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Qatar World Cup: Your guide to the 13 European teams competing at football extravaganza

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By Estelle Nilsson-Julien  & Manuel Terradillos, Vincent Coste, Francisco Marques, Aleksa Boljanović
Clockwise from top left: England's Harry Kane, France's Karim Benzema, Wales' Gareth Bale and Denmark's Christian Eriksen
Clockwise from top left: England's Harry Kane, France's Karim Benzema, Wales' Gareth Bale and Denmark's Christian Eriksen   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

BELGIUM

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Kevin de BruyneAP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

Belgium didn’t lose any of their qualifying games for the World Cup, coming top of a group containing Wales and the Czech Republic. 

What kind of form is Belgium in?

At the World Cup four years ago, Belgium beat England in a play-off match to come third, their best-ever tournament. 

Since then, the team has lost some of its top players who were nicknamed the "golden generation", such as ex-Manchester City star Vincent Kompany. 

But there is still quality and the team’s friendly against Egypt in Kuwait on Friday will be an opportunity to get some good results before the World Cup.

Who is Belgium’s star player?

Midfielder Kevin de Bruyne is a genius, he can do everything with a ball faster than his opponent. However, the fact he can do everything also puts a lot of pressure on his shoulders. 

Who is Belgium’s surprise package?

Leandro Trossard is in great shape. He has scored goals against Manchester City and Chelsea this season, as well as a hat-trick against Liverpool.

What three words would you use to describe Belgium’s national football team?

Wall. Experience. Creativity.

Wall, because we have Thibaut Courtois from Real Madrid in goal, who is impossible to get past. Experience, as we have eleven players who are over 30 years old. And finally, I would say creativity.

How well do Belgians think your national team will do in Qatar?

There isn’t too much pressure on the team, which leads to slightly less ambition and expectations. This sentiment is also linked to the fact that the team is getting older.

[Words: Belgium football journalist Sven Claes, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien]

CROATIA

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Croatia's Luka Modric is in action during the UEFA Nations League match between Croatia and Austria at the Gradski Vrt stadium in Osijek, CroatiaCredit: AP Photo

What kind of form is the Croatian team in? How did World Cup qualification go?

The qualifiers were wobbly and the head coach, Zlatko Dalić, was searching for the right formation. But qualification for the World Cup was never existential, despite an unexpected loss to Slovenia. Croatia is quietly optimistic and there aren’t a lot of question marks surrounding the team.

Who is Croatia’s star player?

I would say Luka Modrić. He is 37 and still in great shape. He is the captain and leader of the team.

Who could be Croatia’s surprise package?

The team is a good blend of new faces and older more experienced ones. Defender Josip Šutalo could be a surprise, he is a youngster from Prva HNL club Dinamo Zagreb.

Which three words would you use to describe Croatia’s national football team?

For tactics, let's go with: direct as possible. Croatia is undergoing a slight transition in terms of tactics. In 2018 they were quite a counter-attacking team, now they are more inclined to take hold of the ball thanks to some tactical tweaks.

How well do Croatians think your national team will do in Qatar?

The hangover from the 2018 silver medal is gone and this is very unusual for Croatia. They’re quite realistic and the first milestone will be to get out of the group stage. After that, as the 2018 World Cup showed us if the draw is favourable then you might expect something. However, the main goal is really to get out of the group stage. 

[Words: Croatian football journalist Juraj Vrdoljak, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien]

DENMARK

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Denmark's Kasper Dolberg, second left, celebrates scoring with teammates Christian Eriksen, center right, Joachim Maehle and Andreas Skov Olsen, rightCredit: AP Photo

What shape is the Danish team in? How did World Cup qualification go?

The Danish team is in a very good situation, they were near-perfect in qualification until they lost to Scotland. The fact that they got to the semi-finals in the European Championships really lifted the nation.

Who is Denmark’s star player?

Christian Eriksen is the brain of the team. He will play a more advanced role for Denmark than he does for Manchester United. He is a highly creative player.

Who is Denmark’s surprise package?

I’m not sure how much of a surprise he is, but Jesper Linstrom. He is the Danish offensive player in the best shape, having been fantastic lately for Frankfurt. My fear is he may not get enough game time to show his talent.

Which three words would you use to describe Denmark’s national football team?

The team is flexible, mature and positive. There are a lot of senior players with international caps. The team is also no longer seen as "little Denmark" - competitors are aware that the days where they could turn up and just beat Denmark, are over.

How well do Danish fans think your national team will do in Qatar?

The only pressure is to get out of the group stages. I think everyone expects Denmark to finish second behind France, whilst beating Tunisia and Australia. The draw has been unkind, however, I think the Danish players become better as soon as they put on the national shirt. In other countries such as England, this isn’t the case.

[Words: Sports journalist Liam Barker, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien

ENGLAND

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Jude Bellingham kicks the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Italy and England at the San Siro stadium, in Milan, Italy, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

After the disappointment of losing to Italy in the final of Euro 2020, England picked themselves up to breeze through their World Cup qualifying group, which included teams of varying quality, from Poland and Hungary to Andorra and San Marino.

What form is the English side in?

World Cup qualifying may have been stress-free, but England's form since booking their place in Qatar has been hugely worrying.

They crashed out of the Nations League top group, where they lost 4-0 at home to Hungary.

Manager Gareth Southgate argued that he was experimenting with his team ahead of the far more important World Cup, but fans are concerned about the team's form and the fitness of some of their top stars. Striker Harry Kane, for example, has started 13 games in 43 days for his club Tottenham Hotspur, a fixture schedule condensed to make room for a winter World Cup.

Who is England’s star player?

Harry Kane is England's star player and the man fans expect to deliver on the big stage. Two more goals in an England shirt in Qatar will see him equal Wayne Rooney's record total of 53 for the national side.

Who could be England's surprise package?

It won't be a shock to fans of Borussia Dortmund, but 19-year-old Jude Bellingham could be England's surprise package

He has been the star performer in recent matches, despite the team’s poor form.

Another wildcard could be Leicester City midfielder James Maddison, whose goals and assists in a struggling Premier League team propelled him into Southgate's squad at the last minute.

Which three words would you use to describe England's national football team?

Conservative. Pragmatic. Passionate.

How well do English fans think your national team will do in Qatar?

The recent poor form has seen unrest among some England fans over Southgate's tactics, which they see as conservative and unlikely to succeed in the bigger matches.

Others though would argue recent results are just a blip in what has been a successful period in charge for Southgate, who, in stark contrast to his predecessors, has succeeded in creating a club atmosphere when players turn up for England duty.

If England does fail to triumph in Qatar, it won't be because the players aren't playing for the manager.

[Words: Chris Harris]

FRANCE

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France's Kylian Mbappe reacts after missing a chance to score during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between France and AustriaCredit: AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

The qualifying campaign went well. France finished unbeaten and top of their group with a six-point lead over second-placed Ukraine.

What kind of form is France in?

Coach Didier Deschamps has only chosen 11 players from France's World Cup-winning 2018 squad for the tournament in Qatar. 

Some, such as Blaise Matuidi, have retired from international football. Others -- Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kanté -- are injured.

Prolific striker Karim Benzema has not featured much for Real Madrid in recent weeks amid "a few little fitness issues". 

Update: Benzema has now withdrawn from the tournament.

Who is France's star player?

Even more than in 2018, the star of the French team is Kylian Mbappé. Season after season, the PSG striker is breaking records. This year, he became the youngest player in history to reach 40 goals in the Champions League.

Who could be France's surprise package?

The surprise is more in how the team will be set up. In the absence of full-backs Jonathan Clauss and Lucas Digne, it is likely France will probably not play with three defenders.

Which three words would you use to describe France's national football team?

Defending. World. Champions.

How well do the French think your country will do in Qatar?

As in many countries, the question of a boycott of the World Cup in Qatar has become more pressing in recent weeks. Many major cities have announced that they will not set up a giant screen to show the games. But a recent poll showed that 60% of French people would watch the World Cup. 

As for their team's performance, the French are divided, with the most pessimistic imagining a return home in the group stage. In this respect, the statistics tend to point in that direction, since only Brazil (in 1962) and Italy (in 1938) have managed to retain their title. 

Cautious, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that he would only go to Qatar if France reached the semi-finals.

[Words: Vincent Coste]

GERMANY

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Germany's Manuel Neuer is pictured during the UEFA Nations League football match between Germany and ItalyAP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

The qualification went well. Germany finished first in their group with only one defeat and nine points ahead of North Macedonia.

What kind of form is Germany in?

Their form has fluctuated to some extent. With the new national coach, Hansi Flick, they managed a commanding qualification, but in the UEFA Nations League, they only finished third. 

In the last qualifying match before the World Cup, they managed a laborious 1-0 win against Oman.

Flick will have to do without the injured Timo Werner and Florian Wirtz. The weakness remains the defence, where only defender Antonio Rüdiger seems to be in good form.

Who is Germany's star player?

The DFB team does not have a real star player in its ranks. Goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer is playing his fourth World Cup tournament. The team also relies on the experience of "oldie" Thomas Müller. In total, seven Bayern Munich players make up the team's axis.

Who could be Germany's surprise package?

In attack, 17-year-old Yossoufa Moukoko of Borussia Dortmund has been nominated; he is the youngest player in the DFB team since Uwe Seeler. If everything goes well, he could possibly make his international breakthrough.

Which three words would you use to describe Germany's national football team?

One. Tournament. Team. [a reference to Germany often going into a tournament struggling but always seeming to perform above expectations]

How well do the Germans think your country will do in Qatar?

In Germany, many people are boycotting the tournament: they say they will not watch the World Cup at all or will watch it in a very limited way.

At the last two tournaments (World Cup 2018, Euro 2021), Germany only performed rather mediocrely. 

The fans do not see the team as the big favourites, but they hope that they can return to the glory of earlier times. 

[Words: Sebastian Zimmermann]

NETHERLANDS

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Czech Republic's Tomas Soucek, right, challenges Frenkie de Jong of the Netherlands during the Euro 2020 football championship round of 16 matchCredit: AP Photo

What kind of form is the Dutch team in? How did World Cup qualification go?

The Dutch head into the World Cup in better form than any other major European nation. 

Since manager Louis van Gaal returned in the summer of 2021, the team have won 11 and drawn four of their 15 matches, with the highlights being a 4-2 win against Denmark and a 4-1 win against Belgium.

They topped their World Cup qualification group ahead of Turkey and Norway. 

Who is the Netherlands’ star player?

The most important player in the team is Frenkie de Jong. He's been excellent since Van Gaal took over and has looked better than ever at club level for FC Barcelona recently. 

Virgil van Dijk and Memphis Depay are also key players, but De Jong is the heartbeat of the side in midfield and can control matches on his own.

Who is the Netherlands’ surprise package?

Cody Gakpo wasn't well known outside of the Netherlands at the start of 2022, but that is quickly changing. Playing for PSV Eindhoven, the 23-year-old forward has directly contributed to more goals than any other player in Europe's major leagues this season and looks set to join one of the world's biggest clubs.

Which three words would you use to describe the Netherlands' national football team?

Exciting. In-form. Underrated.

How well do Dutch fans think the national team will do in Qatar?

There is real optimism surrounding this team. The squad is full of exciting young talents such as Gakpo and Xavi Simons and is led by arguably the nation's greatest-ever manager. 

However, if everything pans out as expected, the Netherlands will face perhaps the only two teams in better shape than them, Argentina and Brazil, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. 

If they can get past the South Americans though or avoid them altogether, there's no other team the Dutch fear and there’s no reason why they can't become World Champions for the first time.

[Words: Dutch football expert Finley Crebolder, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien]

POLAND

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Robert Lewandowski arrives at the Polish Army Stadium prior to an international friendly soccer match between Poland and Chile in Warsaw, Poland Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022Credit: AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

Poland came second in England's World Cup qualification group, which saw them drawn against Russia in their first play-off match to reach Qatar. 

But, in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a country bordering Poland, Warsaw refused to play the game.

Football world governing body FIFA later disqualified Russia from the tournament. 

Poland were then drawn against Sweden, who they beat 2-0 to reach Qatar, despite having a new coach, Czesław Michniewicz, following Paulo Sousa’s resignation.

Who is Poland’s star player?

Robert Lewandowski, who plays for FC Barcelona, is Poland's all-time top goalscorer and standout star. But the 34-year-old, who spent eight years at Bayern Munich before moving to Spain, is not surrounded by the same calibre of player at the national level. 

Who could be Poland's surprise package?

Central defender Jakub Kiwior who plays for Spezia Calcio in Italy has only made four appearances for Poland's national team but he is a lot more experienced than his age shows.

Which three words would you use to describe Poland's national football team?

It's a difficult one, but I would go with: hardworking, overlooked and unpredictable.

How well do Polish fans think the Polish national team will do in Qatar?

Expectations are always relatively high and the big hope is to beat Mexico in the first game of the group stage. Most people hope the team will get into the second round but it’s likely that they won’t get much further. 

[Words: Polish football writer and journalist Ryan Hubbard, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien]

PORTUGAL

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Portugal's Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Sweden, his 100th goal, during the UEFA Nations League Group stage football match at Friends Arena in StockholmCredit: AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

Not great. After an awkward 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland, Portugal needed just a draw at home to Serbia to qualify. But they lost and had to qualify via the playoffs, beating Turkey and North Macedonia, who had earlier knocked Italy out. 

What kind of form is Portugal in?

Portugal, one of the best teams in Qatar, are aiming to win the tournament in what is highly likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup. 

Their form is not great but the majority of the squad plays in the best European leagues, including the Champions League. Many have been playing well, including the trio from Manchester City -- Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva -- and AC Milan’s Rafael Leão.

It's also unclear what impact Cristiano Ronaldo's explosive interview will have on his form - and Portugal's chances -- in Qatar.

Who is Portugal's star player?

Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest name but at 37 years old, he’s clearly on the downward trajectory of his career. Bernardo Silva is the other one that can have a good tournament if the coach finally understands how to benefit from his talent behind the strikers.

Who could be Portugal's surprise package?

Rafael Leão, João Palhinha (Fulham) and Matheus Nunes (Wolverhampton) could all be big surprises.

Striker Leão, who stars for Italian champions AC Milan, was voted the best player in Serie A last year, proving to be lethal with his speed, clear assists and goals. 

Palhinha is a typical number 6 playing in the Premier League, where he's showing defensive aggressiveness, good passing skills and the ability to score goals. 

Nunes is a midfielder that can turn a defensive scenario into an attacking play in just one body move. He's strong in possession and intense in defence.

Which three words would you use to describe Portugal's national football team?

Talented. Balanced. Experienced.

How well do the Portuguese think your country will do in Qatar?

Portuguese people are by nature optimistic when it comes to football. We have one of the best teams in the world -- if not the best -- if we look at it position by position. 

But there’s also the inconsistency of the team performances, able to show great performances or to frustrate the supporters with performances far below the level these players have shown at their clubs.

Nevertheless, winning both a European Championship and a Nations League since 2016 is what counts in the end. 

Ronaldo is the big star but he’s also sometimes seen by supporters as the big problem as teammates always look to him when things go wrong. Unfortunately, he's not the player he was 10 years ago. 

People are not so confident about the national coach and a lot think Fernando Santos shouldn’t be the manager. That's because in some matches he’s trying to ensure the team doesn't lose, rather than make the most of its attacking riches. 

[Words: Francisco Marques]

SERBIA

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Serbia's Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates after scoring during the Nations League football match between Norway and Serbia at Ullevaal Stadium in OsloCredit: AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

Serbia qualified unbeaten in a group containing Euro 2016 champions Portugal. They won six times, including 2-1 in Lisbon.

What kind of form is Serbia in?

After qualification, Serbia took their good form into the Nations League, topping their group and winning their last five matches. 

Dragan Stojković, nicknamed Pixi, a legend of Serbian football, became coach in 2021 and transformed the national team's game. 

Serbia started to become more offensive and score more goals, allowing the likes of striker Aleksandar Mitrović to hit top form. 

He scored eight goals in the World Cup qualifiers and six in the Nations League.

Who is Serbia's star player?

Several players stand out: Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrović, Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović and captain Dušan Tadić, who plays for Ajax. They are the engine of the team. With fifty goals in just 76 games, Mitrović is Serbia's most prolific-ever striker. 

However, fans are worried about injuries to Mitrović and Vlahović.

Who could be Serbia's surprise package?

Srđan Babić, 26, and 21-year-old Strahinja Eraković -- the only player from the Serbian national league in Serbia's World Cup squad -- could be the surprise packages. 

Which three words would you use to describe Serbia's national football team?

Offensive. Confident. Combative.

How well do Serbians think your national team will do in Qatar?

There is euphoria and a real "football fever" in the country. That's down to qualifying for Qatar, the recent performances on the pitch and the style of play introduced by manager Dragan Stojković. 

Even though Serbia has been drawn in the same group as Brazil, fans are optimistic.

Stojković said this was normal.

"The players are aware of their responsibility, and we are going to Qatar completely relaxed," he said. "In an extremely strong competition, we qualified for the tournament with style. 

"Only malicious people can find flaws. It is what it is. I don't like unnecessary pride, but I do like necessary modesty."

[Words: Aleksa Boljanović]

SPAIN

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Spain's Gavi vies for the ball with Czech Republic's Vaclav JemelkaCredit: AP Photo

What kind of form is Spain in? How did World Cup qualification go?

Spain booked their place at the Qatar World Cup by finishing top of their qualification group. 

Nevertheless, an unexpected defeat to Sweden put Spain's first-place position at risk right until the very last moment. 

It was a similar scenario in the Nations League, where Spain finished top of their group but only at the last minute thanks to a late winner against Portugal, in the final fixture. 

Who is Spain's star player?

The most talented player is Pedri followed by rising star Gavi.

Spain has a group of really talented players but lacks an international star, compared to the past when we had players like Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Casillas, Villa and Puyol.

The real star of the team is the coach Luis Enrique. He has built a team according to his style where he's the main figure. Sometimes he's been criticised for choosing players that he likes independently of their form or if there are other players playing in the same position and performing better. 

Nevertheless, despite all of this, Luis Enrique managed to take the team to the final of the last Nations League despite the team's youth, something that gave him a lot of credit among Spanish fans.

Who could be Spain's surprise package?

Ansu Fati could really be the difference. He missed a few matches because of an injury at the beginning of the season with his club FC Barcelona. He was also not called up to play for Spain in recent games, a decision that saw some criticise manager Luis Enrique. That cast doubt on Fati being in the World Cup squad, but in the end, he made the cut. He's a "different" player with the talent to become a world-class forward. He's got the ability to change the course of a match, to score goals where nobody sees a chance. All in all, he's got the talent needed to be a new star, but nobody can guarantee it.

Which three words would you use to describe Spain's national football team?

Possession. Posssesion. Possession.

How well do Spaniards think your national team will do in Qatar?

Nobody is sure. Seeing the players we have, we could say that Spain is a step behind other favourites, such as Brazil and France. But we also know that we have enough talent to even win. We saw how we made it to the final of the Nations League and we were beaten only because of a controversial goal. Because of that, fans do not rule out the possibility of making just an "average" World Cup nor the possibility of becoming World Champions. We truly think we can win. 

[Words: Manuel Terradillos]

SWITZERLAND

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Switzerland's Breel Embolo, left, celebrates with Remo Freuler, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ruben Vargas, and Djibril Sow after scoring in a Nations League match.AP Photo

How did World Cup qualification go?

Switzerland finished top in their qualifying group, ahead of Italy, who had to go through the playoffs to reach Qatar. In a huge shock, the Euro 2020 winners lost to North Macedonia.

What kind of form is Switzerland in?

The majority of the group is in good shape except for two very important players, goalkeeper Yann Sommer and midfielder and captain Granit Xhaka. The first is recovering from a foot injury and the second a stomach problem. 

There is also a question mark over striker Xherdan Shaqiri, who has not played since the elimination of his Chicago Fire team from the playoff race for the US football championships, Major League Soccer, last October.

Who is Switzerland's star player?

Captain Granit Xhaka, who has once again become indispensable for his English club Arsenal, is the star of this group. Other top performers are AS Monaco striker Breel Embolo and Noah Okafor, the rising star of Swiss football.

Who could be Switzerland's surprise package?

Swiss coach Murat Yakin has surprisingly called up four goalkeepers for Qatar. With Yann Sommer and Jonas Omlin not 100% fit, Fabian Rieder, 20, from Young Boys Bern, could be thrown in at the deep end. 

How well do the Swiss think their country will do in Qatar?

Switzerland is in a difficult group, with Brazil, Cameroon and Serbia. For many Swiss supporters, it would be good to qualify for the next round, anything else would be a "bonus".

[Words: Vincent Coste]

WALES

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Gareth Bale in action during the World Cup 2022 qualifying play-off football match between Wales and Ukraine at Cardiff City Stadium.AP Photo

What shape is the Welsh team in? How did the World Cup qualification go?

Wales finished second in a qualifying group including Belgium and the Czech Republic, meaning they had to go through the play-offs to reach the Qatar World Cup.

After beating Austria, Wales played their last qualifying match against Ukraine. The tension was crazy. On the one hand, Wales hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1958, and on the other, the entire world was on Ukraine’s side, because of the war. 

In terms of players, there have been a few injuries in the Welsh camp since the start of the season, including Gareth Bale and Harry Wilson. Midfielder Joe Allen made the squad despite not having played since September because of a hamstring injury.

Who is Wales’ star player?

I would have to say Gareth Bale. If you ask Welsh fans they will say the same thing. He knows how to lead the team, and despite the fact that he’s 33 years old, he still manages to do things on the pitch that nobody else can.

Who could be Wales’ surprise package?

It depends on how closely you follow Welsh football, but for the outside world, I would say Brennan Johnson. He plays for Nottingham Forest in the Premier League and is a fantastic talent.

Which three words would you use to describe Wales’ national football team?

Counter-attack, brave and resolute. They are a team who puts their bodies on the line to win.

How well do Welsh fans think the team will do? What are expectations?

We haven’t been to a World Cup in 64 years, just getting there for some people is absolutely massive. On the other hand, we’ve managed to get out of the group stage at the last major tournaments we’ve been at. 

[Words: Glen Williams, Cardiff City correspondent at Wales Online, as told to Estelle Nilsson-Julien]