World Cup 2022: everything you need to know

One last chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kylian Mbappé back on the biggest stage ever. Brazil Bidding for a record-extending sixth title.

One of the eagerly awaited world championships in memory – both for off-field and on-field reasons – begins Sunday in Qatar.

32 teams, 64 games, 29 days. The first World Cup in the Middle East.

League operations around the world have paused and now football is focused on Qatar, whose national side open the tournament with a game against Ecuador.

Here are a few things to watch as group games get underway in the smallest country to ever host a World Cup, where some fans will be staying in floating hotels when they walk over to take the action:

top teams

Brazil (No. 1 in FIFA ranking). Neymar, Vinícius Júnior and the rest of the flair-filled Selecao peak at just the right time. Is a first world title in sight since 2002?

Belgium (No. 2). The “Golden Generation” is gradually dissolving, but there is still Kevin De Bruyne leading the Belgians. There are doubts about Romelu Lukaku’s fitnesshowever.

Argentina (No. 3). No world title since the days of the great Diego Maradona. This will be the first World Cup since his death in November 2020 and Argentina have improved under coach Lionel Scaloni with Messi still taking center stage and led the team to a 35-game unbeaten run.

France (Number 4). The defending champions. Still the country with the highest squad density, despite one Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante injury list. Now with Mbappé AND Karim Benzema leading the attack. No team has defended its World Cup title since Brazil 1962.

England (#5). The team has been in poor form – unbeaten in six games – but has a strong track record in recent major tournaments. England were semi-finalists at the 2018 World Cup and finalists at the 2021 European Championships.

reading on all 32 teams that will play at the World Cup.

big stars

Lionel Messi, Argentina. The seven-time World Player of the Year might have saved his 35-year-old legs for one last shot at a world champion medal that would make him the greatest footballer for many. He is in outstanding form for Paris Saint-Germain at the moment.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal. He’s won the European Championship, but the top scorer in international men’s football has yet to appear in a World Cup final, let alone win one. He is now 37 years old and no longer first choice at Manchester United – so make the best of him while you can.

Kylian Mbappe, France. The star of the last World Cup at the age of 19 and he’s getting better and better. The speedy striker could take on the great Brazilian Pelé to become champions in his first two World Cups.

Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium. Widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, his drives and crosses are among the best sights in football. Belgium will be grateful that he arrives in Qatar healthy.

Neymar, Brazil. Often overshadowed by Mbappé and Messi at Paris Saint-Germain, still the most important man for Brazil. Also look out for tricks and flicks and some theatrical elements.

How it works

Get ready for a celebration of football. There are eight groups of four teams each, with the top two progressing to the knockout stages of 16 teams.

There will be four games in a row per day – yes, four! – for most of the first two sets of group games, then simultaneous kickoffs for the last two games in each group.

There is no break for the knockout stages, which begin the day after the end of the group stage. The first day without football comes on December 7th – the 17th day of competition.

Must see games

Qatar vs Ecuador, Sunday. The first game of the tournament and always a date to remember in the calendar.

Argentina vs. Mexico, November 26th. The first of the great continental rivalries in the group stage, with Messi potentially securing his and Argentina’s place in the last 16.

Spain vs. Germany, Nov 27. Surely there couldn’t have been many bigger group games than this at a World Cup? Two new champions, two giants of European and world football.

Iran versus the United StatesNov 29. It was dubbed The Mother of All Games Part II. As at the 1998 World Cup, the two countries meet in the group stage in a politically exciting duel. Diplomatic relations between the nations have yet to be restored since they were severed in 1980.

Ghana vs Uruguay, December 2nd. Does anyone remember the night of July 2nd, 2010? In the final minute of extra time in a World Cup quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana, Luis Suarez deliberately stopped the ball with his hand on the goal line, was sent off only for Ghana to miss the penalty and lose on penalties as Suarez celebrated on the touchline . Revenge would be sweet for Ghana.

injuries

Injuries have hit some of the world’s best players ahead of the tournament.

Among those definitely absent are French midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, German striker Timo Werner and England defender Reece James.

The following are injured: Lukaku, South Korea striker Son Heung-minSenegal striker Sadio Mane and Argentina striker Paulo Dybala.

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For more AP coverage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, please visit https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup

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