Relive the World Cup draw here.
The field for this year’s World Cup is, at last, complete.
Yet while the draw it set, quite what the 2022 World Cup, riddled with scandal and concern from the day Qatar was announced as the host, will be like cannot yet be known. The identities of the teams who will contest it, though, are — for the most part — extremely familiar.
Most, if not quite all, of the traditional contenders are already there: a 13-country-strong European contingent led by France, the defending champion, and Belgium, officially the world’s best team, as well as the likes of Spain and England and Germany. They have been joined by the two great powerhouses of South America, Brazil and Argentina.
Only one major name is missing: Italy, which will miss the tournament for the second straight cycle after falling to North Macedonia in a playoff. Elsewhere, the picture is now clear.
Four of Asia’s slots, for example, went to Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan, and then Australia found its way in through a playoff. In North America, Canada — unexpectedly — has made it, joined by Mexico, the United States and Costa Rica. In South America, Ecuador is back in the finals, dragged across the line by Uruguay, which is going as well.
Here’s a look at who is in:
How it qualified It has been easy to lose sight of it, in the swirl of controversy that has dogged the tournament ever since it was awarded to this tiny Gulf state in 2010, but the automatic entry granted to the competition’s host nation has given Qatar a direct route into a competition it has rarely come close to reaching on merit.
What can we expect in 2022? Recent results have not been encouraging: Coach Félix Sánchez’s team has over the last few months been beaten comprehensively by Serbia, Portugal and Ireland. Qatar is unlikely to survive the group stage, but do not expect it to be embarrassed: Sánchez is a smart, capable coach, and his team — bolstered by several nationalized Qataris — is organized and technically proficient.
How it qualified Germany might have been the first team to earn a place in Qatar, but by its standards, its progress was full of jeopardy and tension. In March, under its former coach Joachim Löw, Germany actually lost a game in qualifying. It won all nine of the others, and made it with a whole set of fixtures to spare.
What can we expect in 2022? The timing of the tournament may be against Germany. 2022 may come a little too late for some of the country’s stalwarts — Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Ilkay Gündogan — but just too early for the exciting generation, led by Kai Havertz, Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala, that will eventually replace them.
How it qualified Fresh from an impressive, emotional run to the semifinals of the European Championship, Kasper Hjulmand’s team made short work of a kind group, winning its first nine games and qualifying with a month to go.
What can we expect in 2022? Denmark’s impressive qualifying record — not only for this tournament, but established over the last six years or so — and its performance at Euro 2020 augur well for Qatar: Hjulmand will be aiming for a place in the knockout rounds at the very least. The only question mark is if the team will be able to count on Christian Eriksen, the midfielder who should make Denmark a sentimental favorite for neutrals. Last week, he marked his return to the national team with a goal against the Netherlands. On Tuesday, he added another in his first game in the stadium in Copenhagen where he collapsed during the Euros last summer.
How it qualified Tite’s team sailed through South America’s arduous qualifying process, winning 14 of its 17 games and drawing the other three. It has conceded only a single goal at home — a statistic aided by the fact that its meeting with Argentina was called off after officials from the country’s health ministry stormed the field to arrest some of the visiting Argentine players — and has only dropped points on the road in Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.
What can we expect in 2022? We have been here before: Brazil looking irresistible in qualifying, only to stutter when the finals arrive. Tite has crafted a resolute, well-drilled side more than capable of winning the tournament — and wresting it away from Europe for the first time since 2002 — but the suspicion is still that too much of the creative burden rests on Neymar.
How it qualified In a word: curiously. The defending champion’s place in Qatar never looked in any real doubt, but it was more a purgatory than a parade. Ukraine and Bosnia both left Paris with a point — indeed, the French did not beat second-place Ukraine home or away — and the abiding impression is that France could be so much more.
What can we expect in 2022? There is every reason to believe that France could retain the trophy, becoming the first team since Brazil, in 1962, to do it: The country’s depth of talent is such that its reserves would probably make the semifinals. And in Kylian Mbappé, it has a player who could use the tournament as a springboard to true greatness. But, just as in 2018, there is absolutely no guarantee it will be thrilling to watch.
How it qualified The world’s No. 1-ranked team — a status Belgium has held for three years or so — did not, really, need to break a sweat, scoring an impressive 25 goals in its eight qualifying games, although a third of those came in a single outing against Belarus.
What can we expect in 2022? This feels like a mantra that has held for at least the last three tournaments: Now really is the time for this Belgian generation to win something. Its array of attacking talent is bettered only by France and England, and the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are now in their prime years. If there is a note of caution, it is that the country’s defensive ranks have thinned a little in recent years; this team does not seem as well-balanced as the 2016 or 2018 editions.
How it qualified Croatia left it extremely late, sealing a place in Qatar only thanks to an Fyodor Kudryashev own goal with 10 minutes to play in the country’s final match, what turned out to be a 1-0 win against Russia on a sodden field in Split. Topping a finely balanced group, though, one that included Slovakia and Slovenia, warrants praise.
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What can we expect in 2022? Next winter will presumably serve as a final hurrah for the generation of players that took Croatia to the final in Russia in 2018: Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Domagoj Vida and the rest may not have another tournament in them. There are signs that another generation will follow, and Croatia will most certainly not go quietly, but a repeat of Russia does not seem likely.
How it qualified With plenty of the ball, but not a vast amount to show for it. Spain’s automatic place in the field was in doubt until the final round of qualifiers, when Sweden’s sudden collapse eased the tension. Few teams are as technically adroit as Luis Enrique’s side, but qualifying proved once again that Spain’s toothlessness in front of goal is now endemic.
What can we expect in 2022? Everything depends on whether Spain can find a reliable goal-scorer: for all that Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were hailed as the embodiments of the team that lifted the trophy in 2010, the presence of David Villa was the antidote to what might otherwise have been a sterile sort of domination. In Pedri and Gavi, Spain has two of the brightest prospects in world soccer to replace Xavi and Iniesta. Now it needs to hope that Ansu Fati can be its Villa.
How it qualified In silence, in Lisbon. For 90 minutes on the final matchday, it seemed as if Serbia would be taking up a fairly customary place in the playoffs: Portugal needed only a point to qualify. But then Aleksandar Mitrovic headed in Dusan Tadic’s cross, the Serbian bench emptied, and Portugal found itself staring at the grass as it opened up beneath its feet.
What can we expect in 2022? Serbia should be a threat. It has a team drawn largely from Europe’s major leagues: a defense built on Matija Nastasic and Nikola Malenkovic, a midfield adorned by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and the evergreen Tadic, and, in Dusan Vlahovic, one of the brightest young forwards in the world. History, though, suggests Serbia will not live up to expectations.
How it qualified England is, under Gareth Southgate, seriously good at qualifying for tournaments. Draws with Hungary, at home, in a game marred by crowd trouble, and Poland, away, were the only blots on its ledger this time. It has now lost only one game on the way to a major finals in 12 years.
What can we expect in 2022? More important, England’s record at those finals is on the upswing. Southgate took the team to a semifinal in 2018 — with the aid, admittedly, of a kind draw — and then to within a penalty shootout of winning the European Championship on home soil in the summer of 2021. With a settled spine and an ever-improving cadre of young players, England should be considered a genuine contender.
How it qualified Belgium tends to draw focus as Europe’s diminutive powerhouse, but the Swiss transformation into tournament mainstays is no less admirable. Murat Yakin led the team to the top spot in its group, above the recently-anointed European champion, Italy, in his first few months in the job. The Swiss did not lose a game and conceded only two goals in the process.
What can we expect in 2022? The answer to this is, effectively, certain: Switzerland will qualify in second place from its group and then be eliminated — probably on penalties, probably after a goal-less draw — in the round of 16. That should not be read as a dismissal. That a country as small as Switzerland can perform so reliably makes it, in many ways, an example to others.
How it qualified Remarkably, Euro 2020 was the first major tournament the Dutch had reached since making the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup: The Netherlands missed both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup. Its progress to Qatar was not exactly imperious — a defeat in its final game against Norway would have meant elimination — but that Louis van Gaal’s team coped with the pressure, and the ghosts of failures past, bodes well.
What can we expect in 2022? There are reasons to believe the Netherlands, safely qualified, might be something of a force in Qatar. Its record in World Cups is extremely good: a final in 2010, semifinals in 1998 and 2014. The last of those, of course, came under the aegis of van Gaal, now restored to his post. In Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, it has the core of an extremely good team. And in Ryan Gravenberch, the latest Ajax wunderkind, it may have a star ready to take flight.
How it qualified The quest to ensure Lionel Messi gets one final shot at the World Cup should, really, have been fraught and stressful and full of internecine squabbles. It is a shame, in a way, that it was anything but: After a slow start, Argentina did not lose a game before punching its ticket.
What can we expect in 2022? A lot of garment-rending over Messi, probably, given that it will be the last time a player many regard as the greatest of all time will grace the World Cup stage. The question will be how well Lionel Scaloni can craft a team to accentuate Messi’s gifts — impacted or not by age — and if Argentina’s rather cobbled-together defense can live up to its impossible richness in attack.
How it qualified Iran has, this century, become something of a World Cup stalwart. It has only missed two tournaments since 1998, and there was never any real doubt that it would qualify for its third consecutive finals. Dragan Skocic’s side only dropped points to South Korea in the final round of qualifying, and it had secured its place in Qatar by the end of January.
What can we expect in Qatar? Traditionally, the ease with which Iran qualifies has no bearing at all on how it performs in the finals: the country has only ever won two games at a World Cup, and it has never made it beyond the group stage. There is more reason to be positive this time around, not least because of an attack that features Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the sort of Champions League-quality talent that could have an impact.
How it qualified After a surprisingly slow start for a team that has not missed a World Cup since 1982 — involving draws with Iran and Iraq and a very late win on home turf against Syria — Paulo Bento’s team made it through qualifying relatively unscathed. A win in its penultimate game, against Iran, bodes well, too.
What can we expect in Qatar? South Korea might have contributed one of the most memorable moments in Russia four years ago — eliminating Germany in Kazan — but its tournament was still a disappointment, eliminated in the group stage alongside the reigning champion. The question this year will be the same as it was then: Does Tottenham’s Son Heung-min have enough of a supporting cast to shine?
How it qualified Placed in the more competitive of Asia’s two final qualifying groups — alongside Saudi Arabia and Australia — Japan toiled, at first, losing two of its opening three games. Hajime Moriyasu’s team recovered, though, winning six games in a row, even if few of those victories were emphatic.
What can we expect in Qatar? Japan tends to oscillate between exiting the World Cup at the group stage and exiting in the round of 16; the likelihood is that the same will apply again this time around. The one note of encouragement, though, is that there are more Japanese players in Europe than there have been for some years: not just the stars at Liverpool and Arsenal, but a clutch of representatives at Stuttgart and Celtic and Eintracht Frankfurt. That experience may come in handy.
How it qualified Hervé Renard’s team provided what was, essentially, a mirror image to Japan’s qualification process: it started strong, building up what proved to be an unassailable lead over Australia, and then seemed to switch off, losing in Japan and then drawing with China. By that stage, though, it could afford to coast just a little.
What can we expect in Qatar? Renard, the globe-trotting French coach with the long blond hair and the open-necked shirt, made his name by winning the African Cup of Nations twice, but his sole experience of a World Cup was being eliminated at the group stage with Morocco in 2018. With a squad based entirely in Saudi Arabia, it is hard to see him bettering that at the second attempt.
How it qualified As ever, South America’s qualifying group turned into a frantic scrap to occupy one of the two automatic slots not occupied by Brazil and Argentina. Ecuador made it thanks in no small part to an excellent home record — it lost only once, to Peru, at altitude in Quito — and the six goals of D.C. United’s Michael Estrada.
What can we expect in Qatar? There is a case to be made that Ecuador is now well-placed to establish itself as South America’s third force, a role previously played by the likes of Colombia (2010-2014) and Chile (2014-2018). Gustavo Alfaro, the Argentine coach, has a young, talented squad, though the lack of a high-caliber goal-scorer may be a hindrance.
How it qualified Few countries can have endured quite so much angst on the way to Qatar as Uruguay, which came so close to failing to make it to the finals that it parted company with Óscar Washington Tabarez, the beloved coach who had become synonymous with the country’s national side, halfway through the tournament. His replacement, Diego Alonso, guided the team over the final few hurdles with surprising assurance and little to no fuss.
What can we expect in Qatar? This will be the final stand of Uruguay’s great generation, the one that came of age in South Africa in 2010 and will still, somehow, carry the country’s hopes into Qatar. The forwards will still be Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani; the defense will still be marshaled by Atlético Madrid’s Jose María Gímenez. Age, most likely, will prevent a repeat of that run to the semifinals 12 years ago, but there will be no more wily team in the tournament.
How it qualified Canada has not, famously, been to a World Cup since 1986; though the country started qualification with hopes of ending that wait, it would doubtless have imagined a fraught and stressful path through the North American octagon. It did not work out like that: Canada sailed through, from start to finish, not just securing a place but finishing above both the United States and Mexico in the process.
What can we expect in Qatar? Canada is not likely to win the World Cup — sorry, Canada — but there is no reason to believe it will be humiliated. John Herdman has a smart, industrious squad with two beacons of genuine star quality: Alphonso Davies (once he is healthy again) and Jonathan David. Successful tournaments have been built on less.
How it qualified It would be a bit of a stretch to suggest qualification went smoothly for Ghana. Having missed out on Russia four years ago, it took three coaches, a deeply controversial penalty kick and a victory over Nigeria on away goals to carry the Black Stars to Qatar.
What can we expect in 2022? This is not quite so star-studded a squad as the team that took Ghana to within a missed penalty of the semifinals in 2010, or even the one eliminated in the group stage in 2014: Arsenal’s Thomas Partey is by some distance the standout performer. The tournament could, though, come at a fine time for a promising crop of talent: Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus, Roma’s Felix Afena-Gyan and Kamaldeen Sulemana of Rennes.
How it qualified Twice in seven weeks, Senegal and Egypt could not be separated. First, in February, the African Cup of Nations final went to penalties. Then, after narrow home wins in Cairo and Dakar, so did their World Cup playoff. On both occasions, Egypt stuttered, and Sadio Mané did not, turning his country into continental champion and earning it a place at the World Cup.
What can we expect in 2022? Senegal may well be the best-equipped team Africa has sent to the World Cup since the Ivory Coast’s golden generation in 2014. In Mané, it has one of the world’s best players, and around him are a clutch of mainstays of Europe’s best and brightest teams: Edouard Mendy, Idrissa Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly. Aliou Cissé’s team may need a bit of help in the draw, but it will be aiming for the knockout rounds at the very least.
How it qualified Vahid Halilhodzic is good at qualifying. The Bosnian coach has taken three countries to the last three World Cups — Ivory Coast, Algeria and Japan — and there was rarely any doubt that he would repeat the trick with Morocco. It won six of six in its qualifying group, and then comfortably dispatched the Democratic Republic of Congo in a playoff. No other African team has made it look quite so easy.
What can we expect in 2022? Oddly, only once has Halilhodzic actually made it to a finals: he was fired by both Ivory Coast and Japan before the World Cup rolled around. When he did get there, in 2014, he took Algeria to the round of 16. Now, with a squad including Achraf Hakimi and Youssef En-Nesyri, he will believe he can match that achievement with Morocco.
How it qualified Exquisitely. Did you see it? You must have seen it. Go and watch the video. Even if you’ve already watched it, watch it again. Download it. In the 119th minute of the second leg of its playoff against Algeria, Cameroon was beaten, condemned to heartache at the last. And then, in the 124th minute, Karl Toko Ekambi appeared, and everything changed. It is hard to imagine how any team could have ever qualified more dramatically.
What can we expect in 2022? Cameroon finished third in the Cup of Nations on home soil earlier this year — beaten by Egypt, on penalties, in the semifinals — and Coach Rigobert Song has built an experienced, well-organized side. Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and Vincent Aboubakar lend it a threat at one end, but the star is, most likely, at the other, in the form of goalkeeper André Onana.
How it qualified Thanks, largely, to an extremely miserly defense: Tunisia conceded only twice in Africa’s second group stage, and then managed to see off Mali by a single goal in the playoff. It does not have the same sort of star quality as any of four other African representatives, but it will be no pushover in Qatar.
What can we expect in 2022? Tunisia has never survived beyond the group stage in any of the five World Cups it has reached, and it is likely to be cast as the weakest of the African qualifiers this time around, too. Its defensive solidity will stand Jalel Kadri’s team in good stead, though, while the young Manchester United midfielder Hannibal Mejbri adds a little finesse.
How it qualified Portugal should, really, have been home and dry months ago, only for its concentration to falter at the worst possible moment: a last-minute goal in Lisbon from Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic condemned Cristiano Ronaldo and his support staff to Europe’s repachage. It did not detain Portugal too long, though: Turkey and North Macedonia were dispatched with relative ease to maintain the country’s record of qualifying for every major tournament this century.
What can we expect in 2022? Though the focus will, of course, be on what is likely to be Ronaldo’s final tournament, Portugal should not be reduced to the Manchester United forward and 10 others. Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes add guile in midfield, João Cancelo is among the best fullbacks in the world, and Diogo Jota has emerged as a poacher supreme. Portugal will travel to Qatar believing it can win the tournament.
How it qualified Poland’s players made it absolutely plain both to the country’s authorities, and to FIFA, that they would be more than willing to forego qualification if they were forced to meet Russia in a playoff in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine. That message, most likely, was the decisive factor in Russia’s expulsion from the tournament. Poland was given a bye, and duly beat Sweden comfortably to book its place.
What can we expect in 2022? The question for Poland this winter will be the same as it has been for a decade or more: can the coach — in this case Czeslaw Michniewicz — build a team that allows the country’s greatest asset, Robert Lewandowski, to shine? As long as Lewandowski, the finest pure striker in world soccer, is present, Poland should not be taken lightly.
How it qualified For all the low moments — defeats in Panama and Canada, dispiriting draws with El Salvador and Jamaica — and for all the lingering anxiety that there a repeat of 2017 might at some point drift into view, Coach Gregg Berhalter’s team progressed relatively serenely back to the World Cup, making it to Qatar with (effectively) a game to spare and without losing to Mexico.
What can we expect in 2022? That the United States has the core of a very gifted young team, one built around Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, should not be in question. If all of those players remain fit, and if Berhalter manages to settle on — or unearth — a standout striker, there is abundant reason for optimism ahead of the tournament.
How it qualified In truth, it is Mexico, rather than the United States, that has seemed unsure and inchoate during qualifying over the last couple of years. Gerardo Martino’s team made it through despite failing to beat either the U.S. or Canada, home or away, and after managing to lose both the Nations League and the Gold Cup finals to its northern neighbor in the last year.
What can we expect in 2022? Mexico’s recent World Cup record is a proud and frustrating one: seven straight tournaments, seven straight progressions out of the group stage, seven straight eliminations in the round of 16. There is reason to believe this might be the time to break the streak, but for all the talent at Martino’s disposal — Raul Jiménez, Hirving Lozano, Diego Lainez, Jesús Corona — qualifying has done nothing to suggest it will be in quite the way Mexico wants it.
How it qualified Through a playoff, and by beating Austria (in March) and then breaking the hearts of Ukrainians everywhere (in June). That was a long road for a team that has not been to the tournament since 1958, but Wales is in what qualifies as a bit of a golden era at the moment: It was a semifinalist at Euro 2016 and then went back to the tournament four years later. It took its team 64 years to return to the World Cup; it can’t afford to waste it.
What can we expect in 2022? Lots of Gareth Bale on the ball, lots of industry and bite elsewhere, and some of the best stadium singing you’ll ever hear.
Australia had to win not one playoff but two, beating the United Arab Emirates and then Peru in a shootout in June playoff matches in Qatar. The player most responsible for delivering them, however, may not play when they return to Doha. That would be the backup goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, who subbed on for the penalty shootout against Peru and then, with his dancing before each attempt, turned in either a masterclass in mind games or an embarrassing spectacle.
Opinions vary on the sportsmanship of it all — especially when he took his counterpart’s water bottle and notes and threw them away — but Australia surely doesn’t care: Redmayne got the Socceroos over the line, and they’re back in the tournament for the fifth straight cycle. A spot in a group with France, Denmark and Tunisia, however, could produce a fourth-straight group-stage exit.
Costa Rica was the last team in the field, beating New Zealand in a playoff to return to the finals for the third time in a row. Costa Rica was a surprise quarterfinalist in 2014, but repeating the feat was always going to be tough. Doing it out of a group highlighted by Spain and Germany will be a Herculean task.