What are the best squads in the 2022 FIFA World Cup? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
There will be no shortage of individual talent on display at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Lionel Messi (Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Neymar Jr. (Brazil), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Sadio Mané (Senegal) and Son Heung-min (South Korea) are just some examples of nations with star players on their respective squads.
However, not every squad is loaded with quality and depth across multiple positions. Whereas Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar have a plethora of star talent surrounding them on the pitch, others like Lewandowski, Mané and Son don’t have the same luxury.
Having quality and depth – two imperative roster traits in both the club and international level – can take any team far.
Let’s look at the best squads – in no particular order – in the 2022 FIFA World Cup:
Starting off with the World Cup favorites, Brazil is entering the quadrennial tournament with the best attacking depth on the planet. It’s not just the starting forwards who are exceptional, either. All nine attackers who got called up are some of the best in the game: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Vinicius Jr. (Real Madrid), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal), Richarlison (Tottenham), Raphinha (Barcelona), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Antony (Manchester United) and Pedro (Flamengo).
As cliché as it sounds, goals win games – but it’s the hardest thing to do on the pitch. Fortunately for Brazil, they have the players who can produce up top, versatile midfielders in Bruno Guimarães (Newcastle), Casemiro (Manchester United) and Lucas Paquetá (West Ham), world-class center-backs in Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Marquinhos (PSG) and Éder Militão (Real Madrid) and Alisson (Liverpool) and Ederson (Manchester City) as options between the sticks. The lack of world-class fullbacks might be the difference, but Brazil are favorites for a reason.
Lionel Messi has a history of quality and depth letting him down in previous World Cups, but he might not need to fret as much in 2022, which is also his last. Joining Messi up top is the ever-so-reliable Ángel Di María (Juventus), Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan) and Paulo Dybala (Roma), with Julián Álvarez (Manchester City) being a potential breakout candidate. Then in the midfield, Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid) and Lisandro Martínez (Manchester United) are tanks, with Enzo Fernández (Benfica) being another noteworthy breakout youngster.
The backline isn’t as eye-popping, but it should be good enough to get the job done in most games. Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Nahuel Molina (Atletico Madrid) and Nicolás Tagliafico (Lyon) will likely comprise the back four with Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) as the primary No. 1. Goals should be fruitful for La Albiceleste, but the main question is how the defense fairs against attacking-heavy teams like Brazil.
After a second-place finish in 2010 followed by a third-place result in 2014, the Netherlands shockingly failed to qualify for both the 2016 UEFA Euros and 2018 World Cup. But the Oranje could be in line for another strong display in 2022, especially with how their defense looks on paper. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) is at the heart of the orange and black renaissance with Matthijs De Ligt (Bayern Munich), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan) being among the best center-backs in the game. Twenty-year-old Jurriën Timber (Ajax) is also expected to benefit from the experience of that backline and is a potential breakout candidate.
The midfield has creators in Steven Berghuis (Ajax) and Davy Klaassen (Ajax) and defensive enforcers in Marten de Roon (Atalanta) and Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta) while the forwards are also versatile. Memphis Depay (Barcelona) is the headliner, but Steven Bergwijn (Ajax) is back in great form and the young PSV duo of Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons are breakout candidates to keep an eye on. Perhaps the biggest concern for the Dutchmen is at goalkeeper, but with their backline, maybe they don’t concede too many shots for it to be a genuine worry.
Cristiano Ronaldo may not be having a season worth dreaming about with the Red Devils, but he’s still at the forefront of the Portugal squad. With him leading the line, Rafael Leão (AC Milan) is one to watch at left wing while Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) and Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) are exceptional midfield creators, with the former also capable of playing on the right flank if need be. Rúben Neves (Wolves), João Palhinha (Fulham) and William Carvalho (Real Betis) are great enforcers in the middle while Vitinha (PSG) and Matheus Nunes (Wolves) are two young box-to-box options that could breakout.
Then in defense, Pepe (Porto) and Rúben Dias (Manchester City) are the marquee center-backs while João Cancelo (Manchester City), Diego Dalot (Manchester United), Nuno Mendes (PSG) and Raphaël Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund) are noble options at fullback. Rui Patricio (Roma) and Diogo Costa (Porto) will be the top choices at goalie.
If not for Brazil, then France likely has the best core of attacking options in Qatar. Kylian Mbappé (PSG) is now the headliner after breaking out in 2018 when he scored in France’s 4-2 final win over Croatia, and he’ll be joined by 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Ousmane Dembélé (Barcelona), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid).
The midfield situation is a little murky without N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) and Paul Pogba (Juventus), but the young Real Madrid duo of Aurélien Tchouaméni and Eduardo Camavinga could take up the mantle for Les Bleus. Then in defense, options are plenty for manager Didier Deschamps, with Jules Koundé (Barcelona), Raphaël Varane (Manchester United), Presnel Kimpembe (PSG) and Theo Hernández (AC Milan) comprising the back four with Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) in goal. Arsenal’s CB William Saliba is a breakout candidate here.
After stunningly failing to make it out of its group in 2018, Germany is back with an impressive roster on paper, particularly in the midfield. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City), Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich), Leon Goretzka (Bayern Munich) and Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich) form arguably the deepest midfield in Qatar. The Bayern Munich winger duo of Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry will also play significant roles. Germany has also notoriously suffered from not having an elite No. 9 in recent tournaments, but the 17-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko from Borussia Dortmund could put his name on the map.
Antonio Rüdiger (Real Madrid) and the Dortmund pairing of Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck are solid options at center-back with the young Armel Bella-Kotchap also impressing with Southampton in his first season in the English Premier League. David Raum (RB Leipzig) is also an elite crossing fullback in Germany, with Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) still being one of the best goalkeepers in the world at 36 years old. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona) is an exceptional backup, too.
Rounding out this list is England, most recently coming off a second-place finish at the 2020 UEFA Euro Final that was held in 2021. England’s current crop of talent is clearly its golden generation if manager Gareth Southgate can instill some influential football with a bevy of attack-minded players at his disposal. Leading the line is Harry Kane (Tottenham) with young stars Phil Foden (Manchester City) and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) as right-wing options and Raheem Sterling (Chelsea) and Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) on the left.
In midfield, where Foden can also play, Declan Rice (West Ham), James Maddison (Leicester City) and the potential breakout star Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) are the key players to watch. Injuries to key defenders have hurt Southgate’s options, but John Stones (Manchester City), Luke Shaw (Manchester United) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) might be relied upon heavily, with Arsenal’s Ben White having an exceptional campaign at right-back despite primarily playing center-back for most of his career. In net, Jordan Pickford (Everton) and Nick Pope (Newcastle) are two solid shot-stoppers while Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal) offers elite distribution as well.