QATAR 2022: The Big Countdown22 days to go…

The most compact FIFA World Cup since 1930 and the very first edition to be held in the Middle East and Arab world will kick off on 20 November to 18 December 2022. To get you up to speed, VIP Magazine’s IKENNA OKAFOR presents the big countdown with a weekly compilation of news, facts and figures.

Belgium is often dubbed as one of the most talented footballing nations never to win a World Cup. They are heading into this year’s tournament looking to finally get that attribution off their back.

The tale of the last 10 years has been from a Belgian perspective, and there are worries that a golden generation of top-class players will finish their international careers without any trophy to boast. Players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois are all superstars with multiple honours for their respective clubs.

However, this could be the last chance for Belgium manager Roberto Martinez to guide them to international glory. The locals at home are not too optimistic about the chances of success.

Belgium is the main attraction of Group F, which also includes Morocco, Canada and Croatia. The game against Croatia on matchday three will be challenging, and both teams will be hoping they can book their route into the knockout stages by taking sufficient points in their other two games.

With previous tournament failures being put behind them, Belgium has to go all-out for the final shot at glory for this golden generation of players.

Underdogs: Serbia, Tunisia set to shine
There are countries looking to pounce on errors from the favourites. Among such countries that are hugely regarded as underdogs are Serbia and Tunisia. They would be looking to derail the Brazilians, who are the favourites in their group.

Serbia has experience in shocking a footballing heavyweight after beating Germany in 2010. Surprisingly they finished top of their World Cup qualifying group, above Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the goal that sealed that win in Lisbon. This season, the striker has scored 43 league goals for UK club Fulham, earning them the top spot in the Championship and a swift return to the Premier League. The other goalscorer that night in Portugal was Dusan Tadic, and if the Ajax man is on his game, Serbia has everything to play for.

Tunisia is in danger of going under the radar, with high-profile teams such as France and Denmark in the group. However, with a large local community of Tunisians residing in Doha and many more thousands set to make the trip south to Qatar, they will be hard to ignore at the start of the competition. They have experience competing in Qatar after reaching the semifinals of the Arab Cup in 2021.

Their World Cup experience leaves a lot to be desired. They won their first World Cup match back in 1978, but it was 40 years until their next win during the tournament when they beat Panama in Russia four years ago.

Last lap for top stars

A World Cup is a showcase for the best footballers on the planet. Still, Qatar 2022 promises to be a mix of potential final appearances for a group of iconic stars, combined with the emergence of an exciting new generation of talent.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

It is well known that the stage is set for what is likely to be the final World Cup battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo coupled with other top stars who may be having their final attempt to touch the trophy before the 2026 tournament.

Karim Benzema (France)
Deschamps’ decision to recall Benzema for Euro 2020 was met with a mixed public response in France, as Les Bleus bowed out of the competition at the Round of 16. However, the veteran forward has reminded everyone of his big-game talents in 2021/22, not least in the Champions League, and he remains one of the deadliest finishers on the planet.

Karim Benzema

Luka Modric (Croatia)
Modric is likely to follow those such as Ronaldo, Messi and Benzema in probably calling time on his international career after the World Cup, but the 37-year-old midfielder will be determined to lead Croatia to success in Qatar, and despite his advancing years, he remains a match for anyone in world football.

Luka Modric

Harry Kane (England)
England captain Kane will be the key man for Gareth Southgate’s side as the Three Lions aim to build on their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy. Kane edged himself back into top form in the second half of the 2021/22 Premier League season and has started the new campaign in a fashion that suggests he can once again thrive on the biggest stage.

Harry Kane

Son Heung-min (South Korea)
Son has shown time and time again throughout his career with Tottenham in the Premier League that he is capable of individual brilliance, scoring some of the most spectacular strikes the league has seen. At the international level, he is just as ruthless, with more than 30 international goals to his name, and he will be among the strikers expected to shine in the Middle East.

Son Heung-min

Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
De Bruyne will be charged with the task of finally helping Belgium to lose their ‘nearly men’ tag in Qatar, with a star-studded line-up having consistently underperformed in previous tournaments.

Kevin De Bruyne

However, the Manchester City man will be determined to prove himself as the No.1 midfielder in world football.

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