BRAZIL

    MANAGER: Tite

    The 60-year-old has, at one point in his career, seemingly managed every club in Brazil and was given the reins to the national team back in 2016 after their dismal display at that year’s Copa America.

    A quarterfinal defeat in Russia in 2018 was disappointing but the Brazilians bounced back and lifted the Copa America in the following year. Once again Tite has an abundance of talent to manage but can he get everyone on the same page?

    FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

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    Neymar | Position: Forward | Age: 30

    • The go-to technical player for Brazil since the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, Neymar has become even more important for his country over recent years, with his blistering start to the season for PSG emphasising just how good of a player he is.

    • Neymar may be used as more of a playmaker for Brazil in Qatar, but he will be given the freedom to operate anywhere in the attacking third and play alongside a young, passionate forward, whoever that may be.

    Thiago Silva | Position: Centreback | Age: 37

    • Silva will be the only player in Tite’s team other than Neymar to have represented A Seleção at both the Brazil and Russia World Cups.

    • The 37-year-old is still arguably one of the best centrebacks in the world; he is excellent on the ball, possesses great strength and reads the game extremely well, quickly closing off spaces in the back line.

    Marquinhos | Position: Defender | Age: 28

    • A former PSG teammate and long-standing defensive partner of Thiago Silva in the Brazilian national team having gained a wealth of experience in Europe’s top leagues over the past nine years while also keeping himself in tip-top shape.

    • Marquinhos is extremely agile, allowing him to cover a lot of ground – vital against teams that like to play high up the pitch. He is also comfortable on the ball and has got a fantastic leap, making up for his lack of height.

    • Having starred regularly for Brazil for many years, he is now seen as a true a leader on the pitch.

    Casemiro | Position: Defensive Midfielder | Age: 30

    • The holding midfielder became a stalwart of the Brazilian national team nine years ago while still an unknown quantity at the highest level.

    • Casemiro breaks up play extremely well and gets his team moving forwards, playing quick, purposeful balls in transition.

    • He is also key in sustaining meaningful attacks, both for club and country.

    Lucas Paqueta | Position: Attacking Midfielder | Age: 25

    • Paqueta scored the only goal in Brazil’s World Cup qualifier against Colombia in November 2021, confirming his side’s place at Qatar 2022.

    • The Flamengo academy graduate is a key player for both his club and country.

    • Possessing all the skills required for effective build-up and attacking play, his place in the Brazil starting line-up is more or less guaranteed. He developed an excellent understanding with Neymar in particular during the Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign, registering many goals and assists along the way.

    MANAGER: Dragan Stojkovic

    Stojkovic was an instrumental player in helping Yugoslavia reach the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals and the Euro 2000 last eight.

    They failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 and have never reached the knockout stages of the World Cup as an independent country, participating twice as Serbia, once as Serbia and Montenegro (at Germany 2006) and previously under the banner of Yugoslavia.

    They are intent on creating an upset, however, with their coach recently telling newspaper Tuttosport that Serbia aim to “become the loose cannon of the World Cup”.

    Could Serbia be one of the surprise packages of this FIFA World Cup?

    FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

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    Sergej Milinkovic-Savic | Position: Central Midfielder | Age: 27

    • Milinkovic-Savic is an all-rounder who combines raw strength with disarming class, a centreforward’s physique (he is 1.91 metres tall) and the ball control of a No. 10.

    • He can break down attacks, create chances, is tactically astute and has an eye for goal. In short, it is difficult to pick holes in his game and he will be one of Stojkovic’s go-to players.

    • He has since established himself as one of the best midfielders in Serie A and is courted by leading European clubs, having registered 11 goals and 12 assists for Lazio last season.

    • His idols also include another defence-minded midfielder, fellow Serb Nemanja Matic, who recently transferred to Roma after retiring from international football. Milinkovic-Savic will face his hero in a fiery Rome derby to be played out on 6 November.

    Dusan Tadic | Position: Attacking Midfielder | Age: 33

    • Captain of the Serbian national team, Dusan Tadic will turn 34 on Nov 20 – the opening day of the World Cup.

    • Tadic posted 16 goals and 22 assists for the Ajax Amsterdam last season, having bagged 22 and 25 respectively in the previous campaign. His creativity, unpredictability and selflessness will be instrumental to Serbia’s trophy hopes in Qatar.

    • Even more than for his prodigious strike rate, Tadic is appreciated for his ability to bring out the best in his teammates.

    Dusan Vlahovic | Position: Striker | Age: 22

    • Vlahovic, at 22, is already one of Serie A’s leading stars.

    • He is a centre-forward with a commanding physical presence and a knack for fashioning decisive opportunities.

    • A ruthless scoring machine, he prefers taking the direct route to goal rather than patient build-up play, using feints, explosive bursts of pace and sheer strength to muscle his way into space and past opponents.

    • For fans of physical, spectacular and edge-of-the-seat football, Vlahovic is definitely one to watch.

    Aleksandar Mitrovic | Position: Striker | Age: 27

    • An irrepressible target man and accomplished header of the ball, Mitrovic is an idol among Serbia fans. He is one of those players who literally strikes fear into opposing defences.

    • Over the years Mitrovic has worked hard on his temperament, keeping excesses to a minimum and channelling his competitive drive.

    • At almost 28 years old is still at the top of his game and by no means ready to hand over the mantle to the up-and-coming Vlahovic.

    Filip Kostic | Position: Wide Midfielder | Age: 29

    • This was how Stojkovic described Kostic’s playing style to Tuttosport: “He covers the whole of the left wing, up and down. Filip combines superior running ability with excellent precision in his crosses. When Kostic is on the pitch, you know that crosses are coming. And they are almost all dangerous.”

    • Kostic and Vlahovic are tailor-made for each other and their World Cup preparations effectively started back in August.

    • Kostic’s modus operandi is simple, linear and at times elementary: run the ball up the wing and cross it. He mainly operates on the left, preferring speed to dribbling, his crosses almost always drilled with laser-like precision onto the head or foot of a teammate.

    MANAGER: Murat Yakin

    Despite Switzerland’s impressive run to the Euro 2020 quarterfinals, Vladimir Petkovic made the bold move of stepping down after seven years to take over at Bordeaux - he lasted just six months in Ligue 1.

    In came Yakin, who played 49 times for Switzerland during his career, from Swiss second-tier side Schaffhausen. He has overseen nine matches, winning four, drawing four and losing one. It remains to be seen if he has the credentials to lead his country deep into the World Cup.

    Switzerland have enjoyed a purple patch over the last few years. At the UEFA EURO last year, the Nati made it all the way to the quarterfinals, knocking out FIFA World Cup holders France in the process before losing to Spain on penalties.

    FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

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    Yann Sommer | Position: Goalkeeper | Age: 33

    • Yann Sommer is the backstop of the Swiss team in every sense of the word. The penalty-saving specialist can always be relied on to put in a solid performance for club and country, and has proved his worth on countless occasions.

    • He made his international debut under Ottmar Hitzfeld in 2012 and now has 74 caps and major-tournament experience aplenty to his name, having been first choice in the sticks at Russia 2018 and the last two EUROs.

    Ricardo Rodriguez | Position: Leftback or Centreback | Age: 30

    • Rodriguez’s versatility and experience will be crucial to the Swiss backline. He is more likely to line up on the left in Qatar, with Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji now looking like an established centreback pairing.

    • With 98 caps and nine goals for his country, Rodriguez will be looking to clock up a century very soon.

    • Born in Zurich but with Spanish and Chilean heritage, Rodriguez has the proverbial sweet left foot which is useful at set-pieces, and he is also a threat down the flanks, feeding the forwards with a steady diet of crosses.

    Granit Xhaka | Position: Midfielder | Age: 29

    • With 104 caps and 12 goals, Xhaka is one of the most experienced members of Murat Yakin’s squad. He plies his domestic trade at Arsenal and is the captain and nerve centre of the Swiss team.

    • He is often categorised as an aggressive on-the-pitch leader who never shirks a tackle, he is an incredibly skilful footballer who can pick apart a defence with a cleverly-weighted pass.

    • If anyone can drag the Nati up by its bootstraps ahead of the World Cup, it’s this man.

    Remo Freuler | Position: Midfielder | Age: 30

    • Another lynchpin of the Swiss central midfield is Freuler. The 30-year-old joined Atalanta in 2016 and went on to make over 200 appearances for the club, including a number as captain and plenty in European competition.

    • Freuler then chose to move to Nottingham Forest ahead of this season. He has yet to establish himself with the newly-promoted club, and often finds himself on the bench in the East Midlands. For Switzerland meanwhile, he has won 46 caps, scoring four goals in the process.

    • He is the complete package who loves a midfield battle while also being capable of picking a pass. He is also a very good reader of the game – a fact not lost on coach Yakin, who invariably picked him in the starting line-up throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign. He and Xhaka will likely be pulling the strings for the Nati in Qatar.

    Xherdan Shaqiri | Position: Attacking Midfielder or Winger | Age: 30

    • Known for his short (1.65 m) and stocky build, Shaqiri is the player in Yakin’s squad with the most international appearances to his name: 106 to be exact, with 26 goals to boot.

    • Shaqiri has a well-stocked trophy cabinet, having won the German Bundesliga three times and the English Premier League once, plus two UEFA Champions League triumphs and another two at the FIFA Club World Cup.

    • Vice-captain Shaqiri is a key figure in Yakin’s squad. He is the conduit between midfield and attack, often playing in an advanced role just behind the forward line.

    • Shaqiri knows that he can enjoy a lot of freedom to set off on a run and take on the opposition defence. He can also play out wide on the right.

    MANAGER: Rigobert Song

    Capped 137 times by his country, appearing at four World Cups and eight Africa Cup of Nations, Song is a Cameroonian legend for his successes on the pitch from 1993-2010.

    Yet after the hosts were knocked out of AFCON 2021 in the semifinal stage a few months ago, Song received the opportunity to make his name in the dugout as he replaced Portuguese coach Toni Conceicao.

    The ambitious Lions Indomptables have their eye on an extended run at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and will be keen to emulate their famous predecessors’ exploits at Italia 90, where they unexpectedly reached the quarterfinals.

    In digging deep to dramatically qualify in extra time of the second leg of their World Cup playoff against Algeria, Cameroon showed that they will not be travelling to Qatar to simply make up the numbers.

    FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

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    Andre Onana | Position: Goalkeeper | Age: 26

    • Inter Milan’s keeper is the latest in a long line of proficient Cameroon custodians, such as Thomas Nkono, Joseph Antoine Bell and Carlos Kameni.

    • With an imposing height that enables him to effectively challenge opposing forwards, the Samuel Eto’o Foundation graduate is excellent in the air and boasts cat-like reflexes and anticipation.

    • A reliable shot-stopper, Onana is equally adept at distribution, and his goal kicks and throws often serve to relaunch attacks.

    • The African ’keeper is also capable of putting in a well-timed tackle outside his box when the need arises, as he demonstrated during the Cup of Nations semifinal between Cameroon and Egypt earlier this year.

    Collins Fai | Position: Defender | Age: 30

    • The first thing that stands out to football observers watching Fai is his explosive pace.

    • The dynamic defender doubtless ranks among Africa’s fastest-ever fullbacks. Whether defending or attacking, his blistering pace is an excellent asset for Les Lions Indomptables.

    • A highly competent and dependable rightback, the Bamenda native marks opponents in a rigorous fashion and is capable of finding crucial space when bursting down the flank, where he is particularly adroit at beating his man and linking up with his right midfielder.

    Vincent Aboubakar | Position: Forward | Age: 30

    • Cameroon captain Vincent ‘Abouchou’ Aboubakar is on the verge of playing in his third World Cup in Qatar.

    • A stalwart of the national set-up and the top scorer at this year’s Cup of Nations, the free-scoring forward poses a constant threat in the opposition penalty box.

    • The star’s heading ability, teamwork and athleticism make him an extremely well-rounded striker, and with 37 international goals under his belt, he recently overtook the legendary Roger Milla in Cameroon’s all-time scoring charts to move into third place behind Samuel Eto’o (56) and Francois Omam-Biyik (45).

    Karl Toko Ekambi | Position: Forward | Age: 30

    • Sometimes fielded in the support striker role, Ekambi is a master at creating space and depth.

    • He is capable of performing on either wing, his link-up play with Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo on the left in particular often leads to the creation of goalscoring chances.

    • Ekambi’s principal asset is his lightning-quick pace with the ball at his feet, which enables him to attack from deep positions and make incursions into the spaces left by the opposing rearguard.

    • His offensive qualities are at their best when Cameroon are counter-attacking, and he has the ability to score from practically any angle.

    Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting | Position: Forward | Age: 33

    • A leader on and off the pitch together with Aboubakar, one of the team’s most experienced heads.

    • A versatile attacking option, the Bayern Munich forward is able to adapt to any formation or gameplan. Pacey and technically gifted, the Cameroonian is particularly dangerous on the edge of the box.

    • Choupo-Moting also happens to be the most successful member of the national team. His experience of some of the most prestigious competitions on the planet will likely be hugely valuable to Song in Qatar.