The 22nd staging of the World Cup is set for 2022, where the tournament will be held in the Middle East for the first time. There are many firsts, anomalies and intrigues already attached to a tournament that hasn’t even kicked a ball yet. Nonetheless, this edition will be the first to occur outside of the typical June-July timeline and will instead be held from November to December, in a nation that has never outright qualified for the tournament before. All that said, the World Cup is no stranger to the fascinating storylines that spring around the competition and the teams involved. In this series we’ll follow some of those stories as they happen between now and the start of Qatar 2022.
Germany working out all the kinks
The usually dependable Die Manschaft has looked like an aging relic in the past six or seven years. The typical efficiency and almost mechanical ruthlessness with which they are associated had eluded them in the final years of former manager Joachim Low’s tenure. Having virtually established the program himself, being the manager to bring through much of the inspirational characters of the last decade, Low saw his cogs click into gear at the 2014 World Cup to capture the coveted prize in Brazil.
Since then however, those characters have slowly been phased out of the game; captains Philip Lahm and Bastian Schwenstiger, stalwarts like Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose and even Mesut Ozil, have all departed the scene. What Germany was left with then was a collection of parts with no linchpins – and that’s no kind of unit, much less a functioning one.
Fast forward a few months later and incumbent Hansi Flick has got Germany whirring into life once more. As the assistant to Low in that 2014 triumph, Flick is already familiar with some of the players. He proved his mettle as a head coach in a brief but uber-successful stint in charge of Bayern Munich which ended this year. Flick was always renowned for his man management of the players behind the scenes even while being Low’s assistant and now he’s taken that ability and coupled it with tactical nous to create a “new look” Germany.
A nearly perfect qualification so far (7 wins in 8 games) saw the four-time champions qualify for the World Cup with four games to spare. To look at it another way, that’s two international breaks of rest for players he’s already decided on taking to Qatar and an opportunity to run diagnostics in truly competitive games. With that in mind, Germany may have all the kinks worked out by the time the World Cup rolls around.
The great Danes are going from stride to stride
In a time that has thrown up some of the most unexpected and turbulent circumstances that most of us have had to deal with in our lifetimes, summer 2021 proved to be another body blow for the Danish national team.
For Denmark, all of their fans and a global viewing population of millions held their collective breaths as we watched the life leave and then miraculously return to Christian Eriksen in the dirt of Copenhagen – because when lives are on the line, nothing else is important. Every single Danish player, since that fateful day at Euro 2021, has had to fight on that much harder because of what they are missing – their motivational maverick has yet to reappear for his national team.
The Danes’ usual swagger and typical pomp is on full display every time they step on the pitch, and they’ve given a spirited response in the circumstances. In fact, they’ve been perfect. With 8 wins from 8, Denmark had something to celebrate with their raucous hordes as they qualified for their third consecutive international tournament. The Danes do have a title under their belt as the 1992 European Champions, but they aren’t normally counted in the runnings as favourites.
This Denmark team could upset a few in a year’s time though, especially if a certain playmaker makes his return. But whether they can manage to register the odd upset, Denmark can celebrate a successful qualification before most, becoming only the second team to qualify for the upcoming FIFA World Cup.