We’re only one day away from the start of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the storylines have already been skyrocketing.
Whether it be the strength of the South American giants this year, to the bloodbath that will take place between the ubiquitous talents of Europe, or even some of the sleeping giants outside of the two staple continents, there is so much to look forward to this winter.
Let’s go ahead and look at six key takes that will headline the tournament once it’s all said and done.
1. Belgium get eliminated in the group stage
(New Straits Times)
It has to be someone, right? If any top-class team is going to be the flop of the tournament, it’s going to be Belgium. It’s not to say that they’re incapable of topping Group F or even clinching a top-two spot, but of all the teams with legitimate World Cup aspirations, they seem to have the most doubts cast upon them.
Their side is older compared to many other teams, and it doesn’t help that Romelu Lukaku is injured and Eden Hazard isn’t the same player he once was. Croatia have a very good team again and will pose a major threat to Belgium, while Canada and Morocco boast underrated, pacy squads and are led by world-class talents in Alphonso Davies and Achraf Hakimi, respectively.
It’s possible the Red Devils ride a legendary performance from Thibaut Courtois and/or Kevin De Bruyne, but their form is questionable and the hunger of their Group F opponents will ultimately be their demise.
2. Federico Valverde wins the Golden Ball and leads Uruguay to the semifinal
Not long ago, Uruguay was struggling with stagnant, uninspired play led by longtime manager Oscar Tabarez. The squad was seriously doubtful to reach the tournament following sloppy play in the qualifiers, but a managerial change rejuvenated the Uruguyuans and, since Alonso’s appointment, the team has been legitimate.
While the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are still around, the nation has a new superstar in Federico Valverde. Expect the 24-year-old to create a plethora of chances for a deep squad, and definitely expect to see a couple of sensational goals courtesy of his signature long-range strike. He is absurdly talented, and his team is strong enough to ride his performance deep into the tournament, to the point where he cements himself as Qatar’s top performer.
3. Denmark makes a deep run
Potential dark horses lie everywhere, but most of them fizzle out when the going gets tough. This won’t be the case for Denmark, however. The Danes are known for showing up in major tournaments recently and will look to continue their magic from the Euros last year, where they took England to the brink in the semifinal.
While another group-stage matchup with defending champion France seems daunting, they have the cohesive structure to cause many problems. Their sturdy defence keeps games close, and the team will look to rally behind their longtime stars in Christian Eriksen and Simon Kjær and go far. And by going far, I mean reaching the final is a realistic possibility.
4. France get knocked out in the round of 16
As a result of Denmark topping their group, this leaves France matched up against Argentina in the round of 16. We know what happened in 2018 when this exact match-up took place, but the South Americans are in much better form this year. Eager to get revenge, Argentina does just that, leaving France with a rather unremarkable result.
And it’s not to say the team is weak, as many familiar faces from 2018’s winning team are returning to action this winter, with Kylian Mbappe being the obvious standout. In fact, the team is still very strong on paper. But they simply don’t outclass every other team the same way and have a lot of work cut out for them to escape a tough group with a big-time challenger in Denmark, that will ultimately hand them a merciless matchup in the following round.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo bounces back
The Portuguese legend has been going through a rather tough time recently, given the headlines doubting his current playing ability and the ongoing turmoil with Manchester United. However, this is a perfect opportunity for him to give fans another staple legendary performance. Portugal is sending a very talented squad to Qatar, and with Ronaldo assuming a new role as a centre-forward, it will motivate him to prove doubters wrong and show that he still can do the things he did in 2018 while adjusting to his new role and allowing the young wingers to shine. Whether or not Portugal goes far is to be seen, but expect signature goals in one of his final international showings.
He may not be the nation’s best player at the age of 37, especially with the likes of Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo contending for that spot, but he will show up for Portugal one last time.
6. A South American champion is crowned
(The Indian Express)
It’s been 20 years since Brazil lifted the cup for the fifth time, and ever since, every single champion has been European. That will change this year, and it’ll be between the likes of either, you guessed it, Argentina or Brazil. Argentina enters the tournament on a 36-game unbeaten streak, whereas their neighbours to the East ran away with the top spot in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and look the strongest they’ve been in about 20 years.
Lionel Scaloni looks like Argentina’s strongest manager since the late Alejandro Sabella, and despite the skepticism surrounding Tite, Brazil’s stretch of talent will be too much for other teams. Also, each of the two possesses legendary attacks along with strong depth in other aspects, so expect to see some obliterations from both squads.
If both teams win their group, they will meet in the semifinal assuming they make their way there. This game will serve as the true World Cup final, given that the other side of the bracket won’t be able to offer a better challenge to the winner of Argentina and Brazil.
And, to further fuel the fire, both sides will be eager to help crown either Lionel Messi or Neymar with their first-ever World Cup title. Let the games begin!