Wales, Costa Rica and Australia became the final three teams to book their Qatar berths earlier this month, setting the stage for the greatest competition in the sport. Here is how the teams are shaping up with less than five months to go until kick off:
It is perhaps fair to note that at the moment making a clear assessment of where the two South American rivals stand against their European counterparts is not easy. But the signs we have suggest that Brazil and Argentina merit a spot at the very top of our rankings. It is an open debate whether the Finalissima should count for much, but crushing Italy to win more silverware is never a bad sign for any team; Argentina look robust in defense, and in Lautaro Martinez seem to have a striker who grows in stature alongside Lionel Messi.
Of course, Argentina were not the only ones to mete out a heavy beating on the European champions, who would be surging toward the middle of these rankings if they had managed to qualify. Germany wrapped up a largely impressive quartet of Nations League games in outstanding fashion with a 5-2 thumping of Italy in Monchengladbach.
Hansi Flick may be hunting for a true line leader at center forward, but the ingenuity behind them makes this look like the coming force for Qatar, particularly if Florian Wirtz can play himself into contention this summer. Making way for Germany in fourth are England. England are simply incapable of dictating the course of games and have not been able to exploit their talented collection of forwards and playmakers to their fullest. But the unity that drove England forward over the last two tournaments looks in danger of slipping away before they reach Qatar.
1. Brazil (–)
2. Argentina (+2)
3. France (-1)
4. Germany (+4)
5. England (-2)
6. Spain (+1)
Since Diego Rossi succeeded long-serving head coach Oscar Tabarez in December, Uruguay’s seven-game record is as followed: Won six, lost none, scored 16, conceded one. Having barged their way into the final World Cup spot for South America, the two-time champions are shaping up to be dark horses once more. Edinson Cavani rolled back the years in the June international break; with Darwin Núñez bound for Liverpool, he and Luis Suarez cannot rest assured of their place. There is similar depth in defense where Barcelona’s Ronald Araujo supplements Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin.
Uruguay are not the only veterans getting the band back together for one last job. The issue for Belgium, heavily beaten at home to the Netherlands this month, might be how few of them will enter the World Cup at the peak of their powers. Perhaps only Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois will be at that level in Qatar while uncertainty hangs over Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and so many others. There is a good team for 2026 bubbling away Lois Openda scored in a heavy win over Poland while Youri Tielemans looks ready for a bigger role — but this might be the awkward in-between phase for the Belgians.
When the final whistle blew in the Luzhniki Stadium four years ago, the consensus view was that was the last gasp of this particular great Croatia team. Their historical form since independence was enough to suggest that they would be back but perhaps not for a while. Maybe they have not left yet. Defeat to Austria made for a rough start to their Nations League campaign, but they responded with impressive wins in Denmark and France to show they will be a force in Qatar.
As for the United States, the recent round of internationals may not have told Gregg Berhalter much he did not already know. A top-tier striker is not coming between now and December and though Jesus Ferreira did what he could to claim the job, four goals against Grenada is not that illustrative of what he could achieve in Qatar. Still, the right collection of defenders might just be able to keep it tight at one end, allowing Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah to pounce at the other.