Tuesday , September 27 2022

100 days to World Cup

Your team is going to lose the World Cup.

Probably. Almost every team is going to lose the World Cup. That’s just the way the World Cup works. One team wins, and most teams lose. The odds are not in your favor.

But the World Cup is officially only 100 days away, which means it’s prime time for fans to start hoping, dreaming and worrying about their country’s fortunes. After all, there is the minuscule chance that your team does win the World Cup, a feat that only eight countries have pulled off in the nearly century-long history of the competition. Which means that hope, that uniquely human quality, abides.

In an effort to help you kill that hope before it leads you to an inevitable and crushing disappointment this winter, here are all the reasons several teams from across the world won’t win the World Cup. Most likely.

Brazil

Let’s face it: even if Brazil win the World Cup, the chances that Brazilians will be truly happy about it are astronomically low. Sure, there’ll be celebrations. Absolutely. But I give it about a week before the new World Cup trophy shine wears off and people start calling for Tite to step down again. It’s not enough to win for Brazil. They have to win the Brazilian way, with attacking verve and unbridled creativity and lots of other adjectives for an obsolete way of playing the game. And that’s exactly why Brazil won’t win the World Cup: too much push and pull between tradition and the tactical nous that dominates the modern game. Too much conflict between the brain and the heart, the intellect and the soul. Plus, they start Fred in midfield.

Why they might win anyway: Tite is very smart, the squad has tons of experience and Fred is actually very good in the Brazilian setup.

Argentina

We all know, right? This is Argentina we’re talking about. A team that has fumbled the bag so hard with possibly the best player in the history in its squad that he was 34 before he won his first senior international trophy. Argentina and international heartbreak go together like Joey Barton and fines. They just make sense together.

Why they might win anyway: When you’ve got Lionel Messi, all bets are off.

England

Gareth Southgate has famously gotten England eliminated from European Championships via penalties as both a player and a coach, and I have no doubt he can work his magic once again entering the World Cup with one of the strongest England teams in history. The talent isn’t the question here, it’s the endlessly boring grind that Southgate’s tactics tend to initiate when meaningful games roll around. Why bother trying to dominate a game with all the attacking talent at your disposal when you can safely play out a draw and lose on penalties instead?

Why they might win anyway: Admittedly, Southgate’s tactics are probably the most consistent and safe way to progress through a single-elimination tournament, and England feel like a lock to progress far enough in the tournament where anything can happen.

Spain

Spain still play this game? After the ignominy of the past two World Cups? Wow. They’re braver than me, who would probably have just taken a gap year and tried studying abroad, or at least paying off Barcelona‘s loans. Anyway, I imagine they’ll be … pretty decent, most likely. They’re still playing Alvaro Morata in the year of our Lord 2022, so it’s not like they’re going to win anything. But they’ll probably be fine.

Why they might win anyway: Being pretty good all the time is often the key to going far in the World Cup. They’ve lost only three times in the past three years. That type of consistency is invaluable.

Portugal

Portugal were put into the awkward spot of needing some playoff matches to get to the World Cup, which is what happens when you spend your time in the first portion of qualifying struggling to defeat the Republic of Ireland and Serbia. And it’s not so much that those are bad teams, it’s just hard to properly call them good teams, a stamp it’s likewise difficult to affix to Portugal.

On top of all that, this team is old. Pepe is playing for this team. The attack still relies, in many ways, on Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact, at a current average age of 27.4, Portugal is the fourth-oldest team headed to Qatar, narrowly beaten out by Argentina, Australia and Belgium. Yes, experience counts for something, but not when you’re sucking wind halfway through the group stage and realize there’s another full game to play in four days and Qatar is still hot in November.

Why they might win anyway: Even when Portugal look their lowest, most disconnected and hopelessly lost as a team, they have several players with the ability to just go and do something otherworldly.

Germany

Germany have had the distinct misfortune of seeing the world practice the art of schadenfreude by watching their national team play over the past several years. Stomped by England, of all teams, in their previous Euro, utterly collapsing in the past World Cup’s group stage, slouching to defeats against Mexico and South Korea, knowing that all of their success was riding on a man who was constantly caught picking his nose on camera … it’s been a tough time for Germany. And unfortunately, no matter how many Bayern players end up in their squad, this isn’t the Bundesliga.

Why they might win anyway: I can make fun of Germany all I want, but they’re still going to go out and do things like dropping five goals on Italy a couple of months ago. If they’re in the tournament, they’re a threat to win it. And the new boss hasn’t been caught picking his nose … yet.

Senegal

I actually love Senegal. Whenever Senegal pop up in an international tournament, I’m very happy. I like the way they play, I like the way they’re coached by Aliou Cisse, and in general, I have a very fun time when Senegal are on the TV. But you just know that they’re going to get eliminated because of some questionable decision out of their control. They literally got eliminated from the past World Cup because of yellow cards, the all-time worst way to decide a tiebreaker. Even beyond the studies both showing and not showing implicit racial bias in refereeing, being eliminated because of yellow cards should be illegal. And looking at this group, with an underrated Qatar team playing at home, an always-game Ecuador and the Netherlands … well, it kind of feels a lot like Senegal’s group in 2018.

Why they might win anyway: I’m a big believer in teams with solid centre-backs and great goalkeepers in international play, and Koulibaly and Mendy fit that bill perfectly.

Morocco

Morocco have a very talented side, but they just fired their head coach because of a much-publicized tiff with Hakim Ziyech, who said he would never play for Morocco again. And sure, that’s a legitimate reason to fire a coach when you’ve got a player like Ziyech who could be helping your team, but a couple of months before the World Cup generally is not the time to pull that maneuver. Firing Vahid Halilhodzic just feels like a last resort, and they’ve got only two games left to figure things out with a new manager before having to take on Croatia, Belgium and Canada. Best of luck with that.

Why they might win anyway: Who am I to deny the appeal of full-backs who cover more ground than a Mars rover?

USA

Success on the international stage for the USMNT has nearly always come down to some outstanding play from its goalkeepers. Currently, the two goalkeepers who most U.S. fans figured would be starting at the World Cup are riding the bench at Arsenal, or doing this in the Championship.

Seems pretty likely that one of those two guys will start in goal in Qatar, while the team also just lost one of its first-choice centre-backs to injury in May. Yes, there’s talent in that side, but there’s also so much potential for everything to implode in spectacular fashion.

Why they might win anyway: For possibly the first time ever, the USMNT actually has several good attacking options. Like, more than three-and-a-half good players. Wild times we live in!

Mexico

Once the undisputed kings of CONCACAF, Mexico have managed to beat either the U.S. or Canada exactly one time in the past three years. In that same time, they’ve been beaten twice in cup finals by arch rivals United States, and played second fiddle to Canada throughout World Cup qualifying. If you can’t beat the United States or Canada, you’re not getting through Argentina, and you’re probably struggling with Saudi Arabia and Poland, too.

Why they might win anyway: No one should need this reminder, but Memo Ochoa loves playing in World Cups.

Canada

Canada have an exciting and young team featuring one of the best young players in the world in Alphonso Davies, and they’ve got a coach in John Herdman who seems to have figured out the best way to get all of that young talent to jell with longstanding veterans in the Canadian setup. It’s undoubtedly the most exciting time to be a fan of the Canadian men’s team in … well, maybe ever. And that’s why it’s a shame Canada got put in a group with perennial European titans Belgium, runners-up at the past World Cup in Croatia, and a dangerous Morocco team. It was a good run, Canada.

Why they might win anyway: Canada showed an England-esque ability to keep things steady in CONCACAF qualifying, taking safe draws and pressing their advantage when it presented itself. If they can pull that off in Qatar, they’ve got a shot.

South Korea

South Korea have one of the most talented players in their country’s history in his prime going into the World Cup, not to mention key contributors playing across some of the best leagues in Europe. But the team almost always feels like a side that can beat or lose to any single team it faces, which is not a great quality to have in terms of trying to win a World Cup. That’s especially true given how the rest of the teams in South Korea’s group, Portugal, Ghana and Uruguay, have that exact same air about them. South Korea are a squad that’s great for the chaos lovers out there, not for winning a tournament.

Why they might win anyway:

Qatar

The home team! The home team usually does pretty well at the World Cup. Except for South Africa, that is. You know, the only other time since Japan and Korea in 2002 when the World Cup was hosted in a region unlike anywhere else the World Cup had ever been held. Qatar are a much stronger squad than South Africa were in 2010.

They finished third in 2021’s Arab Cup by getting results against strong opponents in Algeria and Egypt, and teams that underestimate them do so at their own risk. Still, Qatar aren’t surprising anyone after a game or two tops, and as strong as the team might be, it still lost to the United States in the 2021 Gold Cup, which isn’t a great harbinger for international success.

Why they might win anyway: Home-field advantage is the ultimate X factor.




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