The modern era of supremacy is at risk of changing due to the parity rife at World Cup 2022. Over the last twelve years, European powerhouses slowly established domination on the international stage.
Of the last five World Cup finals played, eight out of 10 finalists were European teams. The other two are South American, with Brazil and Argentina each making an appearance.
In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Croatia faced France in a fantastic final match. France emerging triumphant 4-2.
Both the 2010 and 2006 World Cup Final matches featured European teams the required extra time. Spain lifted its first trophy in 2010. Italy wrapped up its fourth four years prior. In 2010, Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time.
In 2002, Brazil beat Germany 2-0, courtesy of a brace from iconic legend Ronaldo.
You can see the trend over the past 20 years. More often than not, a European team emerged as the reigning world champion. Plus, its opponent in the final was a fellow European side.
Now, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar approaches. This year, there is a different feel in the buildup to the tournament.
Parity across the board at World Cup 2022
A wealth of talent fuels a buoyant sense of optimism out of South America. Neymar, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus, and Antony represent Brazil. On Argentina’s roster: Messi, Dybala, Papu Gomez, Lautauro Martinez and Angel Di Maria.
However, both teams have constantly been plagued with defensive frailties and a lack of physicality over the years, costing them in the big tournament games against the physical and well disciplined European sides.
That is the most eye-catching change for these two sides in particular. Brazil bulked up. The steadfast Thiago Silva arrives in fine form even at his age, partnering Marquinhos, one of the world’s top center backs on his day. However, the midfield is the true catalyst for Brazil. Fred and Casemiro’s recent partnership at club level allows attacking players freedom to press forward. In 20 games starting Casemiro and Fred, Brazil has 18 wins, a draw and a loss.
A similar story is true of Argentina. With the emergence of Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez and Tottenham Hotspur’s Cristian Romero, along with the form of Emi Martinez in goal, Argentina moved on from the error prone days of Marcos Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi. The spine of their team is now solid and consistent. Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes form a formidable midfield shield, reminiscent of the Fred and Casemiro partnership for their bitter rivals Brazil. Up top, Lionel Messi enters the World Cup for the final time with La Albiceleste. He inspires a squad, and a nation, towards success.
With that being said, although much of the optimism for both team’s chances stems from their own aforementioned improvements, the decline of Europe’s elite teams is playing a key role.
There are a number of great teams across Europe. Yet, none of them stand out as the true class of the world, particularly given recent form. Germany, England, France and others seem shaken, devoid of confidence, and there for the taking.
Portugal have a top heavy squad, with an aging back four that leaks goals. Ruben Dias is immense, yes, but his partner recently has been Danilo Pereira, a defensive midfielder by trade. They just can’t seem to figure out who fits the mold to sit beside him. They can be gotten at.
Sharing the Iberian Peninsula, Spain look fantastic in possession. But, a lack of a world class No. 9 could prove damaging to a more-than-talented midfield. For all Spain’s possession stats, they struggle to score goals. The last great goal scorer they had was David Villa. He retired from the national team in 2017.
Disciplined, strong and clinical are common themes for Germany. Star power is not necessarily the side’s strong suit. This German squad does not have a Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez that can score goals at will on the biggest stage. While Thomas Müller drifts into more of a playmaker role in the midfield, the ensuing options up top failed to impress. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner show flashes, but lack consistency. Even then, consistency is not necessarily the key at a World Cup. A player just needs to have a good six or seven games. Germany has all the quality in the world, but it awaits to see if one of those young talents up top can emerge.
The Netherlands and Denmark are two teams to earmark as dark horses for the World Cup. Both are on fantastic form over the last two years. While not the traditional talents of France or Germany, both are genuine contenders at World Cup 2022 that can provide parity.
Last World Cup’s semifinalists
France have all the pieces necessary to dominate, and yet lately have lacked the mental fortitude and bravery to dig results out of tough positions. Just look at their collapse in the Euros to Switzerland in the Round of sixteen. For all the talent they have, they have not been able to get the job done, and grind out results as every champion must.
England is so streaky they can prove world beating on one day, and then get smacked 4-0 by Hungary on another. Who knows which team will make it to the world cup. If they can remain consistent, they have the players to go far. The question is, will they survive the pressure?
Belgium has an aging squad, the final years of a “golden generation” including the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld (yes they both still play), Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens. They’ve shown time and time again that they have immense quality, but do not have what it takes to reach a final.
The time is right for the scale of dominance to shift. The European heavy weights are ripe for the taking, and both Argentina and Brazil are stronger than they have been for the last decade and a half.
We will have to wait and see if either team has what it takes to lift this year’s world cup. This is their best chance in years to lift the world’s most coveted trophy, and signal the start of a new era of international ascendancy.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pixsell
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