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Ansu Fati, Gareth Bale rise; Ronaldo, Sadio Mane fall


The 2022 World Cup in Qatar starts in just five days, when the host nation kicks it all off on Nov. 20 when they take on Ecuador.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (U.S.)

All 32 finalists have made their squad announcements, hoping that star players don’t get struck down by injury in training and head into their first match in top form. Away from that, there’s plenty of players who didn’t make their respective national teams, along with surprise additions.

In the last edition of the 2022 World Cup stock watch, we’ll take a look at the favourites to see how they are shaping up and also check in with other nations as their players either shine or struggle.

All World Cup squad lists for Qatar
Schedule, previews and how to watch
32 team-by-team previews for the World Cup

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JUMP TO: United States | France | Germany | Spain | Netherlands | Belgium | Argentina | Brazil | Mexico | Ecuador | Wales | Portugal | Australia | Senegal | Tunisia | Morocco | Cameroon | Ghana | Japan | South Korea | Uruguay | Iran | Saudi Arabia | | Qatar |


ENGLAND
Fixtures: IR Iran (Nov. 21), United States (Nov. 25), Wales (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

James Maddison: He was the dramatic late inclusion for England’s 26-man squad having not received a call-up for three years. An injury scare in Leicester City’s final Premier League game at Everton last weekend raised fears he could suffer the cruelest of blows and miss out but the midfielder travelled to Qatar with the group on Tuesday after it was revealed he suffered only a minor knock to his knee and was substituted as a precaution.

Strikers Callum Wilson and Marcus Rashford edged out Ivan Toney and Tammy Abraham to be Harry Kane’s backup. Ben White also forced his way in after a superb run of form at Arsenal while Conor Gallagher squeezed into the squad despite starting just seven games across all competitions this season prior to Gareth Southgate naming his selection.

STOCK FALLING

Ivan Toney: Toney’s brace in Brentford’s shock 2-1 win at Manchester City will be some small consolation for the forward missing out on England’s squad. Abraham and Fikayo Tomori have performed well since moving to Serie A, with Roma and AC Milan respectively, but the former’s struggles in front of goal this season ultimately counted against him. Tomori was arguably more unlucky given he formed a key part of the Milan defence which won the club’s first league title in 11 years last season. It is a sign of how far Jadon Sancho’s stock has fallen that his omission was not even considered much of a surprise.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Southgate’s squad was largely met with a positive reaction given he included two of the players behind which there had been a clamour for their selection: James Maddison and Trent Alexander-Arnold. England are without Reece James and need both Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips to quickly regain match sharpness, but England have reached Qatar without injuries to their key players.

The grueling Premier League schedule hasn’t helped, however, and Southgate has no friendlies to fine-tune his thinking before England’s opening game against Iran next Monday. England are without a win in six matches but really it comes down to two questions with Southgate: can he facilitate England peaking at a tournament as he did in 2018 and at last year’s delayed Euros? And will he deliver a bolder brand of football which the fans believe this talented group of attacking players can deliver? He may have a contract until 2024, but Southgate’s future in the eyes of many onlookers probably depends on positive answers to both of those questions. — James Olley


UNITED STATES
Fixtures: Wales (Nov. 21), England (Nov. 25), IR Iran (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Tim Ream: Ream made just one appearance in World Cup qualifying, a 0-0 tie against El Salvador that started off the Octagonal in September of 2021. But a combination of injuries to Miles Robinson and Chris Richards, plus a strong run of form this season for the Cottagers, opened the door for Ream to make the final squad. Given the way Berhalter likes his teams to play out of the back, Ream’s composure on the ball could come in handy for the U.S., and at age 35, making the World Cup squad is a massive achievement for the St. Louis native.

STOCK FALLING

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Zack Steffen: If there was a title for biggest snub, Steffen would win in a walk. The Boro keeper was first choice for much of this World Cup cycle, and at minimum found himself in competition with Arsenal’s Matt Turner. But some high-profile blunders, including in last year’s FA Cup semifinal against Liverpool, planted seeds of doubt, and when it came time to make his decision, Berhalter opted for Turner, Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and New York City FC’s Sean Johnson. Keepers have a longer shelf life than outfield players, so for Steffen, at age 27, there’s still time to make a World Cup squad. But this disappointment will cut deep.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

The aforementioned losses of Robinson and Richards will be tough to replace, but overall, the U.S. seems to be healing up at the right time. Weston McKennie was back in training for the U.S. on Tuesday, as was midfielder Luca de la Torre. Tim Weah also made his second consecutive 90-minute appearance for Lille before joining up with the U.S. All told, the Americans are in about as good a place health-wise as could be hoped for. — Jeff Carlisle


FRANCE
Fixtures: Australia (Nov. 22), Denmark (Nov. 26), Tunisia (Nov. 30)

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

France have undeniable talent, but will miss Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante who are injured. Denmark, who had an amazing run in EURO 2020, will test Didier Deschamps’ side in the group stage after defeating them twice this year. There are also off-pitch problems for Les Bleus, with rumours that Pogba enlisted a witch doctor to cast a spell on Kylian Mbappe. Still, the defending champs look favorites to top the group and will aim to end the winners’ curse. — SherShah Atif


GERMANY
Fixtures: Japan (Nov. 23), Spain (Nov. 27), Costa Rica (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

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Niclas Fullkrug: It seemed as if half the nation rooted for Fullkrug to be included in the squad, and Germany head coach Hansi Flick decided to give him a chance, meaning that Fullkrug could make his international debut at a World Cup at the age of 29. The tall striker might become Germany’s weapon in games in which the small-ball style is not working, and the deadlock needs to be broken some other way.

Youssoufa Moukoko: The gifted striker will celebrate his 18th birthday in Qatar as Flick granted him a spot after Timo Werner and Lukas Nmecha had become unavailable due to injuries. Moukoko fits Germany’s attacking style in that he has his strength on the ground and as part of fast-paced passing plays.

Mario Gotze: The comeback story of the year has been written by Gotze. His last appearance for Germany dates back to 2017, yet his performances for Eintracht Frankfurt allow him to return and play another World Cup for Germany. Gotze scored the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final. Perhaps he can do something historic once again.

STOCK FALLING

Marco Reus: An ankle injury has put Borussia Dortmund’s captain on the shelf once again. Flick told the press last Thursday that the 33-year-old did everything to “catch the train” but it did not work out. Reus was not selected and thus misses the fourth major international tournament in his career.

Mats Hummels: The 33-year-old defender spoke of “one of the greatest disappointments” after he had learned about Flick’s decision to leave him out of the World Cup squad, essentially in favor of Southampton center-back Armel Bella-Kotchap. Hummels has played a decent season thus far but could not convince Flick to give him another chance.

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Robin Gosens: The Inter Milan left-back has struggled to get playing time in the Serie A which ultimately cost him his spot. While he created some hype for himself at last year’s European Championship, Gosens has not been able to keep his stock high enough to the point of fulfilling himself a life-long dream of playing at a World Cup.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Anticipation was high for Flick’s squad announcement and, as expected, fans are split on whether the national coach made the right choices. Flick’s decision to select only three centre-midfielders has been discussed particularly intensely among supporters and journalists. If Joshua Kimmich gets injured during the tournament Germany’s chances would decrease significantly, but being dependent on a certain player is a headache Germany shares with most nations. — Constantin Eckner


SPAIN
Fixtures: Costa Rica (Nov. 23), Germany (Nov. 27), Japan (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

Ansu Fati: The Barcelona forward was not involved during the last international break and Luis Enrique admitted his biggest doubt ahead of confirming his squad was wherever to include him or not. In the end, given the lack of goals in the squad, he decided he was worth a gamble. Ansu’s last two years have been ruined by injuries but he has remained fit this season.

Hugo Guillamon: Enrique opted for Guillamon, who has been playing in midfield for his club Valencia this season, as Spain’s fourth choice centre-back. He got the nod ahead of more experience options, such as Sergio Ramos and Inigo Martinez, despite only having won three caps for his country previously.

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STOCK FALLING

Sergio Ramos: He has not featured for Spain since early 2021 but his performances for Paris Saint-Germain had propelled him back into the conversation ahead of the finals. However, Luis Enrique opted for younger options, leaving the former captain out for the second major international tournament running. “Sergio Ramos best defender in the world,” PSG teammate Achraf Hakimi posted on social media after the news break.

Borja Iglesias: The Real Betis striker’s exclusion would not normally be news given he only made his international debut last month, but he looked to have played his way onto the plane for Qatar. However, despite his eight LaLiga goals to date, Luis Enrique opted for just one natural No.9 in Alvaro Morata.

Thiago: Given the style Spain play with under Luis Enrique is most similar to Barcelona — who have seven players in the squad — La Masia graduate Thiago should be an obvious pick. However, injuries and form have seen the Liverpool midfielder fall down the pecking order and he is one of the players to drop out of the squad that competed in Euro 2020 last summer.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Spain may have a young squad but there is always a certain level of expectation in the country when the 2010 world champions go into a major tournament. In Luis Enrique they have one of the best coaches at the tournament and their semifinal showing at Euro 2020 should provide a good platform for doing well in Qatar.

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They are well stocked in midfield but there are doubts about where the goals will come from and the defence is at its best when Spain have the ball. They could be tested if they are ever forced to defend for a sustained period of the time. All that considered, a quarterfinal run is probably the minimum expected and Barcelona midfielder Pedri is the player to keep an eye on. — Sam Marsden


NETHERLANDS
Fixtures: Senegal (Nov. 21), Ecuador (Nov. 25), Qatar (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Xavi Simons, Jeremie Frimpong, Noa Lang & Andries Noppert: Louis van Gaal has announced his final cut last Friday. In his 26-headed squad there is room for highly talented 19-year-old Simons, Frimpong, Lang and Noppert.

These players might be the most surprising names on the list of Louis van Gaal, as the media are questioning to select Wout Weghorst, Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen who are considered to be the same type of players. It’s the first time for Simons and Frimpong to be part of the final squad.

The most surprising name must be Noppert, who used to play in the Serie B four years ago and second choice in the second division of Holland. After he played very well for Go Ahead Eagles, fans were jokingly shouting that he might be considered for the national squad. After he got transferred to Heerenveen his fairytale became true. Louis van Gaal told the press he is the only goalkeeper who is in form at the moment so maybe he can dream of making his debut as an international.

STOCK FALLING

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Jasper Cillessen & Mark Flekken: Obviously, the players who are missing out is the biggest theme in the Holland. Van Gaal told in his press conference that he doesn’t want to talk about players who are not elected, but he did anyway. Everyone is surprised about Cillessen and Flekken not being selected. Cillessen — who was out of Euro 2020 for unclear reasons (recovered from COVID-19) — isn’t part of the team because he struggled two games last couple of weeks.

Although Van Gaal told that this is the reason of missing out, everybody thinks it has to do with his behavior when he is not the number one. No one understands that “his form” is the reason, because for example 39-year-old Remko Pasveer is struggling for just a longer period.

Mark Flekken, who got “discovered” by Van Gaal, is missing out as well, although he is performing very well at number 3 of the Bundesliga SC Freiburg at the moment. He is the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets of Germany (9) and — after Cillessen (79.7%) and Noppert (76.5%) — the Dutch goalie with the highest save percentage (74.2%). Players such as Devyne Rensch, Guus Til, Ryan Gravenberch, Arnaut Danjuma, Donyell Malen, who were part of Van Gaals last teams, are surprisingly not selected.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Van Gaal was very clear during his press conference. KNVB’s target is reaching the quarter final but the 71-year-old coach wants to be world champion. That’s his personal target, like his players. It will be his last achievement as he leaves after the World Cup. Memphis Depay is not able to make it for the fist game on Monday, which has a huge impact on the team. Denzel Dumfries had to be substituted in the last game for Internazionale. It is unclear if he makes it for the first game against Senegal. — Max Toemen


BELGIUM
Fixtures: Canada (Nov. 23), Morocco (Nov. 27), Croatia (Dec. 1)

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

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This could be the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation to win a major tournament. With an in-form Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku back from injury, they will look to go all the way in Qatar. Head coach Roberto Martinez led the team to a third place finish in 2018, their best ever result at a World Cup. The team will also look to Eden Hazard to tap into his ability to break lines and disrupt play. — SherShah Atif


ARGENTINA
Fixtures: Saudi Arabia (Nov. 22), Mexico (Nov. 26), Poland (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Enzo Fernandez: He has had a exciting few months — a move from River Plate to Benfica, hitting the ground running in the Champions League, making his first appearance for Argentina. And now the absence through injury of Giovani Lo Celso could open the door for Fernandez to be first choice in the World Cup.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Bristling with confidence that the long unbeaten run can be stretched out all the way to final on Dec. 18th — Tim Vickery


BRAZIL
Fixtures: Serbia (Nov. 24), Switzerland (Nov. 28), Cameroon (Dec. 2)

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

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With a range of attacking options and a blend of youth and experience, they are ready to justify their status as the bookie’s favourites. The likes of Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Richarlison and Rodrygo will lead the attack, while Casemiro will be a midfield anchor and Thiago Silva will start in defence. — Tim Vickery

– Brazil’s World Cup squad: Alves included, Firmino out


MEXICO
Fixtures: Poland (Nov. 22), Argentina (Nov. 26), Saudi Arabia (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Raul Jimenez: Despite another lengthy injury that has left him without minutes since August, Jimenez snuck into Mexico’s final World Cup roster after it was decided that he was healthy enough to take part in the tournament. Once a serious doubt due to a groin injury, El Tri’s leading No. 9 is now back in the picture and ready to be a much-needed game-changer in Qatar.

STOCK FALLING

Santiago Gimenez: The Jimenez news proved to be bittersweet for Mexico fans who then learned that Gimenez, an up-and-coming striker who is the current joint top scorer in the 2022-23 Europa League, would not make the cut for the World Cup. The 21-year-old is fourth in line in the forward depth chart for Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, meaning that once Jimenez was healthy enough to be included, Gimenez was out of the picture for the coach who has previously stated that he only needs three strikers.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

The exclusion of Gimenez is a wider sign of Martino’s propensity to go with more senior players over promising youthful names. In fact, in Mexico’s final World Cup roster, no player is under the age of 23. Leaving Gimenez out, 22-year-old Diego Lainez and a handful of other younger options will be a gamble for Martino, and only time will tell if he made the right decision. One final friendly remains on Nov. 16 against Sweden before El Tri head to Qatar. — Cesar Hernandez


ECUADOR
Fixtures: Qatar (Nov. 20), Netherlands (Nov. 25), Senegal (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Kevin Rodriguez: The midfielder plays for Imbabura in Ecuador’s second division. He was called up for Saturday’s game against Iraq because the team did not have enough players available. And he did so well after coming off the bench that space has been found for him in the squad. There is also a call up a player with one of the best names in the tournament. Former international left back Neicer Reasco named his son after a prominent French forward of the 90s – and now there is shock call up for Djorkaeff Reasco as a striker in Ecuador’s squad.

STOCK FALLING

Byron Castillo: Castillo is the striking absence from the last squad to be named was right back, and has spent the last few months at the centre of a controversy about his identity. Chile claim that he was born in Colombia and as such was ineligible. FIFA dismissed their argument. But last week the Court of Arbitration for Sport came out with a seemingly contradictory decision.

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They ruled that he was eligible to play for Ecuador, but that false information had been supplied in his passport. Ecuador’s place in the World Cup was secure, but they would have to pay a fine and forfeit three points in the next set of qualifiers. Castillo limped off early in Saturday’s game against Iraq. Has he been left out because of injury, or because Ecuador fear further sanctions if they play him in Qatar? — Tim Vickery

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Badly in need of goals. Since the end of qualification Ecuador have kept six consecutive clean sheets. But they have only scored twice, and Saturday’s game against Iraq was their third straight 0-0 draw.


WALES
Fixtures: United States (Nov. 21), IR Iran (Nov. 25), England (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Gareth Bale: Wales’ captain says he is 100% fit to lead his country at the World Cup. The 33-year-old has struggled with injuries at LAFC this season, but is ready to go. Bale is Wales’ all-time top scorer with 40 goals in 108 games.

“I’m fully fit and ready to go. If I need to play three 90s (minutes), I’ll play three 90s,” Bale told a news conference on Monday. — SherShah Atif

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PORTUGAL
Fixtures: Ghana (Nov. 24), Uruguay (Nov. 28), South Korea (Dec. 2)

STOCK FALLING

Cristiano Ronaldo: In an explosive interview, the Portugal captain accused Manchester United of trying to force him out of the club. Despite concerns that the news could derail Portugal’s focus at the World Cup, Joao Mario said that was not the case, and it doesn’t put further pressure on the team. Ronaldo will be playing with United teammates Diogo Dalot and Bruno Fernandes, and video of the superstar with Fernandes showed a frosty exchange. — SherShah Atif


AUSTRALIA
Fixtures: France (Nov. 22), Tunisia (Nov. 26), Denmark (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Cammy Devlin and Keanu Baccus: Neither Devlin nor Baccus have been capped by the Socceroos in a senior international — their only cap arriving in Australia’s final pre-World Cup friendly against New Zealand — but both have parlayed strong seasons in the Scottish top-flight into selection by coach Graham Arnold for Qatar 2022 at the expense of players such as Denis Genreau and Conor Metcalfe, who play at higher levels than the duo but has seen much less of the field in 2022.

Mat Ryan: The surprise omission of Mitch Langerak from the Socceroos’ World Cup squad paves the way for Ryan to serve as the unquestioned number one for Australia in Qatar; back-ups Danny Vukovic and Andrew Redmayne under no illusions as to their place in the pecking order under the current coaching staff.

The Socceroos S&C Staff: Arnold has backed his medical team to ensure that several players with medical clouds hanging over their heads will be able to contribute in Qatar: Nathaniel Atkinson, Fran Karacic, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, Ajdin Hrustic, and Martin Boyle all possible starters and all carrying injury and fitness concerns.

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STOCK FALLING

Mitch Langerak: Based on both form and footballing ability, the decision to omit goalkeeper Langerak defied footballing sense and former Socceroo Tommy Oar declared that it was “an absolute wind up” and said it “takes jobs for the boys to a whole new level,” in a tweet that was liked by several former Socceroos.

Only called out of international retirement by Arnold in September, Langerak has seemingly fallen prey to a lack of a relationship with Socceroos’ goalkeeping coach John Crawley, who has an extensive history with Ryan, Redmayne, and Vukovic, and the desire to not potentially challenge the perceived pecking order amongst the keepers union.

Kenny Dougall: While playing plenty of match minutes at a club level has proven a boon for Devlin and Baccus, there was no such luck for Blackpool midfielder Dougall, who was left out of Arnold’s side despite playing 89% of available minutes for the Tangerines in the English Championship.

Trent Sainsbury: For all the heat that Arnold has been placed under for picking or being influenced towards favourites in certain positions, he can’t be accused of nepotism when it comes to Sainsbury: the Socceroos’ boss leaving his own son-in-law out of his final squad of 26.

The announcement of Arnold’s 26-player squad, as well as the vocabulary he has used around it, leaves little doubt as to how Australia are going to go about things in Qatar: 11 “Boxing Kangaroos” (the coach’s new, preferred slogan for his playing group) exhibiting copious amounts of “Aussie DNA” as they look to physically take it to opponents and turn games into a contest of wills that the old-school Australian mindset believes it has an advantage in. Their foes are all more high-credentialled and, certainly in the case of opening opponent France, simply possessing better players, so any moments of footballing endeavour are likely to be delivered on the counter-attack.

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Ultimately, even if Australian football has never had that much confidence in its national side’s footballing capabilities, there has never been any doubt about its levels of effort. The question is if that’s enough. — Joey Lynch

– Rogic, Sainsbury miss out on Socceroos squad
Lynch: Squad has coach Arnold’s fingerprints all over it


SENEGAL
Fixtures: Netherlands (Nov. 21), Qatar (Nov. 25), Ecuador (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Idrissa Gueye: He injured his quad in Everton’s previous Premier League fixture, but despite concerns about his World Cup participation, returned to the starting lineup as the Toffees were defeated 3-0 by Bournemouth.

STOCK FALLING

Sadio Mane: The Bayern Munich players damaging his right fibula is the biggest African storyline — and headache — as the World Cup draws closer, with the continent plunged into an anxious wait on the forward’s fitness. Original prognoses suggested he’ll be out for between three and four weeks, meaning that he could potentially even return for the tail end of the group stage, but he’ll undergo a further MRI scan on Sunday to provide further clarification. Without him, Senegal’s chances of returning to the quarterfinals appear slim.

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Abdou Diallo: He is likely to start at centreback alongside Kalidou Koulibaly. Diallo has been named in Aliou Cisse’s 26-man squad, despite missing RB Leipzig’s last two matches with a knee injury picked up in the midweek warm-up ahead of the Freiburg game.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Mane’s injury has obviously changed the landscape for Senegal; he’s their talisman, the player whose converted penalty won the country’s first Africa Cup of Nations, and according to the Ballon d’Or voters, is the second best player on the planet. Any side would miss his quality, but the Lions now have to re-focus on preparing for their group-stage campaign without the Bayern Munich superstar. At least the likes of Edouard Mendy, Koulibaly and Gueye are fit and back in action, although Senegal need a Plan B to replicate Mane’s experience in the final third urgently. — Ed Dove


TUNISIA
Fixtures: Denmark (Nov. 22), Australia (Nov. 26), France (Nov. 30)

STOCK FALLING

Saad Bguir: The Saudi Arabia-based player has been training with the Tunisia squad since November 6 after being named on Jalel Kadri’s list of non-Europe-based players, but was informed on Sunday morning that he won’t be travelling on with the team to Qatar. The exact reasons for the u-turn have not yet been disclosed.

Saifeddine Khaoui: Despite some encouraging showings in Ligue 1 with Clermont, Khaoui was overlooked for the final Carthage Eagles squad. It’s not entirely surprising — the 27-year-old has made just one appearance since the AFCON — but Kadri clearly feels the squad has enough creativity without him.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

There were no major surprise inclusions in Tunisia’s final squad, with the only shock having been confirmed earlier in the month when 38-year-old former captain Aymen Mathlouthi was included for Kadri’s pre-tournament training. He hasn’t featured for the national side for three years, but is one of four goalkeepers included in the squad. All three of the Eagles’ goalkeepers saw action at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but even so, to include four appears excessive! — Ed Dove


MOROCCO
Fixtures: Croatia (Nov. 23), Belgium (Nov. 27), Canada (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

Hakim Ziyech: The Morocco playmaker still hasn’t won over Graham Potter, amidst ongoing rumours of a January exit from Chelsea, but he has at least been getting more playing time as the World Cup looms. He was given a 17-minute cameo in the loss at Newcastle United which, coupled with the 68 minutes he played in defeat by Manchester City in midweek, is the most gametime Ziyech has seen in a week since early September.

Nayef Aguerd: Five months after signing for West Ham United, Aguerd finally made his Premier League debut in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Leicester City, coming on as an early substitute for Kurt Zouma. He didn’t appear fazed by the intensity of the Prem – despite the Hammers’ troubles – and coped well aerially as well as with the ball at his feet.

STOCK FALLING

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Amine Harit: One of the players returning to the squad under Walid Regragui, he will miss the tournament after sustaining a serious knee injury in action for Marseille against Monaco on Sunday. “It’s by giving it your all that you avoid injuries,” the attacking midfielder said in a press conference before the match. “If you get hurt in the last game, it’s destiny and it was meant to be…”

Zakaria Aboukhlal: The winger, named in the Morocco squad announced last week, sustained a thigh injury in the final Ligue 1 game before the break, as Toulouse were defeated by Stade Rennais. Encouragingly, the 22-year-old has travelled to Doha and will receive further medical assessment to decide what role he can play in the Atlas Lions’ campaign. There is optimism within the camp that, even if Aboukhlal is unlikely to feature in the opener against Croatia, he could play a role in the subsequent matches.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Unlike Senegal or Ghana, Morocco’s injured players aren’t undisputed first-teamers or even pivotal figures for the national side, and while disappointing, won’t transform their prospects in Qatar. Strikers Ayoub El Kaabi and Ryan Mmaee, who contributed a combined 10 goals in qualifying, are both casualties of Walid Regragui’s appointment, and the new head coach appears confident that out-of-sorts Youssef En-Nesyri can spearhead the Atlas Lions’ attacking threat. — Ed Dove


CAMEROON
Fixtures: Switzerland (Nov. 24), Serbia (Nov. 28), Brazil (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: He will be hoping for a Ballon d’Or nomination at this rate, after extending his goalscoring run with Bayern Munich’s second in their 2-0 victory at Schalke 04. The Qatar-bound striker has now had a hand in 12 goals in his last nine games for the Bavarians in all competitions, a run stretching back to mid-October.

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STOCK FALLING

Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui: He was sensationally axed from Cameroon’s World Cup squad despite being the nation’s standout centreback in recent years. He was an AFCON winner in 2017 and has played in nine of the national side’s 13 matches so far in 2022, representing a rare source of stability within an unconvincing backline. Amidst varying rumours and allegations within the local media, the exact reasons for the 31-year-old’s omission have not been conveyed by Rigobert Song or Samuel Eto’o.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Choupo-Moting’s ongoing form — sustained until the eve of the tournament — gives Song a pleasant problem as it’s increasingly apparent he’ll find it difficult to omit the veteran from his starting XI. However, with Karl Toko Ekambi and Moumi Ngamaleu providing pace and width, Song will have to choose whether to drop AFCON top scorer Vincent Aboubakar or take a man out of the midfield to incorporate the Bayern superstar. — Ed Dove


GHANA
Fixtures: Portugal (Nov. 24), South Korea (Nov. 28), Uruguay (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Tariq Lamptey, Daniel-Kofi Kyereh & Salis Abdul Samed: Lamptey and Kyereh both made the Ghana squad despite sitting out fixtures for their clubs in recent weeks, suggesting head coach Otto Addo has faith in their fitness, while uncapped midfielder Samed of Lens could prove to be a valuable — if unexpected — addition to the squad.

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STOCK FALLING

Jojo Wollacott & Richard Ofori: Both Ghana goalkeepers have been ruled out of the World Cup at the last minute. Experienced Ofori has not made Otto Addo’s 26-man squad after sustaining a knee injury during Orlando Pirates’ MTN8 victory over AmaZulu, while Wollacott damaged a finger in the warm-up of Charlton Athletic’s League One meeting with Burton Albion.

“Everyone at the club is bitterly disappointed for Jojo,” said Charlton boss Ben Garner. “He played such an important part in Ghana getting to the World Cup and we all know how much he was looking forward to it. “For the injury to happen so close to the tournament and in such innocuous fashion is very cruel.”

Iddrisu Baba: The Black Stars will also be without their first choice defensive midfielder in Qatar after Baba sustained a muscle injury in Mallorca’s midweek victory over Atletico Madrid. Despite an initial prognosis that the 26-year-old would only miss a week of action, he hasn’t been risked by Addo.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Losing two undisputed starters — as well as the would-be deputy goalkeeper — would be a major blow for any nation heading to the World Cup, and the week’s setbacks will have a major impact on Ghana’s preparation. Addo must now assess inexperienced back-up goalkeeping options Lawrence Ati-Zigi and Abdul Nurudeen in Thursday’s friendly against Switzerland, as well as examine various potential — yet untested — stand-ins for Baba. The latter’s injury may also heap further pressure on Thomas Partey, whose own fragile fitness will again come under scrutiny.– Ed Dove

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JAPAN
Fixtures: Germany (Nov. 23), Costa Rica (Nov. 27), Spain (Dec. 1)

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

With the Japan the earliest team to name their squad for the World Cup, there has been little to note with regards to team selection apart from the injured Yuta Nakayama being replaced by Shuto Machino. There are still question marks over the Samurai Blue’s potential lack of firepower up front, even though midfielder Daichi Kamada has been prolific in front of goal so far this season. But with Brighton man Kaoru Mitoma also finding form recently, Japan may be quietly confident in their prospects. — Gabriel Tan


SOUTH KOREA
Fixtures: Uruguay (Nov. 24), Ghana (Nov. 28), Portugal (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Lee Kang-In: In the end, Mallorca playmaker Lee Kang-In did get the nod for the World Cup even if he may not have received as much playing time as he would have liked from South Korea coach Paulo Bento in recent warm-up friendlies. Bento has stated that the presence of Lee is not solely for cover in the event injured captain Son Heung-Min fails to prove his fitness, so perhaps the 21-year-old could even feature more prominently.

STOCK FALLING

Um Won-Sang: Um Won-Sang is one of the more-talented prospects in South Korea at the moment. There is every chance he may follow in the footsteps of many of his compatriots by making the grade in Europe. But for now, he will have to wait for another four years to appear at the World Cup after the 23-year-old was arguably the highest-profile casualty as Bento named his squad for Qatar 2022.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Despite concerns over the availability of Son, who could very well miss their opener against Uruguay on Nov. 24 at the very least, South Korea can lay claim to having a well-balanced roster for the tournament. There is quality in all areas of the park and in spite of the obvious A-grade talent in Son and centre-back Kim Min-Jae, the likes of Hwang Ui-Jo, Hwang Hee-Chan and Hwang In-Beom also belong to the upper echelon of supporting casts. — Gabriel Tan


URUGUAY
Fixtures: South Korea (Nov. 24), Portugal (Nov. 28), Ghana (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Facundo Torres: The Orlando City player was a suprise inclusion, and both right backs Guillermo Varela and Jose Luis Rodriguez can consider themselves fortunate. Busy winger Agustin Canobbio was also something of a surprise.

STOCK FALLING

Damian Suarez: The experienced right back had a real chance of starting at right back. But he ran into muscular problems, and with so many defenders nursing injuries, coach Diego Alonso could not take the risk. Former MLS winger Diego Rossi is also unlucky to miss out.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Studying the training sessions to asses the fitness of key defenders such as Diego Godin and Ronald Araujo. Alonso is surely aware that, in a tough group, there is little margin for error. If he can get the balance of his side right, then Uruguay could do some serious damage. If not, a first-round exit beckons. — Tim Vickery


IRAN
Fixtures: England (Nov. 21), Wales (Nov. 25), United States (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Sardar Azmoun: Having long been Iran’s biggest injury concern, Sardar Azmoun was duly named in Carlos Queiroz’s final squad on Sunday evening — quashing worries that Team Melli might have been without their Bayer Leverkusen star. Queiroz surely would not have picked Azmoun is there was a chance he could miss all three group-stage ties, suggesting a return to the pitch could be imminent for the talented but oft-injured spearhead.

STOCK FALLING

Omid Ebrahimi: Unfortunately for Omid Ebrahimi, who played such a crucial role for Iran in qualifying with his consistent displays in the heart of midfield, a groin injury sustained in a recent friendly against Nicaragua has cost him his place in the Team Melli squad.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

The possibility that both Taremi and Azmoun could line up together for Iran is a huge boost, even if that might be come to fruition in time for their Group B opener against England. The two Europe-based Iranian marksmen combined should pose problems for any defence. The absence of Ebrahimi is a blow but Iran quite possibly have adequate cover in the likes of Saeid Ezatolahi, Ahmad Nourollahi and even the versatile Ehsan Hajsafi. — Gabriel Tan


SAUDI ARABIA
Fixtures: Argentina (Nov. 22), Poland (Nov. 26), Mexico (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Haitham Asiri: Still only 21 and with only seven caps to his name, Haitham Asiri was the big surprise in the Saudi Arabia squad for the World Cup. Despite his relative inexperience, the wide attacker has clearly done enough to catch the eye of Green Falcons coach Herve Renard, who ultimately plumped for him ahead of the more-seasoned Abdullah Al-Hamdan.

STOCK FALLING

Fahad Al-Muwallad: It initially looked as though the worst was over for Fahad Al-Muwallad after his 18-month ban last May for testing positive for a banned substance was reduced and then deemed to have been served sufficiently. But with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealing the decision and a longer ban a possibility, Renard ultimately decided to remove Al-Muwallad as a result.

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HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Given he would have been the joint-highest scorer at Renard’s disposal alongside Salem Al-Dawsari on 17 international goals, not having Al-Muwallad will hurt the Green Falcons but perhaps not as much, given they are likely to be on the back foot against Argentina, Poland and Mexico. — Gabriel Tan


QATAR
Fixtures: Ecuador (Nov. 20), Senegal (Nov. 25), Netherlands (Nov. 29)

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

The wait is almost over for hosts Qatar to make their World Cup debut. There may be many eager to write them off but the Qataris are the current champions of their continent after winning the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, and even made it to the last four of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2021 as an invited team. Whether or not they have what it takes to match it with Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador in Group A remains to be seen but Qatar are more than ready. — Gabriel Tan



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