With the proliferation of Nations League competitions around the world these days, there are not so many meaningless friendlies for the fans to endure. More games actually mean something and that makes things much more interesting as we get ever closer to the World Cup in Qatar.
The final international break before the tournament has just ended and apart from a few last-minute friendlies, the coaches now have all the information they need to formulate their squads. We now have some kind of a guide to what might happen at the tournament but there will undoubtedly be some surprises at the end of the year. We also now know a little more about the competitors thanks to the recent games.
It was a case of national embarrassment for US soccer fans when the team failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Qualification was achieved for this year’s tournament but it did come with a slight shift of power in the CONCACAF region, with Canada topping the final group.
Now the USMNT has won just once in ten games away from home and had only scored once in five games before the final warm-up game against Saudi Arabia. An injury to Christian Pulisic didn’t help things with the insipid showing against Japan and now the US needs to rally before its first games against Wales in Qatar.
Europe’s Elite Mis-Firing
Even though this year’s World Cup is being held in the heat of the Middle East, most of the favorites to lift the trophy are from Europe. But you wouldn’t know that from some of the results from the last week of Nations League fixtures. Many of the supposed top sides lost important games while picking up injuries as well.
France lost to Denmark to round off a miserable Nations League campaign, while Spain lost at home to Switzerland. Germany and England also looked far from impressive as they allowed Italy – who didn’t even qualify for the World Cup – to win the group. If anything, the games this week gave us more questions than answers.
Keep an Eye on South America
While Europe’s big hitters struck out, Brazil and Argentina reminded everyone that they should definitely be considered as potential champions in 2022. Although both nations have been playing friendlies since qualifying for Qatar, the results and performances of the players should worry any upcoming opponent.
Brazil continues to be the overall favorite to win the World Cup and the choice of players for head coach Tite is just frightening. Argentina’s friendly victories were not against anyone special but those who believe in fate would say that the stars are beginning to align for Messi to finally lift the World Cup in what will probably be his final tournament.
Croatia Still Kicking
When Croatia made it to the final of the tournament in Russia four years ago it seemed to be the culmination of a wonderful ride for the golden generation of players who were largely coming to the end of their international careers. The results following the defeat to France in Moscow – and the retirements – also seemed to back up that assertion.
But now Croatia has experienced something of a second wind. Luka Modric is still leading the team that is still on the older side – but the results have been very positive. Four consecutive victories saw Croatia win its group and qualify for the Nations League finals ahead of France and Denmark – and everything looks good going into the World Cup in November.
Figure 2 Iran fans will be happy with recent results
Iran Against the Odds
Even the most biased of Iran fans probably don’t think that their team will win the World Cup in Qatar. But, after what had been a chaotic build up to the tournament, Team Melli is now feeling positive again. The return of Carlos Queiroz as head coach seems to have had its desired effect.
Iran doesn’t tend to play many high-profile friendlies, but a win against Uruguay and a draw with Senegal – two very good teams – were probably its best results in years. Now all Iran fans will be looking forward to coming up against England, the US and Wales in a few months’ time.