Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

FIFA World Cup 2022, one of the most eagerly anticipated sports extravaganzas -- as much for off-the-field reasons is just around the corner in Qatar. The tournament starts on November 20 and the summit clash is set for December 18.

This will be the first World Cup in the Middle East. Thirty-two teams are participating in the mega event with a total of 64 matches to be played in 29 days.

It might as well be the very last chance for the likes of great Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to stamp their authority and help their teams win the elusive title.

Kylian Mbappe will be back on the biggest stage of all. Brazil will be bidding for a record-extending sixth title.

Here are a few things to watch out when the tournament gets going in the smallest country ever to host a World Cup.

Top squads

Brazil (No. 1 in FIFA ranking): Superstars like Neymar, Vinicius Junior and the rest of the flair-filled team are peaking at the right time. 

Belgium (No. 2): The ‘Golden Generation’ is gradually breaking up but there is still Kevin De Bruyne leading the Belgian charge. They would like to impress at the biggest stage.

Argentina (No. 3):  The team has won no World Cup title since the days of a certain great Diego Maradona. This will be the first World Cup since his death in November 2020 and Argentina are improving with great Messi still at the team’s core.

France (No. 4): The defending champions have the most depth in their squad, despite injury worries. No team has retained their World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.

England (No. 5): The Three Lions has hit a bad patch of form by going winless in six games. However, they have a strong track record in recent major tournaments. England were a semifinalist at the 2018 World Cup and a finalist at the 2021 European Championship. They might bid to go all the way this time around.

Super stars

Lionel Messi (Argentina): The seven-time world player of the year must have been saving his 35-year-old legs for one last push at a World Cup winner’s trophy. It would solidify him as certainly football’s greatest player. He is in stellar form for Paris Saint-Germain in recent times.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): He has won the European Championship. However, the leading scorer in men’s international football hasn’t played in a World Cup final. He is 37 years old now and no longer the first choice at his club Manchester United. He will be eager to stamp his authority this time.

Kylian Mbappe (France): Mbappe was the star of the last World Cup. The aggressive striker could match Brazil great Pele in being a champion at his first two World Cups.

Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium): Kevin is widely regarded as the world’s best midfielder of current generation. His driving runs are among the best sights in the game. Belgium just have to hope that he arrives with full fitness.

Neymar (Brazil): Neymar is often overshadowed by Mbappe and Messi at Paris Saint-Germain. He is still the main player for Brazil. Masterful tricks and flicks are expected from him in the mega event.