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World Cup 2022 power rankings: As European giants falter, Messi and Argentina sense opportunity

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Crises are a hallmark of the World Championships. They are the natural product of an infrequent event that attracts billions of looks and expectations. The pressure builds up and hacks even the best international football teams, and leaves fragments scattered across several countries every fourth of June. It’s unavoidable. In 2022, this is happening like clockwork – only this time the crises have come earlier than ever before.

As a rule, this is a feature after the World Cup. However, with two months left until the 2022 World Cup, they have already spread from Europe to America and beyond. They have absorbed several superpowers. France is mired in controversy. England was relegated. Germany has just lost to Hungary and Spain to Switzerland. The US looks toothless and Mexico looked worse, which begs the question: Is anyone good?

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The answer is yes, and we’ll get to that. But the preparations for Qatar 2022 have been particularly chaotic. The COVID-19 pandemic has compressed calendars and canceled countless training camps. The unconventional fall schedule for the World Cup has outpaced any pre-tournament pace. Very few of the contenders to win the 2022 World Cup, which starts on November 20, are as perfect as they hope.

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However, there are two who hum – and one, especially accustomed to the crisis, which, contrary to the trend, has finally built a coherent unit around its generational star.

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This is Argentina. The star is Lionel Messi. They will arrive at the World Cup in harmony for the first time in a long time, and with many European counterparts hesitant, Messi’s last chance to win football’s biggest prize may simply be his best.

This is the main takeaway from the final World Cup Power Rankings, which evaluates the relative strength of the 32 participants. They are divided into five levels, and yes, of course, they will look silly in December, because unpredictability is another inevitable feature of the World Championships, and especially this one.

But there is nothing wrong with trying to rank applicants. Numbers in brackets Elo ratings as well as BetMGM chances to win everything. Without further ado…


1. Brazil (How: 1 | +400)

The legendary Brazilian teams, which are still unrivaled in the 21st century, were notable for their attacking verve and talent. Choice have deviated from that identity to varying degrees over the past 20 years, but have now resurrected it – and they have a crowded depth chart that will allow them to stick with it in November.

Brazil has been too dependent on Neymar in the past. Now, in addition to his still brilliant and increasingly versatile number 10, he has Vinicius Jr. and Gabriel Jesus and Rafinha and Richarlison. It has Anthony, Rodrigo, Matheus Cunha and many others who won’t even be on the plane to Qatar. He also has depth in central midfield and centre-back and has won all seven games since February by an average margin of 3.4 goals. In 76 games under Tite, he scored 164 goals and conceded just 27. (Twenty-seven!)

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 27: Neymar Jr of Brazil celebrates his team's third goal with his teammates Rafinha and Lucas Paqueta during the international friendly match between Brazil and Tunisia at the Parc des Princes on September 27, 2022 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Tnani Badreddin/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Expect a lot of celebration from Brazil at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (Photo by Tnani Badreddin/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

The caveat here and throughout this ranking is that Brazil has not played a European team since 2019 and has not played a European team. World Cup Team after a quarter-final loss to Belgium in 2018. The isolation of Europe, and especially the UEFA Nations League, which is now jamming the calendars, has blocked almost all intercontinental competition. England, for example, have not played a South American team since 2018 and have not traveled outside of Europe since 2014. Thus, it is rather difficult to compare Brazil (and Argentina) with their main rivals.

But lineup lists, analytics, betting odds and pedigrees come to the same conclusion: Brazil is the favorite.

2. Argentina (How: 2 | +600)

Messi’s evolution into the classic top ten has coincided with Argentina’s evolution into a machine that highlights his otherworldly skills and makes up for his shortcomings. Lautaro Martinez, who is equally active and focused, starts with Messi at the top. Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo de Paul will sit behind him in midfield and let him drift where he pleases. In the other two places in the top six, manager Lionel Scaloni chooses runners who catch up with Messi’s magical passes or additional creators who take the pressure off him.

There are questions to the defense, but the track record of Argentina under Scaloni is almost flawless. He entered the job at the age of 40, after a semi-disastrous 2018 World Cup for Albiceleste. In 34 games since the 2019 Copa América, including three against Brazil, Argentina Scaloni has not lost.

Oh, and with the World Cup just around the corner, and with the monkey in the main tournament from the back, Messi does these things:


3. France (How:6 | +600)

France is more accustomed to contradictions and crises than others. His greatest hits of the 21st century include sex tape blackmail casea player mutiny, racist quotas and headbutt. But never before have they merged into such a storm before the World Cup as this one. Only in the last two months there has been a terrible case of extortion and accusations of witchcraft; a boycott of a photo shoot and a dispute between the team’s brightest star and the French Football Federation; reports of covering up sexual violence and harassment within the federation; and many injuries that reduced Blues to the shell of his once omnipotent “I”.

Oh, and then there’s the coach, Didier Deschamps, who refuses to unravel his flock of expressive stars. France are playing more conservatively than any other opponent despite having an unprecedented arsenal of players at their disposal.

conservatism received the title in 2018, and an arsenal that is perhaps even richer now than it was four years ago makes a repetition very plausible. But recent results – one win in six over Austria, Denmark and Croatia – have been ominous. Such is the track record of defending world champions: the last three and four of the last five (including France in 2002) burned out in the group stage.

4. Spain (How:3 | +800)

The last three Spanish national teams in the World Cup have either handed over opponents to death or handed themselves over to death. This one can do either one or both.

The midfield, staffed by Pedri, Gavi, Rodri and Sergio Busquets, is excellent in both structure and ability. This allows Red control games better than any other world cup team. The challenge, as always, is getting enough points to win those games. Spain enters another major tournament without a reliable striker. At Euro 2021, he was more than 5 behind expected goals and while some of that delay can be attributed to misfortune and chance, some of it was a terrible finish that could resurface in Qatar.

In short, Spain can choke an opponent enough to win the World Cup and they can probably create enough chances to win the world championship. But he doesn’t have the top-notch talent he once had, and at some point he’s likely to stumble in the final third.

5. Germany (How: 10 | +1000)

The German lineup is in some ways very similar to Spain’s: deep and balanced midfield, decent but partly unproven defense, and lack of a reliable centre-forward – with a former Chelsea flounder who most closely resembles No. 9.

But stylistically, of course, the Germans are completely different. They will press like head coach Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich and acquire a very modern German identity. The big question is whether it is possible to coordinate the press enough without any serious training block in the run-up to the World Cup. (There is a reason why other top international teams such as France and Portugal have abandoned this aspect of modern football almost entirely and have succeeded with a less adventurous approach.)

6. England (How: 14 | +700)

On paper, England has a lot to like. There were exits to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2021. There are many offensive talents and a pool of players, according to Transfermarktis worth a total of $1.47 billion—more than $300 million more than any other country.

But in practice, Gareth Southgate’s team was powerless and mediocre. Prior to the explosion in the second half on Monday, he hadn’t scored a single field goal in 522 minutes. He has not won any of his 2022 Nations League matches and has been promoted to League B with one substitute.

His centre-backs – Harry Maguire, Eric Dier, John Stones – are wobbly, and chance-maker Trent Alexander-Arnold may not even play. His comeback on Monday, saving a wild 3-3 draw with Germany, saved him from a full blown crisis but did not solve the various problems that could have prevented another deep run in Qatar.

7. Portugal (How:7 | +1400)

For years, Cristiano Ronaldo has been a gem among the trash in the Portuguese national team. He was cause for optimism amid question marks and holes. Now the scenario has been reversed. Portugal has smart builders, a solid midfield and the best and most mobile defender of the past four years – and Ronaldo, partnered with head coach Fernando Santos, could be the one to keep that at bay.

He looked good this month and really lost in two Nations League matches for Portugal, as well as for Manchester United, who sent him to the bench and improved. Portugal most likely won’t, partly because it doesn’t have an obvious replacement, but mostly because he, you know, Cristiano Ronaldo.

He is still capable of scoring an important goal or two in Qatar, but as a coordinator – instead of passing the baton to Bruno Fernandes or Bernard Silva or Diogo Jota or Rafael Leao – he is likely to be a hindrance.

8. Belgium (How:5 | +1200)

On the one hand, Kevin De Bruyne is great, and Romelu Lukaku could be him too. On the other hand, Belgium. Still did not find a single next-generation central defender.

The Red Devils are apparently going to field Jan Vertonghen and Toby…


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