The 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off soon and with it brings a level of team camaraderie and support that can only be found in soccer fans. Who are you cheering for? Let’s take a closer look at this year’s World Cup and preview every competing nation in alphabetical order.
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2022 World Cup Preview by Team
At age 35, captain Lionel Messi has confirmed it’s his last World Cup. The PSG superstar has never scored a World Cup goal outside the group stage, and Argentina’s 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 final is as close as he’s come to winning a World Cup.
Yet, Messi could end his drought. The reigning Copa América champions are legitimate contenders, buoyed by the offense of striker Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan) and the confident goalkeeping of Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa). Argentina won the World Cup twice previously in 1978 and 1986.
Despite appearing in their fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup, the Socceroos are long shots to advance to the round of 16. Captain and goalkeeper Mathew Ryan (FC Copenhagen) will need to be in dazzling form.
However, Australia showed great resilience to beat Peru 5-4 in a penalty shootout in June to qualify for Qatar, and that provides hope for coach Graham Arnold’s squad.
Former Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher recently called Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne “the best midfielder in the world.” Manchester City’s elite playmaker holds the key to the Red Devils’ aspirations of improving on their peak third-place finish (2018). A return to form for striker Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan) would also be huge.
The Belgians yearn to shed the dubious distinction of being the lone national team ever to lead the FIFA World Ranking without having won a World Cup or continental championship.
Winners of a record five FIFA World Cups, Brazil goes to Qatar as the consensus favorites. Neymar (PSG) could lead the tournament in goals. The likes of Vinícius Júnior (Real Madrid) and Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal) add to coach Tite’s overwhelming attack. Ederson (Manchester City) and Alisson (Liverpool) offer arguably the world’s top 1-2 punch among goalkeepers.
Brazil failed, however, in recent World Cup knockout matches. The most shocking example was getting shellacked 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 semi-final. Will the Brazilians keep their cool when it counts most?
No African nation has qualified for more World Cups than Cameroon (eight times). Yet, the Indomitable Lions face daunting odds in Group G versus Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia. To illustrate, in Cameroon’s last two World Cup clashes with Brazil, the South Americans won 3-0 (1994) and 4-1 (2014).
Manager Rigobert Song emphasized playing with “energy, drive and determination.” Strong outings from midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and forward Karl Toko Ekambi are musts in Qatar. But it’s unlikely this side will emulate 1990’s peak, which saw Cameroon fall 3-2 to England in the quarter-finals.
Canada last qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1986 and scored zero goals in Mexico. Expectations, though, have increased under coach John Herdman, who previously turned the national women’s team into a perennial medal threat.
The blazing speed and dribbling of full-back Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) constitute Canada’s greatest weapons. Jonathan David (Lille) and Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge) can also be good finishers.
The Canadians face stiff challenges against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in Group F. However, upsetting Mexico 2-1 in World Cup qualifying play in November 2021 proved that Herdman’s men can’t be underestimated.
Group E is arguably the Group of Death at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. That may kill Costa Rica’s hopes of cracking the round of 16. The Central American underdogs are up against two of the last three World Cup champions in Spain (2010) and Germany (2014), plus a tough Japan side.
However, Costa Rica supporters recall 2014 when they stunned the experts by going unbeaten in the group stage versus three ex-champs in Uruguay, Italy and England. For manager Luis Fernando Suárez, aging star keeper Keylor Navas (PSG) must overachieve to give his team a chance.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup finalists would love to author another Cinderella story under coach Zlatko Dalić. However, it’s asking a lot of Luka Modrić to replicate his Ballon d’Or-winning form of that year. The legendary Real Madrid midfielder is now 37. And Tottenham Hotspur’s Ivan Perišić, who tallied Croatia’s first goal in the 4-2 final loss to France in 2018, is 33. Perišić hasn’t dazzled in Premier League action since his free transfer from Inter Milan.
Still, the Croatians, who sit 12th in the FIFA World Ranking, should make the round of 16 — and after that — anything is possible.
Hummel, the manufacturer of the Danish team’s World Cup jerseys, chose some muted designs to signify its disapproval of Qatar’s human rights record. We’ll see if Denmark can fire up its fans with a World Cup performance reminiscent of its 1990’s heyday. The Danes won the 1992 European Championship and peaked at the 1998 World Cup with a 3-2 quarter-final loss to Brazil.
This year, coach Kasper Hjulmand’s side is projected to finish second in Group D behind reigning champion France. With a healthy Christian Eriksen in the starting eleven, Denmark — ranked 10th by FIFA — could do some damage in the knockout stage.
2022 marks the 20th anniversary of Ecuador’s first FIFA World Cup participation. However, in three tries, the South American nation never progressed beyond the round of 16. Losing 1-0 to England in 2006 on David Beckham’s free-kick goal marked Ecuador’s best result.
With one of the tournament’s youngest teams, manager Gustavo Alfaro may struggle to get enough offense to advance deeper. Winger Gonzalo Plata (Valladolid), 21, hopes to make a name for himself, alongside key veterans like Michael Estrada (Cruz Azul) and Enner Valencia (Fenerbahçe).
No team feels the burden of history and expectations more heavily than England. Their lone World Cup victory in 1966 — 4-2 over West Germany — was eons ago. Their latest heartbreaking failure — 3-2 to Italy in penalties — came in the UEFA Euro 2020 final. English fans scarcely dare to hope.
Will captain Harry Kane (Tottenham), who led the 2018 World Cup with six goals, finally take his nation to the Promised Land? He’s got plenty of world-class offensive support with Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Manchester City) and others. Manager Gareth Southgate is under the microscope, as this squad is certainly a leading favorite again.
When Karim Benzema won this year’s Ballon d’Or, it fulfilled a lifelong dream for the Real Madrid captain. Now it’s time to see if France can attain a bigger dream by joining Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962) in the exclusive club of countries that won back-to-back FIFA World Cups.
The reigning World Cup champions boast a cornucopia of talent under Didier Deschamps, from Kylian Mbappé (PSG) to Paul Pogba (Juventus). On paper, France’s odds of repeating are excellent. But off-pitch controversies have spawned sub-par results in the run-up to Qatar. An ignominious collapse is possible.
For manager Hansi Flick, who led Bayern Munich to greatness in 2019-20, there’s a distinct lack of hype around his 2022 FIFA World Cup roster. Nonetheless, there’s also plenty of confidence that the experienced Germans can deliver the goods in the elimination games.
Bayern’s influence will be key in Qatar. Getting a healthy top goalkeeper in 36-year-old captain Manuel Neuer would be absolutely massive. If midfielder Thomas Müller, 33, approximates his 2014 World Cup-winning form (he had five goals to capture the Silver Boot that year), it’ll be hard to stop this Group E squad. The Germans qualified for more World Cup finals (eight) than any other nation.
In three previous FIFA World Cup stints (2006, 2010, 2014), the Ghanaians never fared better than their controversial 2010 quarter-final loss to Uruguay (4-2 on penalties). Sitting 61st in the FIFA World Ranking, the Black Stars seem unlikely to pose a major threat this year.
To have a prayer against group-stage rivals like Portugal or Uruguay, Ghana manager Otto Addo needs superlative performances out of Tariq Lamptey (Brighton) and Iñaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao).
Despite qualifying six times for the FIFA World Cup since 1978, Iran only won two matches (2-1 over the U.S. in 1998 and 1-0 over Morocco in 2018). That speaks volumes about the dim prospects for manager Carlos Queroiz’s men in Qatar.
Even with striker Mehdi Taremi enjoying a strong campaign with Porto, the Iranians will be lucky to eke out another win against the U.S., England or Wales in Group H.
Japan is on the rise, but will it be enough to achieve new heights in Qatar? For the diligent Japanese, it’s their seventh straight World Cup appearance dating back to 1998.
Yuya Osako (Vissel Kobe) raised the bar when his header gave Japan a 2-1 opening win over Colombia at the 2018 tournament. That was the first time an Asian country beat a South American country in World Cup play. Veterans like Junya Ito (Stade de Reims) and Takumi Minamino (Monaco) must step up this year as well.
Japan will likely give both Germany and Spain a good battle in the group stage but getting to the round of 16 will be tough.
The Mexicans haven’t made a FIFA World Cup quarter-final since falling 4-1 to West Germany on penalties in 1986. However, the fútbol-crazed North American nation scored a sensational upset at the 2018 tournament, blanking Germany 1-0. What’s ahead for El Tri in 2022?
The veteran savvy of keeper Guillermo Ochoa (America) and midfielder Andrés Guardado (Real Betis) should help propel Mexico to group-stage victories over Saudi Arabia and possibly Poland. But Messi’s Argentinians almost certainly have the edge, regardless of what tactics Mexico manager Tata Martino devises. Another quarter-final exit is Mexico’s likeliest fate this year.
Against African opponents, Morocco proved flawless in qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, Group F in Qatar is a whole different proposition.
If Achraf Hakimi (PSG) and Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) bury some goals and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou (Sevilla) performs miracles, the Moroccans could give Belgium and Croatia some uneasy moments. They’d love to top Canada. But the overall quality isn’t there for Morocco, which hasn’t won a group stage game since 1998.
“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” is a saying that resonates uncomfortably with Dutch soccer fans. Their team lost the 1974, 1978 and 2010 FIFA World Cup finals and finished third in their last appearance in 2018. When will all this acclaimed talent finally capture a championship?
The Dutch are generally favored to top Group A, led defensively by center-back Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) and midfielder Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona). But Louis van Gaal’s squad is also unlikely to net many goals unless Memphis Depay (Barcelona) runs wild, and that deficiency could burn the Netherlands come the knockout stage.
If only Polish scientists could clone Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona). The Polish captain, 34, already secured his place in history as one of the greatest Bundesliga snipers ever and will lead the attack again in his final World Cup.
Yet, it’s dubious that manager Czeslaw Michniewicz’s lineup will equal Poland’s peak third-place finishes (1974 and 1982). Lewandowski will need exceptional support from striker Karol Świderski (Charlotte FC) and midfielder Piotr Zieliński (Napoli) for the Poles to defeat any team not named Saudi Arabia in Group C.
Similar to Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) is looking to excel in his last World Cup at age 37. As the storied forward’s relationship with Man U has grown increasingly messy, Qatar could provide him with a redemption storyline.
However, the Portuguese — ranked 9th worldwide by FIFA — can’t let this tournament become The Ronaldo Show,. even if they’re tipped to advance from Group H versus underdogs like Ghana and South Korea. Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo (Manchester City) bring incredible technical abilities and athleticism, and they’ll need their A-game to down a foe like Uruguay.
If coach Fernando Santos gives his stars the freedom to show their skills, Portugal has an outside shot at triumphing.
No host team has ever lost its first match at the World Cup. That streak could end with underdog Qatar (50th in the FIFA World Ranking) debuting against Ecuador (44th).
Bluntly put, if coach Félix Sánchez’s players don’t score on Day One, they could plausibly crash out of the group stage with zero goals against Senegal and the Netherlands. Goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb will be busy.
Do you remember what you were doing on July 3, 1994? On that day, Saudi Arabia played in the round of 16 for the first and only time in FIFA World Cup history, losing 3-1 to Sweden. It was the Saudis’ first of five World Cup participations. In 2022, there’s no reason to believe Saudi Arabia will survive the group stage.
In fact, simply getting a point would be a major success for manager Hervé Renard’s squad packed with Saudi Pro League players. Arguably no team has worse odds of winning the tournament except Costa Rica.
Africa’s top team — currently 18th in the FIFA World Ranking — is projected to finish second in Group A behind the Netherlands. After that, the leadership of veterans like captain Sadio Mané (Bayern Munich) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) will likely dictate how far Senegal can go.
The Teranga Lions must gel quickly under manager Aliou Cissé to improve on their historic 2002 quarter-final appearance (a 1-0 loss to Turkey).
Some stars play different roles when they compete internationally instead of professionally. Yet for Aleksandar Mitrović (Fulham), the FIFA World Cup is pure déjà vu. As in the Premier League, the dynamic 28-year-old striker’s job is to score as many goals as possible.
If Serbia is to outduel Switzerland and Cameroon for a round-of-16 berth, Mitrovic will need some offensive help from Dušan Vlahović (Juventus) and Luka Jović (Fiorentino). Serbia’s last major upset was 1-0 over Germany in 2010. Could another surprise be in the offing?
Blanking Germany 2-0 in 2018 was the most stunning success in South Korea’s FIFA World Cup history. Captain Heung-min Son (Tottenham), who scored the second goal versus Germany, remains a focal point. He shared the 2022 Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) with 17 Premier League goals.
Under Son’s leadership, the Tigers of Asia hope to emulate their amazing run to fourth place in 2002, when they co-hosted with Japan.
Realistically, manager Paulo Bento’s men will be hard-pressed to crack the round of 16 with Portugal and Uruguay likely to grab the top two spots in Group H.
Manager Luis Enrique isn’t afraid to make controversial choices, like not taking any Real Madrid players to Euro 2020. He’ll have big tactical decisions to make in Qatar, such as figuring out how to maximize the output of star striker Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid). Pedri (Barcelona), who will turn 20 on November 25, could be an offensive difference-maker in his World Cup debut as well.
Spain has the potential to go all the way, as it did in 2010. But this super-talented, mercurial side could also crash and burn in the knockout stage.
History shows you can never count Switzerland out in a FIFA World Cup opener. The hard-working Swiss opened with draws against France in 2006 (0-0) and Brazil in 2018 (1-1), and upset Spain in 2010 (1-0). And at Euro 2020, their round-of-16 elimination of France (5-4 on penalties) had the soccer world buzzing.
In Qatar, manager Murat Akin will lean on midfielder Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), who has shone in Premier League action, and forward Breel Embolo (Monaco), seeking his first World Cup goal. The Swiss, though, may find it hard to score enough in the knockout matches.
In September, Tunisian striker Wahbi Khazri made a bold prediction: “I think we can make it out of the group. We know France is up there and they will play to win. Denmark and Australia are good teams. I think that it would be amazing if we could do it. Tunisia never went beyond the group stage.”
Beating Panama 2-1 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup provided an emotional lift for these North African hopefuls. That was their second and only win since topping Mexico 3-1 in 1978. However, manager Jalel Khadri is unlikely to engineer another miracle in Qatar.
The U.S. men didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This is a chance for redemption for a young squad.
Coach Gregg Berhalter’s team finished third in CONCACAF play behind Canada and Mexico. From Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Weston McKennie (Juventus) to Brenden Aaronson (Leeds), there’s good offensive potential here. Matt Turner (Arsenal) is the clear number-one goalkeeper but hasn’t seen much action playing behind Aaron Ramsdale in the Premier League.
Objectively, the Americans should be pegged to exit in the group stage this year, at best. But it’s not a foregone conclusion.
To get the best out of this Uruguay squad poses a big challenge for new manager Diego Alonso. The 47-year-old former manager of Inter Miami, who took charge with Uruguay in December 2021, must coax brilliance out of two 35-year-old star strikers in Luis Suárez (Nacional) and Edinson Cavani (Valencia). At the other end of the age spectrum, 23-year-old Darwin Núñez (Liverpool) set a new Premier League speed record in an October win over West Ham, sprinting at nearly 24 miles per hour.
Uruguay, which boasts two World Cup wins (1930, 1950), is a long shot to take it all this year but could cause headaches for opponents in the knockout stage.
Wales ends a 64-year drought by competing at the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1958. That was its only previous appearance, and the Welsh fell 1-0 to Brazil in the quarter-finals on a goal by the legendary Pelé.
So expectations are necessarily modest for this plucky squad captained by 33-year-old winger Gareth Bale (Los Angeles FC). The team has faced some injury concerns leading up to the World Cup, but still could upset the Americans for a round-of-16 berth. Stay tuned.
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