The Edict’s FIFA World Cup 2022 Knockout Preview
By Analie Dutta Choudhury (UG’23) and Kartikay Dutta (UG’23)
No World Cup is played without controversy, but that is true most perhaps for this version of the tournament than any before. For many, this is the World Cup which is the culmination of FIFA’s corruption scandals over the last few years — brought to a crescendo by ex-president Sepp Blatter’s recent comments about how awarding the Gulf nation the hosting rights was an error on FIFA’s behalf. There are a vast and varied range of issues at the tournament this year, beginning with fears of the athletes’ health, all the way to an international crisis due to labour concerns.
While the World Cup is the latest in a long line of sportswashing experiments undertaken by Middle Eastern regimes over the last decade or so — including the purchase of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Newcastle United by the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia respectively — its problems have taken a deeper root in the footballing world due to the waves it is causing beyond it. In pursuit of building a fleet of a new world-class stadiums in the small country, Qatar has utilised immigrant labour, going as far as to deny these workers from South Asia the chance to return to their homelands, and watched on as over 6,500 deaths were recorded, of citizens from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. There is no way to put it gently: this is a World Cup built on the blood and bones of labourers held against their will, and for many, that much is reason alone not to watch this World Cup and give it validation in the form of recognizing it as one.
In light of this, the fact that this is a World Cup shifted from the traditional summer break and shoehorned into the middle of a usually packed winter schedule can seem trivial, but again only points questions towards why a desert country that reaches temperatures over 45 degrees celsius in the summer and is comparable to the size of India’s National Capital Region and was given the opportunity to host one of the largest international events on the planet. In a football schedule already choked with an unsustainable number of fixtures and still feeling the ripple effects of the Covid-enforced break, the World Cup only seems to provide more and more red flags as the first kickoff approaches.
In any case, the football carnival must roll on: when it comes down to it, eyes will still be on screens, and the players will still be giving everything and more to ensure they lift the trophy on December 18th. For players and audiences alike, this tournament needs to be a message that they play football in spite of all the behind-the-curtains darkness: football is a game which belongs to the world and not to one money-hungry organization, but more importantly, football isn’t something worth losing lives over. With that in mind, here is The Edict’s preview for the 2022 World Cup.
One of the most thrilling parts of any international tournament is the concentration of talent and quality present. It’s almost like a crossover event: the opportunity to watch cross-club rivals congregate on the same side of the pitch, asked to put aside their differences in the interest of national triumph. Invariably, though, some teams are better off than others, and at a World Cup, trying to predict exactly what’s going to happen is as much a part of the experience as watching the games themselves. With that in mind, here is a low-down of teams that will have the pressure of expectations to produce results — and a couple that will try to spring some surprises and make it deep into the tournament (Croatia in 2018, anyone?)
The question on everyone’s lips: is it finally coming home? Can the top scorer amongst all players active in the Premier League, Harry Kane, carry England to the pinnacle of his sport for the first time in 56 years? They have a star-studded squad, with experienced heads and exciting young talent both at hand. They are a tight defensive unit, having relied on that philosophy to take them to the semifinals in the 2018 World Cup and all the way to the final in Euro 2020.
England's attacking options, primarily Kane, Saka, Sterling, Grealish, and Rashford, are also seen as a serious threat. However, England has been proved to be unable to hold on to their leads, falling into a comfortable but complacent defensive position when up a goal. This style of coach Gareth Southgate has been heavily criticised by the masses, and might just be why a World Cup title remains elusive for England.
With stars Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante sitting this tournament out, both having picked up injuries while training for their respective clubs, France is set to heavily depend on its frontline of Mbappe, Griezmann, and Benzema. Didier Deschamps’s side is going to be following a formation of 4-2-3-1 with the emphasis on a strong defensive line. This strategy has been working well, as they conceded the second fewest shots in qualifying. With their explosive strikers, France is easily one of the favourites to lift the cup for the second edition in succession.
However, the last five World Cup winners failed to make it past the group stage when asked to defend their title — will France be able to achieve what they failed to do in 2002, and break out of this supposed curse/self-fulfilling prophecy?
Defending Copa America champions, Lionel Scaloni’s side boasts of a 35-match unbeaten streak in international football, only three games away from besting Italy's record set just last year.
With explosive starts in the first half, Argentina is known to be quick on the counter attack with its formidable line up of Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, and Angel Di Maria. On the opposite end, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez proved his mettle in the Copa America semi-final shootout with three saves, also winning the golden glove. Their defensive solidity is added to by centrebacks Lisandro Martinez and Cristian Romero. Well-rounded and the most in-form team in the tournament, the Albiceleste will eagerly be looking forward to adding a third star to their crest.
The only team to have played in every edition of the World Cup since its inception in 1930, Brazil will be trying to get back to trophy-winning ways, having lost the Copa America final to fierce rivals Argentina, and now 20 years removed from the last time they lifted the Jules Rimet. They have averaged the highest possession in the South American CONMEBOL, and historically come out as top scorers in nearly every continental tournament. They have the strongest forward line-up and depth in the tournament, with Vincicus Junior, Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha, and Richarlison, with Neymar leading the charge as the jewel in their crown. Also boasting of a strong midfield and Alisson Becker, one of the finest goalkeepers in the world, the five-time World Cup winners will look to bury the demons of 2014 and forget the underperformance of 2018, knowing that they are the one team nobody wants to face at the World Cup.
Spain's tiki-taka method of playing took the world by storm in South Africa 2010, and under coach Luis Enrique, still has the ability to mesmerise all who watch. Their possession has rarely dipped below 60% in all of the matches played since the pandemic break in 2020.
With a unit full of fresh young talent led by vastly experienced captain Sergio Busquets, you can be sure to see some of the best game sense and team-wide plays from the technically spectacular Spanish squad. All eyes will be on Pedri, who has been compared to the likes of La Roja legends like Andres Iniesta. Between him, Ansu Fati, and Gavi, a new era is unfolding right before us. Their only concern is that they struggle with scoring, with no standout striker to rally arround, and this may prove to be their undoing come the knockouts.
Messi and Ronaldo’s Last World Cup
There is not much to be said about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s careers that hasn’t already been said. Both are considered two of the finest players to have played the sport, if not the outright greatest. Between them, they have eight Champions League titles, twelve Balon d’Ors, a surfeit of domestic trophies, thousands upon thousands of goals, and a couple of museums dedicated to them. Their achievements are second to none except each other in most fields where it matters — but there is an undeniable feeling that both would swap a lot of those for a World Cup winner’s medal.
Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal, and Leo Messi is Argentina: they are surrounded now by players of the highest calibre, and yet, they are the talismans for their national teams, and the pieces around which those teams are calibrated. Both will be participating in their 5th World Cup in Qatar, having made their debuts in 2006 — and will arguably also be facing their best chance at finally lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy. The teams of 2010 and 2014, when both were at their pomp, don’t compare to the strength they possess this year. Argentina enter the tournament as reigning Copa America champions, while Portugal won the most recent edition of the Nations League, both within the last 18 months. Messi, at 34 years old, and Ronaldo, 37, will both be spearheads and captains for teams which can boast of immense talent beyond just their veteran superheroes. Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes, Lautaro Martinez, Rodrigo De Paul, Angel Di Maria — all names that would strike fear into opponents, and that is without the additional drive and desire the players will have to provide these two legends the ultimate piece of silverware.
It’s quite a simple equation now: Messi and Ronaldo have one last shot to complete football. As always, and perhaps more than usual, all the eyes will be on them this winter.
The Edict’s Bracket Prediction for Qatar 2022: