The 2022 FIFA World Cup would ordinarily be well underway by now. If the tournament had kicked off as originally scheduled, with African champions Senegal and the Netherlands raising the curtain on June 9th, football’s biggest party would be well into its second week. But thanks to Qatar’s sweltering summer temperatures – which can reach as high as the mid-’40s in June and July – we will now be treated to the first-ever winter World Cup. The tournament opener will now take place on November 21st at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, which gives the competition’s big guns extra preparation time ahead of the biggest event in world football. Oddschecker, which compares online bookmakers providing free offers on the World Cup have made Brazil the early favourites to lift their sixth World crown, but can any of Barcelona’s stars lead their nation to a victory that would go down in folklore.
The Blaugrana are no strangers to having World Cup winners in their ranks. Four years ago, it was Samuel Umtiti – who scored the winner in France’s semifinal victory over Belgium – and Ousmane Dembele, who were lucky enough to bag a winner’s medal. Spain’s first and only triumph on the World stage in South Africa back in 2010 was built on the back of Nou Camp talent. Seven players who called Catalonia home started that final against the Netherlands and it was La Masia product Andres Iniesta who struck the winner deep into extra time. 12 years on from that night in Johannesburg, these stars will be looking to replicate Barca’s legends by leading their country to glory.
Sergio Busquets, Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres, Jordi Alba & Eric Garcia – Spain
Just as Vicente Del Bosque did before him, Barcelona legend Luis Enrique has also built his team around a stockpile of Barcelona talent. They dazzled at last summer’s European Championships, unluckily losing a penalty shootout to Italy at the semifinal stage despite being on top for long periods. They gained revenge for that defeat last autumn, defeating the Italians in their own backyard to reach the finals of the UEFA Nations League. Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema proved too much to handle on that occasion, but Enrique’s young side once again impressed.
A repeat of 2010’s semifinal against Germany awaits in the group stages, with the 2014 champions looking for redemption after their group stage exit in Russia four years ago. The game looks like a must-win for both sides if they wish to avoid a second-round tie with Belgium. Costa Rica and Japan are La Roja’s other opponents in Group E and Barca’s Spaniards shouldn’t take either of them for granted if they plan on succeeding in the Gulf state.
Memphis Depay & Frenkie De Jong – Netherlands
For now, both Memphis Depay and Frenkie De Jong remain Barcelona players. Neither of them have shone as expected since Ronald Koeman brought them to the club, however it’s a different story when they pull on that famous orange shirt. Depay is just eight goals shy of Robin Van Persie’s record of 50 international goals and has been the Dutch’s focal point up front for the last few years. More was expected from the Dutchman following his free transfer from Lyon last summer, especially after bagging 22 goals in 40 appearances during his final season in France. 12 La Liga goals last term is well below the high standards at the Camp Nou however, and he has now fallen behind January signing Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng in the pecking order.
Perhaps its harsh to suggest that De Jong hasn’t shone in the three years since his arrival from Ajax. There have been moments of brilliance, though those haven’t been often enough to justify his €86m price tag, and a reunion with former manager Erik Ten Hag at Manchester United has been strongly rumoured.
The Dutch have never won the World Cup, having been beaten finalists on three separate occasions. They have been drawn in Group A alongside hosts Qatar, who will be relying on home support to power them into the knockout stages, just as Russia did four years ago, and the Oranje will have to safely navigate that potential banana skin if they are to progress.