With the World Cup coming later this year in the irregular month of December, it really is the business end of World Cup qualifying. 26 of 32 countries have already secured their place at the tournament, and we can already begin to speculate over which countries might go all the way. The biggest shock so far has to have been North Macedonia’s triumph over Euro winners Italy, leaving them out of a second successive World Cup. What we can confirm, however, is that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have helped secure their nations in the qualifying stage and will both be present at the Qatar tournament. So after a strong, albeit lengthy, qualifying stage, who do we envisage making it all the way to the end? Find out below.
England qualified after dominating group I in the qualifying rounds, but truly seem like a united force to be reckoned with under manager Gareth Southgate. Having reached the World Cup semi-final back in 2018, England followed this up with an appearance in the final of Euro 2020, only to crash out on penalties. With the natural visible progression seen under Southgate, it would only make sense to label England top contenders for the tournament. Harry Kane has found form, while other stars in Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Raheem Sterling have shown to be vital players for England during recent years. England has often had a wealth of stars at their disposal, but this is the first time the side actually looks unified and full of chemistry on the field. Keep an eye out for this team, they very well might exceed expectations, finally!
Another top nation who we simply can’t rule out is France. France have always looked strong on the field and are the most recent winners of a World Cup, surely expecting to lead a fierce title defense. Star striker Kylian Mbappe has only grown in maturity since the last tournament and has been on fire for PSG, and is expected to have earned a likely move to Real Madrid this summer. In-form Karim Benzema has earned a recall to the squad, while Giroud keeps defying critics by keeping up in the scoring charts. With a formidable midfield featuring Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba among others, France have a squad to be desired. This side are one that opponents will surely fear to be drawn against.
Consistently sitting first in world rankings despite never winning anything, Belgium are the mystery of international football. You can never quite rule them out considering the talent they have at their disposal – Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, just to name a few. However, this side always seems to crash out at the appropriate time. Roberto Martinez has been lauded for his work, consistently getting far, but never far enough. Perhaps this is their year? The only downside is that both Lukaku and Hazard have been underwhelming this season, experiencing poor-form and injuries respectively. Can this side group together for one last final push, before their big players retire from international duty? Time will tell.
Another name we like to throw about, a consistent World Cup winner in Germany. Under new manager Hansi Flick, Germany have been in great form. Somehow, this man can get the best out of players even when they underperform at club level. Take Timo Werner, a player who struggles in the Premier League, but looks at home playing for Germany. Housing other stars like Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry, among others, Germany can never fully be ruled out of contention.
This one is a little bit of a long shot, but honestly, in football nothing can ever be ruled out. Did anyone think Greece would triumph at Euro 2004? Definitely not. Canada have been flying recently and have shown themselves as the most in-form nation of North America. Canada qualified for their first World Cup in 36 years, and genuinely deserve to be there. Canada have rising stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David at their disposal and could certainly shock a few in Qatar this winter. With a little bit of luck and some football magic, keep an eye out for this underdog; they might just go further than you think.