The qualification stage for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is already underway in some parts of the world and it’s also due to kick off in a big way in Europe later this year. The draw for the European qualification stage was made in December 2020, creating some potential “groups of death” for countries that are typically well-fancied to make an impression on the World Cup finals.
Aside from the well-fancied teams, there is always a cluster of underdogs that upset the applecart and secure their place at on the finals stage. Within this article, we assess five potential nations that could be ones to watch in Qatar, providing they make it through their respective qualification rounds.
The United States are a developing force in world football, but they would still be considered underdogs for the 2022 World Cup in the eyes of pundits and bookmakers. The sport is surging in popularity stateside, and the national squad is looking to right the wrongs of 2018 when they missed out on a World Cup for the first time in 32 years. America boasts plenty of developing talent in European football of late. Christian Pulisic is a firm favourite at Chelsea and winger Weston McKennie recently agreed a permanent transfer to Serie A giants Juventus. Meanwhile right back Sergino Dest is one to watch having been snapped up by Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona.
Ukraine could certainly be one to watch if they make it out of Group D – probably with France. In 2019, Ukraine’s U20 side won the U20 World Championship, underlining the potential of this next generation. The Ukrainians have powerful left back Oleksandr Zinchenko in their ranks. The 24-year-old plies his trade for English Premier League (EPL) title favourites Manchester City, who are also on course to compete for their first UEFA Champions League in 2021. As of March 8, City were rated as +250 favourites for the Champions League with US sports betting portal FOX Bet, who favour City over the likes of champions Bayern Munich, PSG and Liverpool. Zinchenko could be part of a quadruple-winning City squad in 2021/22 which would stand him in very good stead for Qatar 2022.
You only have to look at the way the Russians embraced being the host nation at the 2018 World Cup to see that hosts can be dangerous underdogs. Russia advanced to the last eight of the 2018 World Cup, knocking out Spain in the last 16 along the way. The Qataris will have their work cut out to try and emulate that achievement, but they are certainly a footballing nation on the rise, despite having little heritage behind them. It will be interesting to see how the fare in upcoming friendlies against teams in Group A of UEFA’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. Games against the likes of Portugal, Ireland and Serbia will be tremendous yardsticks for Qatar’s potential in winter 2022.
Some might say it is foolish to label Italy an ‘underdog’ for a FIFA World Cup, but if the futures odds for Qatar 2022 are anything to go by, it’s fair to include them in this category. They are priced as long as +1600 with most bookmakers, which makes them ninth favourites for the Jules Rimet trophy. Head coach Roberto Mancini could mastermind a resurgence, despite an ageing squad. Experience counts for plenty in knock-out tournament football, with the Italian past masters of grinding out wins. Qualifying for Euro 2020 with a 100% record and finishing top of their 2020/21 UEFA Nations League group should give punters confidence in the Azzurri.
The Croatians finished runners-up in the 2018 World Cup, knocking out England in the semi-finals along the way. The Croats were surprise contenders in Russia, but their squad contains plenty of battle-hardened professionals with considerable experience across European football. Iconic midfield playmaker Luka Modric will be hoping to play one more World Cup finals, along with other seasoned campaigners like Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perisic. It’s the middle of the park where the Croats have most of their experience, with their back line likely to be significantly different to 2018. They have a tricky qualification group with a host of neighbouring rivals in Group H including Slovakia, Russia, and Slovenia, but they should have enough to progress.
One thing is for certain, the Middle East’s first FIFA World Cup is sure to contain plenty of thrills and spills, with new stadia to explore, as well as new faces and a new climate to adapt to.