Qualification for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar at the end of the year is still not quite over. But we already have a good idea about most of the teams that have made it to the biggest stage in world soccer.
The online sports betting markets have already been busy figuring out the favorites to lift the famous trophy in December. It promises to be an enthralling occasion – as ever. But who are the players that we should be looking out for as the best in soccer convene in the Middle East this year? Here are five we think will be making the headlines at the World Cup 2022.
Karim Benzema, France
The Real Madrid striker is enjoying yet another incredible season and recently hit a 17-minute hat-trick to knock Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League. At the age of 34, it is questionable whether he has another World Cup after this one – so Qatar may be the swansong of a glittering international career.
That career has not always been so straightforward though. Although he has consistently performed for his club side, Benzema was controversially omitted from the France squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He has appeared in three European Championships – and the 2014 World Cup – but he did not play for France for five years after he was involved in a blackmail scandal.
He is back now though – and is his country’s fifth highest goal scorer of all time. He may even be able to climb further up that list by the time the World Cup begins at the end of November and he will be just one of the threats up front for France as it looks to defend its crown in Qatar.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
It hasn’t been the best of years for Lionel Messi. After being forced out of the club he loved in the offseason, he has not looked at his best since joining PSG. Considered by many to be the greatest ever to play the game, he still hasn’t been able to win the one prize that might end all those arguments – the World Cup.
For a while, it was his club success with Barcelona that was enough. But international glory had always eluded him. His Argentina side lost in the final of the 2014 World Cup against Germany and he looked destined to finish without success with his national team. But then he played a crucial role in Argentina’s Copa America win in 2021.
He will know that a World Cup victory with Argentina would end many of the arguments, though. At the age of 34, this is surely his last chance to win the trophy and there would be few more fitting ways to cap off one of the greatest careers of all time for that to happen in Qatar.
Kai Havertz, Germany
For a player at the other end of his career, look no further than Chelsea and Germany’s Kai Havertz. He became the Bundesliga’s youngest ever player when he made his debut for Bayer Leverkusen at the age of 17 years and 126 days old – and has since gone on to become one of the brightest talents on the world’s stage.
After the debacle that was Germany’s 2018 World Cup, there was a complete revamp needed and Havertz was just one of the youngsters drafted in to bring the country back to its rightful place. He made his senior debut in 2018 and has already managed an impressive goals per game scoring ratio.
He has also already enjoyed success at a club level, where he has played a major role in Chelsea winning the Champions League and Club World Cup. Those performances have translated seamlessly into the international set up and now he looks like being an integral part of any potential German success.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
Unlike some of the players in this article, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne probably has a few more World Cups and European Championships to play after this one in Qatar. But he will know only to well that the Belgium team he is part of has been tipped to win trophies for years now – without success. It is time for the golden generation to go all the way.
De Bruyne has won plenty of cups and leagues with Manchester City, of course. His incredible passing ability has carved open the defenses of some of the best clubs in Europe – and his ferocious shot has seen him score over 20 goals and rate highly in the all-time list for Belgium. Not bad for a midfielder.
But even with the array of talent available, this Belgian squad has only ever finished as high as third at a World Cup and has not been able to get past the quarterfinals in the European Championship. That has to be considered as a failure with the players on show – and De Bruyne will be one of the main factors in Belgium doing well this year.
There was a time at the turn of the century when Spain won just about everything going in the world of international soccer. But that has all changed in recent years, with the national side’s losing finalist appearance at Euro 2020 the first time it had made it past the round of 16 at any major tournament since 2010.
One of the stars of that team is a player that had only been playing professionally since 2019 and capped off a busy 2020/21 season by playing an astonishing 73 games for club and country. Pedri’s star is rising at Barcelona, where he plays an important midfield role, as well as for Spain.
He will only just have turned 20 when the tournament kicks off, but he will surely be given his usual free role in the middle of the field to dictate the play and open up defenses with his precision passing. If Spain does well, a lot of the plaudits will be going Pedri’s way.