World Cup 2022: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar among stars preparing for one last shot at glory

Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by

Sky Sports picks eight themes that could define the World Cup, from the stars likely to grace their final tournament to a replay of one of the most infamous games in the competition’s history.

Who could be playing their final World Cup?

Who could be playing their final World Cup?

Ronaldo and Messi are not the only famous faces ready to say goodbye to the World Cup. At the age of 39, Brazilian Dani Alves and Portuguese Pepe will certainly make their last appearance at the tournament, as will 38-year-old Thiago Silva, 37-year-old Luka Modrić, 36-year-old Manuel Neuer and Olivier Giroud, as well as Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Hugo Lloris, who are 35 years old.

With French forward Karim Benzema, Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets and Polish forward Robert Lewandowski all aged 34, and German forward Thomas Muller 33, the list of players potentially making their last appearance on the world stage is as long as it is magnificent. .

Whether this might be the last World Cup for Kevin De Bruyne or Neymar remains to be seen, but make no mistake, international football will be left with a void that could be filled by another generation.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Jack Wilkinson

What remains of Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’?

Like English fans, Belgian fans know what it’s like to witness a ‘golden generation’ heralded as winners of major tournaments every two years, only to see them continually fall short of those lofty expectations.

Ahead of the 2014 World Cup – their first in 12 years – Belgium were expected to make a significant impression. Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard were all under 23 and looked set to become first-timers in European football, while Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens and Mousa Dembele helped fill the squad with talent.

But perhaps weighed down by expectations, Belgium were under pressure throughout the tournament before eventually crashing out in the quarter-finals. Marc Wilmots oversaw another Euro 2016 finals exit before being replaced by Roberto Martinez, who led Belgium to victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

That win should have been the moment the Golden Generation showed they were turning their undoubted potential into long-awaited success, but they then limped out to France in the semi-finals before slipping back at Euro 2020, where they crashed out in the last eight again.

Martinez’s side may remain second in the FIFA world rankings, but their results since Euro 2020 have been mixed, with the 4-1 home defeat to the Netherlands in June standing out as particularly damaging.

Who remains from Belgium’s 2014 World Cup squad?

Who remains from Belgium's 2014 World Cup squad?

As a result, Belgium enter the 2022 World Cup feeling that, like England more than 10 years ago, their Golden Generation missed out on a chance for glory. Kompany, Dembele, Vermaelen and Fellaini went on, while Hazard, Mertens and Witsel passed their best.

The presence of De Bruyne and Courtois – arguably the best in the world in their respective positions – as well as Lukaku show that Belgium remain a side to be taken seriously. But the fact that Alderweireld and Vertonghen – with a combined age of 68 and 264 games between them – are not only still in the squad, but still starting regularly under Martinez, is cause for concern.

In total, more than a third of Martinez’s 26-man World Cup 2022 squad were also part of the 2014 campaign. At best, this presents the manager with a team rich in experience; but at worst, it demonstrates a group of players who have aged together and whose successors are not yet capable or believed to replace them.

Belgium should advance from a group that includes Croatia, Morocco and Canada, but a potential tie in the last 16 with Spain or Germany could finally spell the end for their skorojevics. Joe Shread

Ecuador aiming to seize World Cup chance after curious case of Castillo

Ecuador secured qualification for the 2022 World Cup back in March, but it wasn’t until November, less than two weeks before the tournament began, that their place in Qatar was confirmed.

Until then, the country was embroiled in a legal dispute involving defender Byron Castillo, with South American rivals Chile and Peru, who missed out on qualification but hoped to gain a place at Ecuador’s expense, claiming he had no right to represent them.

Castillo appeared in eight Ecuadorian qualifiers, but the appeal stemmed from claims he was born in Tumac, Colombia, in 1995, rather than in the Ecuadorian city of General Villamill Playas in 1998, as stated in his official documents.

The case was referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ultimately ruled that Castillo was in fact eligible, even though he was born in Colombia and used false information about his date and place of birth to obtain an Ecuadorian passport.

Ecuador have been fined £88,000 for using false documents and will start their South American 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with three points deducted, but they arrived in Qatar hoping to seize the opportunity after the reprieve.

The irony of it all is that Castillo, who plays for Mexican club Leon, was not even included in head coach Gustavo Alfaro’s 26-man squad for the tournament. Ecuador wants to continue the streak that begins in the first game against the hosts Qatar on Sunday. But Castillo’s shadow looms over their participation.

If they go further than expected, Chile and Peru may not be the only nations complaining.Nick Wright

Ghana vs Uruguay: A grudge match for the whole of Africa

Mark the date: December 2 at 3 p.m.

On the surface, it may appear to be just another World Cup group game, perhaps even a dead end by the time we reach the third matchweek.

Or it could be a potential shootout in the round of 16, a decisive event laced with ten years of talk and bad feelings. When Ghana face Uruguay at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, the Black Stars will be aiming for revenge.

Ghana was one step away from becoming the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.

They were awarded a penalty when Luis Suarez deliberately brushed the ball on the line. Suarez, who was playing for Ajax at the time, was sent off but Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty.

Ghana were eventually beaten 4-2 in a dramatic encounter at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.

Former captain Stephen Appiah recently said in an interview with Al Jazeera: “I get goosebumps when I hear about the 2010 World Cup. It will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Ghana are back on the world stage in Qatar where they will face Uruguay in Group H alongside Portugal and South Korea. Rather deliciously, Suarez is still in the Uruguayan squad.

It is an opportunity for the nation to get rid of the nightmare that has reigned for 12 long years. This time around, Ghana caretaker manager Otto Addo believes his team can make a significant impact in their fourth finals.

Addo, with no previous coaching experience, took over Ghana in February following the sacking of Milovan Rajevac following their early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations.

“We can beat anyone. It’s down to the players, not me. Their performances have brought them here. They have the quality, with or without me,” said Addo.

“I’m responsible for putting them in the right positions so they can give their best performances, with and without the ball. They have to be able to play together.”

On the second leg of the controversial quarter-final in 2010, Addo said: “I’m sure it will be on some players’ minds because it was a defining game, not just for Ghana, but for Africa as a whole”Ben Grounds

The ideal World Cup for Brazil and Argentina?

We haven’t seen a South American World Cup winner in 20 years. Is this the year that changes?

Brazil and Argentina come into the tournament as anyone’s race for the semi-finalists. Both were chosen as favorites by many experts.

Both nations have an average squad age of 28.44, indicating their ability to combine youth and experience. Europe’s dominance in this tournament could end.

Brazil’s attacking options certainly put them in the right spot. Behind talisman Neymar is a host of 25-and-under options, including Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior and Raphinha.

Meanwhile, Argentina have the experience of winning the Copa America and the Finalissima and still have members of the 2014 World Cup finals squad playing in their prime.

They are fueled by talk that this is likely to be Lionel Messi’s last World Cup – the last chance for one of the all-time greats to pick up the prize that defined his mentor Diego Maradona.

Critics of Brazil and Argentina will point to two areas of skepticism that are no longer valid.

First, their knock-out drop is said to be a result of a lack of group experience playing against European teams between tournaments – an argument that is belied by the fact that 48 of the 52 players in both teams all play in Europe.

Then again, the old issue of having too many options in their squad – leading to headaches when selecting a manager blessed with talent – is unlikely to resurface. The first World Cup with five substitutions allowed allows that depth to increase.

This could be an eventful winter for two classic World Cup nations. Blitz himself

A brotherhood divided: Williams’ representing different nations

Athletic Bilbao brothers Inaki and Nico Williams will become the latest siblings to play for different countries at the World Cup.

Younger brother Nico has just two senior caps for Spain but was called up by Luis Enrique last week. In July, Inaki decided to represent Ghana in international football after previously playing for Spain.

The 28-year-old, who was born in Bilbao to Ghanaian parents, has played for Spain’s U21 side and also made one senior appearance in a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016.

Inaki said in a video posted on social media at the time: “Every step we take forward has its own meaning… a look into the future that itself leaves a mark. A legacy. My parents raised me with values ​​based on humility, respect and love .

“That’s why I feel that the moment has come to find my origins in myself and in Africa and Ghana that mean so much to me and my family.”

FIFA rules dictate that players can change countries if they have not played more than three games for their country before the age of 21 and have not featured in a World Cup or continental championship.

They will repeat the feat of the Boateng brothers, who played for different nations in 2010 in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil. Jerome Boateng played as a central defender for Germany, while senior Kevin-Prince Boateng was a midfielder for Ghana.

The Boatengs, whose father is from Ghana but were raised by separated mothers in Germany, played against each other in both tournaments.

Inaki, who holds the La Liga record for most consecutive appearances with 233 games, could face his brother Nic in the quarter-finals in Qatar.

For that to happen, both would need to qualify from the group stage, but with only one as the group winner before both overcome their opponents in the round of 16. Ben Grounds

Third time lucky for Van Gaal?

Those chosen to represent their country often speak of the opportunity as the highest and rarest of honors. For Louis van Gaal, he was called up on three separate occasions – and only as a manager.

Van Gaal previously managed the Netherlands between July 2000 and November 2001, before returning to the job for a two-year spell in August 2012, which culminated in him reaching the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Having not coached for more than five years, Van Gaal returned for a third – and surely final – time in August 2021 and will lead the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup at the age of 71.

With Ronald Koeman already installed as his successor, it must be now or never for Van Gaal to add an international trophy to the host of titles he has won in the club game.

A quick look at Van Gaal’s squad reveals the names of Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay – a core of elite talent comparable to any at the tournament.

Additional quality and experience is provided by Nathan Ake, Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind and Denzel Dumfries, while a number of talented youngsters – led by Jurrien Timber and Cody Gakpo – mean Van Gaal has an exciting squad at his disposal.

But a closer look at the 26-man roster yields some surprises. For starters, Van Gaal called up several players who will be familiar to Premier League fans for all the wrong reasons, including strikers Wout Weghorst (two goals in 20 games for Burnley) and Vincent Janssen (six goals in 42 games for Tottenham).

Steven Berghuis (Watford), Davy Klaasen (Everton), Maarten de Roon (Middlesbrough), Luuk de Jong (Newcastle) and Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham) are also expected to play in Qatar after recovering from unsuccessful spells in England.

Moreover, Van Gaal has also included the uncapped duo of 19-year-old PSV midfielder Xavi Simons and 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen right-back Jeremie Frimpong, while his three goalkeepers have just eight games between them.

In fact, the number 1 jersey in Qatar was handed over to Ajax’s Remko Pasveer, who turned 39 this month but only made his international debut in September.

A notoriously outspoken character, Van Gaal has always preferred to do things his own way – and often succeeded. Having been drawn in a group that includes Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador and with Wales, USA and Iran as potential opponents in the last 16, don’t be surprised to see the veteran coach and his eclectic squad progress once again. Joe Shread

Does glory or controversy await flailing France?

You never know what you’re going to get from France at the World Cup. They always deliver star power, but putting it all together has proven to be quite difficult over the years.

France, as the holder of the World Cup, is among the favorites for the championship in Qatar. But after rumors emerged of discontent within the squad following an unsuccessful Euro 2020 campaign, there is a degree of uncertainty about what to expect from this group. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time internal politics derailed France at the World Cup.

Even before Euro 2020, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud fell out when the AC Milan forward said the French star didn’t pass him enough in the friendly against Bulgaria.

Giroud was also the target of some criticism from Karim Benzema – who has since returned to the France national team – in 2020, when the Real Madrid forward described himself as “Formula 1” while his counterpart was a “kart”.

Things eventually boiled over after France’s shock exit at the hands of Switzerland in the last 16, when reports suggested a dressing room row between Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot sparked a further row between Benjamin Pavard and Raphael Varane. The tension even spread to the families in the stands in Bucharest, where Rabiot’s mother, Veronique, reportedly clashed with the Pogba family.

You don’t have to go very far back in time to find more examples of French implosions on the big stage. Entering the 2002 World Cup – again as reigning champions – a pre-tournament injury to Zinedine Zidane helped derail Roger Lemerre’s side, who crashed out in the group stage after taking one point and failing to score a goal.

An even bigger embarrassment came in 2010 when France fell at the first hurdle again, this time after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for an X-rated outburst at manager Raymond Domenech, prompting the team to go on strike during the tournament.

While there is no suggestion that a similar fate awaits France in Qatar, the presence of several players who have already been embroiled in controversy – including Mbappe, Benzema and Rabiot – means the holders are unlikely to go quietly if they face another early exit.

The absence of injured duo Pogba and N’Golo Kante, so key to glory in 2018, is a major concern – as is France’s pre-tournament form of one win in six matches.

With so much talent in their star-studded squad, but also so many previous examples of failure at major tournaments, one thing is certain – France’s participation in this year’s World Cup will be fascinating viewing. Zinny Boswell and Joe Shread