Which nations are the favourites to win,
who are the star players and managers to
watch out for and how did each team qualify?


The group stage draw has come and gone, with eight sets of four teams set to compete in Qatar in the final time we’ll see a 32-team format at the World Cup, with a 48-team format set to be introduced in 2026.


Who’s the manager?

Gareth Southgate – He still doesn’t get the credit he deserves for taking England from tournament flops to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and to the brink of glory on home soil at Euro 2020.
With greater success comes bigger expectations though and if England fail to reach at least the semi-finals in Qatar then questions will come over whether Southgate is good enough to take England all the way.


Who’s the star man?
Harry Kane – England will not win the World Cup if Harry Kane is not scoring goals and playing well. It’s as simple as that. He is the Three Lions’ talisman and the golden boot winner from Russia in 2018.
The captain has shown much improved form for Tottenham in recent weeks as is recovering his reputation as one of the world’s most feared forwards. The England captain is the first name on the team sheet for Southgate and could even be the country’s record scorer by the time the World Cup arrives later this year.

How did they qualify?
As has been the case throughout Southgate’s tenure, England breezed through qualifying without a care in the world and racked up eight wins and two draws in their 10 matches.
They scored 39 goals and conceded just three, sweeping aside Poland, Albania, Hungary, Andorra and San Marino. Not the toughest opposition, granted, but the 10-0 win over San Marino in November was the first time England hit double figures since 1964.
Chance of winning the trophy – 5/5

Who’s the manager?

Dragan Skocic – The Croatian coach was appointed in February 2020 as a replacement for former Belgium manager Marc Wilmots and has guided Iran through qualifying and to their sixth World Cup appearances.
Skocic has great experience of the Iranian football system, having worked with domestic clubs Malavana and Foolad. He has a sublime track record so far, winning 15 of the 17 games he has overseen as manager.

Who’s the star man?
Sardar Azmoun – Azmoun was once a target for Liverpool in the Brendan Rodgers era at Anfield after impressing in Russia. A move to Anfield never materialised though and instead he stayed and joined Zenit St Petersburg, scoring 62 goals in 104 games.
His big move came in January when German side Bayer Leverkusen opted to bring forward his arrival to the Bundesliga from this summer. The 27-year-old is yet to find the back of the net for his new club but his speed and pressing will be a problem for teams in Qatar.

How did they qualify?
After working their way through the deep qualifying pool in Asia, Iran finished top of the AFC’s third round – a round robin system featuring the seven group winners and five best runners-up.
Iran won their group with eight wins from 10 matches, beating Son Heung-min and South Korea to top spot.
Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5

Who’s the manager?

Gregg Berhalter – Berhalter was handpicked to take over as US coach back in 2018 when he was plucked from MLS franchise Columbus Crew as part of a huge reset following a shambolic 2-1 defeat by Trinidad and Tobago that saw them miss out.
After an uninspiring first year in charge, Berhalter has managed to make the most of the promising crop of American talent springing up across Europe and get a tune out of them. A former defender, the 48-year-old represented the US at two World Cups – 2002 and 2006.

Who’s the star man?
Christian Pulisic – The Chelsea winger has been the poster boy for American football for a number of years and had to put up with team-mates that simply just weren’t as good as him.
But now he has some back-up in the form of Tyler Adams, Giovanni Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie. With a hat-trick against Panama earlier this week, Pulisic proved he will be their biggest threat in Qatar.

How did they qualify?
It was nerve-shredding but the US sealed their place at Qatar this week by claiming the third and final automatic space in North America behind Canada and Mexico, despite losing to Costa Rica in their final match.
Their place was all but sealed before the game after beating Panama earlier in the week but still, a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica is not exactly how you want to celebrate a World Cup return.
Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5

Who’s the manager?

Rob Page – Page has been doing the Wales job as caretaker since Ryan Giggs stepped aside following his arrest on assault charges in November 2020. Allegations which he denies.
It was reported in The Athletic in April that the Welsh FA were awaiting the outcome of Gigg’s August court case before making a decision, but Page – after guiding Wales to a first World Cup since 1958 – has since made clear he would be leading the Welsh team to the Finals.

Who’s the star man?
Gareth Bale – Does the question even need to be asked? Bale is undoubtedly the best of Wales’ golden generation, and almost certainly the best Welsh player of all time, having recently added a fifth Champions League trophy to his collection.
The 32-year-old was contemplating retirement before Wales secured their place in the competition – which the forward played an instrumental role in – but has since revealed those thoughts are now on hold. Put simply, if Wales are to go deep at this winter’s tournament, they’ll need Bale at his best.

How did they qualify?
Wales enjoyed a solid qualifying campaign, losing just one of eight games throughout. They were soundly beaten to top spot by Belgium, however, meaning they had to go through the European Play-Offs.
They played their semi-final all the way back in March, with a stunning Bale double sealing a 2-1 victory over Austria.
They were made to wait for the final, though, with the clash between Ukraine and Scotland pushed back until June due to the ongoing Russian invasion of the former. It was Ukraine who emerged victorious, but it was Wales who won the final 1-0.
Chances of winning the trophy – 2/5