The 2022 World Cup in Qatar may well be the most in-form in cup history. All previous cups have been played in the summer, right after domestic league and continental play have concluded and, despite getting a week or two off afterward, pre-tourney camps are replete with exhausted players.
This time around, even though leagues are trying to fit in more games in less time to accommodate the cup, most players will only have played about 30-50% of their club games. With lesser mileage on their legs but with mid-season form, the teams arriving in Qatar may be in the best shape of any previously competing at a World Cup. If you add the fact that teams can bring 26-man squads and that coaches can substitute up to five players in regulation time, and one additional in extra time, half of each competing team can effectively be changed out at a coach’s discretion. This potential “refresher factor” may also keep players in-form longer.
This is great news for veterans—and there are quite a few top-level ones who will be playing in Qatar later this year—and for coaches who will have the luxury of changing entire lines and thus completely altering line-ups mid-game. It is also good for young guns—and there will also be quite a few of those populating teams in Qatar—since they will be supported by their elders more often, for longer bouts, and in better form. This should reduce pressure on most players. Still, yet, another reason to predict players will be in-form.
If one looks at how well certain European teams are playing this month—the two Manchester teams, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea in the Premier League, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad in La Liga, Napoli and Atalanta in Serie A, PSG, Lorient, and Lens in Ligue 1, Bayern Munich, Freiburg, and Union Berlin, in the Bundesliga—you will note that many of their international players are peaking. We are not just speaking about being in-form, but about reaching their top forms.
Yes, many of the above-listed teams are perennial contenders in their respective leagues but watch Real Madrid’s game against Elche and notice how pretty the three plays leading to the three disallowed goals were, let alone the three that counted. Many of those players are going to Qatar. Notice the quality of Man-U’s 2-0 win over Tottenham or how tough and well-played PSG’s 1-0 win over Olympique Marseille was in Ligue 1, and count the number of Qatar-bound players on the pitch. Then look at the job Napoli’s nine non-Italian internationals are doing in Serie A and you get the feeling it is a contagion of quality. It almost seems the number of in-form Qatari-bound players keeps growing.
The pandemic may well be behind some of the psychology which drives these players to want to perform their best when the World Cup finally arrives, and they can again perform without major health restrictions. Keep an eye out for your favorite team over the next four weeks of club matches and see if you agree there is an added spring to the gait of most of the players who are going to Qatar this winter. If Papa is right, we might be about to experience a very high-level World Cup. Wouldn’t it be something if 2022 matched or exceeded the competitive high of Russia 2018, with its many enthralling games and many more spectacular goals?
Photo: FIFA World Cup Trophy, Shutterstock ID 2198349657, by Nomi2626
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