The 2018 World Cup has only just ended, but it won't be long until national teams begin preparing for 2022. How will the top teams look in Qatar?
10:19 AM ET
The 2018 World Cup has only just ended, but there's already a benefit to casting ahead over the next qualification cycle to see how many of the top teams will re-equip and re-arm ahead of Qatar 2022. How will the contenders look in four years' time? Will their squads be peaking or full of new faces? We asked our writers to gaze into the future and imagine how their national teams will look by the time the next World Cup rolls around.
ESPN StaffAny plans Argentina might make for the next World Cup start with the big question: Is Lionel Messi willing to give it another try?
The only one who will be able to answer it is Messi himself and that won't happen anytime soon. He has four years to make up his mind, help the team make it to Qatar and, in the process, reconvert himself into a different kind of footballer, maybe with more playmaking than finishing duties since he will be 35 years old by then.
Once that question is answered, it will be easier for whoever's coaching to start work on a probable lineup. Strengths and weaknesses will not change and both pose a headache for any manager: an enormous pool of offensive players to choose from and much less talent in the defense, especially if the chosen system requires them to play with wing-backs. -- Diego Zorilla, ESPN Argentina
Brazil will look brand-new at the back but can still lean upon the attacking talents of Jesus, Neymar and Coutinho. ESPN StaffIt's not gonna be an easy road to 2022. There's an increased pressure to win after losing to Belgium in 2014 and plenty of changes to be made. On one hand, there's a lot of talent to choose from; on the other, there are lots of problems to solve.
After their strong work together in Russia, Tite's top picks will all be over 30 in Qatar: Dani Alves, Miranda, Thiago Silva and Marcelo will need refreshing. Therefore, some new names will be tested to find out the perfect combination.
Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino all have a strong chance of carrying on while there's a new generation that should earn opportunities: Vinicius Jr, Paqueta, David Neres, Rodrygo, Richarlison, Jemerson, Fred, Fabinho, Arthur and Militao are all faces that the fans will get used to seeing in Selecao colors.
Of course, there's Tite's situation. Is he in or out? With a new coach it'll be even more difficult to build a new team and a new mentality over the next four years. -- Ricardo Zanei, ESPN Brazil
England will look brand-new again in four years' time. But will they be more primed for a World Cup run? ESPN StaffGareth Southgate has given England hope of a brighter, winning future after rebuilding the team and guiding his young side to the semifinals of Russia 2018. But the objective and challenge for Southgate and the Football Association to build on the progress made and ensure that this World Cup and Euro 2020 can provide a springboard for a genuine assault on becoming world champions at Qatar 2022.
Southgate's squad is young, with many players likely to still be around and key figures in four years' time, but how will the England team look in 2022 and who is knocking on the door to break into the team?
Kyle Walker, Ashley Young and Jordan Henderson will all be well into their 30s by 2022, so the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lewis Cook and Ryan Sessegnon will become key figures. Jadon Sancho is also highly rated by Southgate.
And will Harry Kane be able to hold off Marcus Rashford in four years' time? -- Mark Ogden
France will look fairly similar in Qatar to the XI that cruised to World Cup glory in 2018. ESPN StaffPicture this: Zinedine Zidane replaces Didier Deschamps in the summer of 2020 after he decided to leave France at the end of his contract after another triumph, this time at European Championships. Here is the team Zidane plays at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Hugo Lloris is 35, still young for a goalkeeper. The back four is in its prime with the two full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez still only 26 while Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti are 29. In midfield, Paul Pogba, Real Madrid's captain at 29, leads France alongside 31-year-old N'Golo Kanté and Corentin Tolisso, 27, who has just won the Champions League with Bayern Munich and replaced Blaise Matuidi, who has retired.
Olivier Giroud has also stopped his national team career and Zidane found a way to play Antoine Griezmann, 31, as a No. 10 behind Ousmane Dembele (25) and Kylian Mbappe (23). -- Julien Laurens
ESPN StaffBy 2022, I expect Manuel Neuer to have made way for his younger (and slightly better) understudy from Barcelona. The back four will remain largely unchanged except when it comes to the problem left-back spot, where Augsburg's Max will surely have established himself as the best option.
In central midfield, the change of the guard will be most pronounced. Goretzka should be one of Germany's natural leaders after four seasons at Bayern, while Hertha BSC's U-21 holding midfielder Maier could play the No.6/No.8 hybrid role in a similar way to Bastian Schweinsteiger. Havertz, now at Leverkusen, is Ozil's heir apparent in the playmaker role. Gnabry's rapid progress should continue at Bayern, while Sane is a given to complete that trio.
Up front, Timo Werner will do well to fight off the challenge of Schalke youngster Teuchert, a mobile but powerful striker who's been described as the "most promising young centre-forward coming through the ranks" by former national team assistant coach Hansi Flick. -- Raphael Honigstein
With Donnarumma between the posts and a new formation, the future looks bright for the Azzurri. ESPN StaffThe Azzurri definitely have the young talent capable of a swift return to the World Cup stage after being absent in 2018.
Donnarumma has overcome his difficulties to establish himself as the best young keeper in the world, Caldara and Romagnoli are centre-backs in the great Italian tradition, Verratti and Jorginho reprise Prandelli's 2014 efforts to implement "Tik-Italia" while Bernardeschi's evolution into a No.10 is a welcome development for a team in need of some flair and imagination in the final third.
Belotti is back to being a force of nature and has come on leaps and bounds since leaving Torino for a Champions League club. Meanwhile his strike partner Pellegri has emerged as the next big thing in football and shows Monaco were as smart in moving early for him as they were for Kylian Mbappe. -- James Horncastle
Built around Hirving Lozano and a pair of defenders who missed Russia 2018 through injury, this Mexico team could reach that elusive fifth game. ESPN StaffThere's certainly a need for Mexico to rejuvenate between now and Qatar 2022. But how much and how quickly? Guillermo Ochoa, Andres Guardado, Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos will all be way past 30 by the time Qatar 2022 swings around. The experience they have in Europe and in major competitions for Mexico is not easy to replace and the challenge is on for the next generation to match their achievements.
As such, the generational overhaul for El Tri will likely be more gradual than many seem to expect, meshing a few of the established starters at Russia 2018 with younger players already breaking out.
In this projected XI, there are two wildcard picks. The first is Porto youth Joao Maleck. The 19-year-old is yet to debut at the first-team level but is a rapid, hungry and talented goal-scorer determined to make it in Europe. The other is Diego Lainez, Mexico's most promising young player and a forward with a very bright future if his career is managed correctly. -- Tom Marshall
Building from the back with David De Gea and the talent of Marco Asensio up front, Spain's next generation should dazzle. ESPN StaffA third successive disappointing international tournament has led to much soul-searching among the Spanish football community, with newly appointed coach Luis Enrique sure to bring fresh ideas and new faces into the senior set-up.
Four years from now, the Spain XI at the World Cup in Qatar will likely include none of the 2008-2012 Golden Generation but assuming that off-field issues do not intervene, a mix of youth and experience could travel to Qatar in 2022 as one of the pre-tournament favourites. Expect Marco Asensio to be one of the talents at the core of the new-look La Roja while Carles Alena should emerge as Barcelona's next great midfielder.
At left-back, the U-21 star at Espanyol (and currently on Man City's radar) should be ready for the senior team and Abel Ruiz should be the long-term answer to Spain's lack of a genuine centre-forward. -- Dermot Corrigan
ESPN StaffEven though the U.S. have the 2019 Gold Cup up next, there's more of an impetus to begin work on the 2022 cycle. Antonee Robinson has the ability to fill the difficult left-back role while Schalke's Weston McKennie is the midfield anchor the U.S. will need moving forward.
Basing the attack around Christian Pulisic is the priority given his remarkable rise through the ranks at both the club and international level; he'll be supported by Tyler Adams (linked with a move to the Bundesliga) and young, but agile, Josh Sargent up front. -- Jeff Carlisle
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