The last international break before the World Cup is over. That means, with the exception of a few pre-tournament friendlies, it’s all about Qatar. After everyone has played around 27 club games over the next nine weeks, it’s all down to Qatar.

1) Brazil

They’re always there, aren’t they? For several decades, they have lost a little at the World Cup. They haven’t made it past the quarter-finals since the Ronaldo Redemption in 2002, and given what’s happened since then, they’d prefer not to. At this point, rooting for Brazil seems a bit like a gamble, as if you were involved in NetBet Casino.

They remain the only non-Europeans to win since Diego Maradona brought Argentina glory in 1986. And now they look like the most likely to stop European dominance. They have won three games this year, one 4-0, two 5-1 and one 3-0. Teams also won, which is no joke. Chile, Paraguay and South Korea are just some of the countries that Tite has taken to heart.

Photo by Fauzan Saara on Unsplash

2) France

Legendarily Absurd Possessors and Possessors of Power in the Deep. The draw also offers a round of 16 meeting against Mexico. It’s essentially a quarter-final bye, per the inviolable if inexplicable Law of the World Cup, which dictates that Mexico must always be eliminated in the Round of 16.

France are second favourites, and their second XI would finish sixth. Their third XI will be dark grasshoppers.

Didier Deschamps’ side qualified for Qatar in comfortable, if not entirely convincing, fashion. They drew at home and away with Ukraine and failed to beat Bosnia at home.

We like France’s major tournament odds as they are, but they can also be… a little French. They tend to crush everyone (see Russia 2018) or succumb to infighting and bickering (see Euro 2020 and all). It’s usually impossible to predict which one you’ll get.

If the League of Nations is any indication (which it probably isn’t), it will be the latter. They weren’t bad at England’s level but narrowly avoided relegation, picking up just one point from four games against Croatia and Denmark.

3) Argentina

This is Messi’s last chance at the Big Dance, and it could be his best chance yet. Argentina have a great squad that combines youth and experience, and they haven’t lost a game since the 2019 Copa América.

They won the 2021 edition, ending Messi’s long wait for international glory. After an unbeaten World Cup qualifying campaign, they appear well-placed to add global glory to their continental success. However, they will need to improve on their recent World Cup record.

Argentina reached the quarter-finals twice, finishing as runners-up once and winning it twice during the four tournaments between 1978 and 1990. They only lost one match, which was against Germany in Brazil, who narrowly won the final after extra time.

Their recent form suggests that something special could be about to happen. They led Italy to a 3-0 victory in the Finalissima and they have won four of their last four games by a combined score of 14-0.

4) England

England’s betting position is always and inevitably too low in British bookmakers. This owes much more to the huge liabilities they have accumulated than to an objective assessment of their chances. They are in terrible shape right now.

They did not win a single game and were relegated from the top division of the Nations League. However, their recent tournament form deserves our respect.

They were able to qualify for the World Cup once again faster, which cannot be said about all the top European teams. They are also the only team to reach the last four of the 2018 World Cup as well as Euro 2020. It was their first major final since 1966 before losing to Italy on penalties.

They succeeded with a draw for their team and could do so again in Qatar. They could win a group that includes Iran, USA and Wales, which is a bigger “if” than you might think. They could then face Qatar, Ecuador or Senegal in the Round of 16, a match that is likely to be a second leg. One can only hope that potential quarter-final opponents France are somehow sloppy in this tournament. Southgate is back in the semi-finals and all the doubters and haters will be in the mud.

It is technically possible.

5) Spain

Considering Spain as a serious rival seems a bit old-fashioned these days. This is a team that has achieved incredible fame and has been widely recognized as the best in the world. Then they suddenly kind of disappeared, but they never lacked for great players.

They have been very poor in the majors since their absurd glory days when they won three tournaments in a row (two Euros and a World Cup) between 2008 and 2012. It’s a “What have you been up to lately?” question. but the fact is that they were knocked out at the group stage and round of 16 in the last two World Cups after their long wait for a world title ended in South Africa. Having reached the final four, Euro offered to return to the top table. However, the future champions of Italy took the penalty.

Still, the run was a strange one, with a couple of steady draws in the group stage before Slovakia went full throttle and were then beaten 5-3 by Croatia after extra time in a ridiculous game. They needed penalties to get past Switzerland.

6) Germany

They were the team in decline at the Euros 18 months ago. England beat them comfortably in the knockout stages after they had already lost at home to giants North Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier.

They seemed to have put all that confusion and trouble behind them, crushing all comers in the remaining qualifiers in Qatar. However, they then had a mixed campaign in the Nations League, beating eventual group winners and European champions Italy, but losing at home to Hungary and, most importantly, failing to beat a dreadful Gareth Southgate-led England side.

Hansi Flick has generally put together a convincing squad that includes enough of an older guard to keep things sensible, but has also successfully incorporated plenty of exciting young talent such as Jamal Musiala, a former England Under-21 star.

This team is tasked with stopping the decline of a team that has such a strong record in major tournaments. They have been eliminated in the group stage at the last two majors and the last four in a row at six majors from 2006-2016.

7) The Netherlands

The 2010 semi-finalists and 2014 finalists failed to make it to Russia. However, they got it right by beating Turkey and Norway in a competitive qualifier.

They haven’t lost a game since losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic at the Euros last summer.

Louis van Gaal’s side won five out of six games to reach the final. This included a win in the opening match against Belgium, which they beat 4-1.

Their tournament record, apart from the Nations League, is appalling. They also missed the 2018 World Cup and did not qualify for Euro 2016. They looked good at the Euros last summer. However, they failed to qualify for Euro 2016 after a sluggish group stage in which they won three times before being knocked out by one lucky third-placed team.

8) Portugal

Portugal’s victory at Euro 2016 remains one of the most prestigious victories in the tournament. They won the competition after finishing third in their group. In the semi-final, in which they beat Wales 2-0, it was Portugal’s first win in 90 minutes.

Bookmakers do not take any chances with the prices of Portugal because of their ability to make a fortune in the most unlikely situations.

They are now in reasonable form, reaching the Nations League final within minutes of being beaten by Spain and Alvaro Marato.

They also have the right World Cup squad to suit them. With South Korea, Ghana and Uruguay in the pool, this looks like a pool where you can talk your way to the top with just one win and a few ugly draws. Brazil will likely face the second-placed team in the draw.

9) Belgium

Is this really the last chance for the Golden Generation to win a major tournament? This team is not the best, but they will have a lot of experience in Qatar.

Belgium’s squad could include six players with more than 100 caps – Hazard, Hazard, Hazard, Mertens and Lukaku – as well as a handful of newcomers with just 90-odd caps in Courtois or De Bruyne.

While a couple of quarter-finals and one semi-final are not enough to make up for the incredible talent Belgium have produced over the past decade, they have a tough task ahead of them in Qatar.

Their group is not the worst. Canada and Morocco are unlikely to pose a serious threat. We are most looking forward to their meeting with Croatia in the group stage. It is quite possible that there will be 10 players on the field who have played more than 100 matches (Modric Perisic, Vida). Courtois could also play in three of Belgium’s four games.

However, the last 16 look problematic. It is almost certain that it will be Spain or Germany.

10) Denmark

The most entertaining team in many ways. One that almost simplistically seems to have morphed into something much bigger thanks to the shared experience of Christian Eriksen’s collapse and his death-defying tackle in their first Euro game.

A cohesive Denmark team managed to overcome the loss of their best player and make it to the semi-finals against England. They were, let’s be honest, very sorry to lose to England in extra time. The winning goal was scored by Harry Kane with a rebound from the softest penalty.

They won nine of their 10 World Cup qualifiers and beat France at home and away in the Nations League.

This is doubly important because they will face France again in Qatar in Group D. A section that also includes a non-vintage Australian side as well as Tunisia. Argentina and Mexico look the most likely opponents in the 1/16.

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