Robert Lewandowski, who recently signed for Barcelona, Poland will be aiming to progress into round of 16 for the first time since 1986. They look to have found a good opportunity to do so, with Mexico likely feeling the same.
Group G’s outsider, Saudi Arabia performed very well in the qualifiers, finishing above Australia and surprising many. Although this level of competition is much higher, they have virtually nothing to lose. Playing close to home in Qatar, I’m sure the Saudi Arabian fans will be out in force to watch their side with hopes of causing a massive shock.
Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, currently sit 4th in the FIFA rankings. They can take confidence in their 1-0 victory over tournament favourites Brazil back in July, 2021. There wasn’t much difference between the two sides in qualifiers: Argentina fell 6 points short with a couple of draws being the difference.
Brazil remain the tournament favourites and will edge favouritism if the two were to face. However, as shown in the Copa America final, Argentina have enough to defeat Brazil on their day.
If Argentina progress through as group winners, they will likely face Denmark or Tunisia in the Round of 16. A clash against the Netherlands looks a strong possibility in the quarters.
Could it be a magical bow out for Lionel Messi on the international stage? Argentina are 1.43 to top the group and 8.00 to win outright.