As the 2022 World Cup approaches, a number of top players will have earmarked the competition as their last chance to secure the most coveted trophy in football.
The past 15 years has been characterised by the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as they competed for the title of the best player in the world. However, with the former turning 35 in June and the latter already 37, Qatar could well be the last World Cup graced by either player.
Both players have a selection of league titles, Champions League trophies and personal awards, however, Argentina’s recent Copa America victory means the two players are now also tied on international honours. Going into the winter tournament Portugal arguably have the stronger of the two squads but both nations are well placed to provide a platform for their captains to have one last shot at World Cup glory. Despite their profile, Messi and Ronaldo are not the only world class players who could be making their international swansong at the 2022 World Cup. Widely considered the third-best goalscorer of the past decade Robert Lewandowski will be 34 when it all kicks off and will be hoping to progress against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in Group C.
Finally, although five-years younger than his PSG teammate, rumours have emerged this may be Neymar’s final World Cup. The Brazil star is only 30 but an early start to his career and frequent injuries could see the forward call it quits on international football after Qatar. Neymar currently sits just six goals below Pele’s all-time goalscoring record for the Selecao, and may well be able to bow out with another record to his name.
Greg Murray outlines some of the teams that notably failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup
Italy’s remarkable failure to get past North Macedonia in the World Cup play-offs may have captured the headlines but there are plenty of other high-profile teams that miss out on the tournament in Qatar.
Colombia are one of the regular competitors from South America and so are a surprise absence, as they were favourites to qualify over the likes of Ecuador. This having been said, Los Cafeteros’ most proven match winners are very much entering the twilight of their career as Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez are all the wrong side of 30. There may be new stars in the pipeline, but clearly, they have come too late for their 2022 World Cup campaign.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean a number of regular World Cup attendees from Africa have failed to make it to Qatar. The Ivory Coast were beaten by Cameroon to miss their second consecutive World Cup, while Nigeria were surprisingly eliminated on away goals by Ghana. The Super Eagles have made six out of the last seven previous competitions and will be devastated to miss out.
From North Africa, Egypt’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal, for the second time in two months, saw Mohamed Salah’s side miss out on World Cup qualification. While The Pharoahs are by no means flushed with star talent, the Liverpool winger’s presence alone would have improved the spectacle.
Finally, and on the topic of world class players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his Sweden side failed to make it through the European qualifiers. The 40-year old may no longer be a regular starter for his country, but fans would’ve relished the final opportunity to see the charismatic forward in an international tournament.