World Cup - Football: Countdown to Qatar continues
There are now less than 100 days until the start of World Cup 2022 and plenty of the big guns have questions to answer.
Can England find their defensive shape? Will Gabriel Jesus' move to Arsenal help him inspire Brazil? And could Qatar cause a surprise?
|What:||World Cup 2022|
|When:||20th November - 18th December 2022|
|How to watch:||All matches will be shown on either the BBC or ITV|
|Odds:||Brazil 5.00, England 8.00, France 7.00, Spain 9.00, Argentina 8.00|
England still defensively uncertain
Some players can't transfer their club form to the international stage, while others star for their country but lack consistency on a week-by-week basis.
Is that the case for John Stones and Harry Maguire? Both were outstanding for England at the World Cup 2018 and Euro 2020. However, Stones' injuries have limited his chances at Manchester City, while across town, Maguire's form has been in focus due to Manchester United's woes.
The Red Devils' issues with shape, speed and personnel have left Maguire exposed. His status as captain has only compounded things but will he find his form before November?
At least he is likely to play, while Stones faces a battle with Nathan Ake to establish himself as Ruben Dias' partner while Aymeric Laporte works his way back from a knee injury.
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England's array of attacking talent is almost unparalleled but there is a reason Gareth Southgate has largely played with a back three at the last two major championships.
Conor Coady's loan move from Wolves to Everton only further entrenches his status as Stones' understudy in a three-man defence, while Chelsea academy graduates Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori are potentially brilliant but internationally untested.
The 1966 champions, and semi-finalists four years ago in Russia, can England finally end 56 years of hurt, with Southgate's side 8.00 to win the tournament? A decent Group B draw against Iran, the USA and Wales hints at a last-16 showing against the runner-up in the top pool.
However, the spectre of holders France lurks in the quarter-finals and those defensive worries could cost the Three Lions.
Jesus' Arsenal switch could be key for Brazil
Ronaldo wore the number nine shirt for Brazil at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups. A final defeat (1998), a win (2002) and the misfortune of meeting a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France in the quarter-finals (2006) signal a decent record within that time.
Luis Fabiano and Fred failed to honour the number nine shirt worn by Tostao in 1970 and Zinho in 1994. Gabriel Jesus had his turn in 2018, but failed to net as he and the Selecao crashed to Belgium 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
The striker was an emerging star in Russia but is now a four-time Premier League winner who has abandoned the almost guaranteed success of playing for Manchester City to join Mikel Arteta's fledgling project at Arsenal.
Jesus scored twice for the Gunners in Saturday's 4-2 win over Leicester and on current form looks set to retain the jersey in Qatar, with Brazil 9/2 to win a sixth World Cup.
The 25-year-old is 51.00 to be the top scorer in Qatar and with him already benefiting from being the main man, Jesus could be his country's star.
Could Qatar cause a surprise?
Only once have the hosts failed to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup, with South Africa crashing out in 2010.
Hosts Qatar are the only debutants at the World Cup 2022 and are 6.00 to make it through a competitive Group A which also includes Senegal and The Netherlands.
The Maroons' opening game against Ecuador could be key, with them 3.30 to win their first ever World Cup fixture and Felix Sanchez will be daring to dream as he selects a side to beat the South Americans.
Forwards Akram Afif and Almoez Ali will be vital to their hopes and form a nice partnership, with Afif's craft matching Ali's goals.
The latter scored nine times as his country won the 2019 Asian Cup, while he also won the Golden Boot at last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup and three times at the Arab Cup.
With 100 days to go, Sanchez's plans will be well underway, he will be spending the next 99 days doing everything he can to make sure his side are ready.