Harry Maguire of England looks dejected during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 3 match between Italy and England at San Siro on September 23, 2022 in Milan, Italy – Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

A winter World Cup looms and discontent can be found all over Europe, where England are far from alone in feeling uneasy about their hopes in Qatar. This is a time of introspection for Gareth Southgate, under mounting pressure, but the same is also true for many of his counterparts across the continent.

After a spell of European dominance on the global stage – Europe has provided the last four World Cup winners – there is growing reason to believe that this year, in a different part of the world and at a different time of year, the South American threat could be more pronounced than it has been for two decades.

Fifa’s international rankings tell a story of their own: Brazil are the number one team in the world, while Argentina are third. Brazil have not lost a match since July last year, 11 matches ago. Argentina are unbeaten since the summer of 2019, a run of 34 games. This summer, Argentina obliterated European champions Italy at Wembley, winning 3-0 at Wembley.

England, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal: all of these big boys, to varying degrees, have reasons for concern ahead of Qatar. Italy, lest we forget, will not even be there at all.

In the case of France, off-field issues go hand-in-hand with their on-field difficulties, which were highlighted once again in their 2-0 defeat by Denmark on Sunday. That latest loss meant that the reigning world champions have won only one of their last six matches.

It is not the sort of form that suggests they will cruise towards another world title, and the various off-field issues – Paul Pogba’s extraordinary fallout with his brother, Kylian Mbappe’s reported refusal to take part in sponsor activities – do not bode well for a nation with a colourful history of tournament meltdowns.

 Soccer Football - UEFA Nations League - Group A - Denmark v France - Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark - September 25, 2022 France's Jonathan Claus - REUTERS

Soccer Football – UEFA Nations League – Group A – Denmark v France – Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark – September 25, 2022 France’s Jonathan Claus – REUTERS

If France will not lead the way for the European sides, then who will? Germany? Only a fool would rule out the Germans but, again, the signs do not look hugely promising. Ahead of Monday night’s game against England, Germany were on a run of four draws and one loss – to Hungary – from their last six matches.

What of Belgium? Roberto Martinez’s side are ranked second in the world and their team remains packed full of familiar faces: Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen, Thibaut Courtois. But they too are stumbling towards Qatar, having lost four of their last 12 matches. Their previous three defeats, by contrast, came across a sequence of 38 matches.

Monday’s loss to Holland, for which Martinez was suspended due to a red card he received against Wales last week, marked the first time in 50 games that Belgium had failed to score a goal. Rather than peaking ahead of Qatar, they also appear to be dipping.

For Spain there are ongoing questions about their centre-forward options – Alvaro Morata remains in the picture – although their rising young talents could yet dominate proceedings in Qatar. Saturday’s loss at home to Switzerland, however, suggests that a Spanish resurgence on the global stage is not imminent.

Portugal have also lost to Switzerland recently, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s lack of action for Manchester United could be a significant problem by the time the World Cup kicks off.

Of the traditional giants of the European game, perhaps Holland are the team to fear the most. Louis van Gaal’s side are unbeaten in 15 matches and appear to have a promising blend of youthful talent and top-level experience. Elsewhere, Croatia look dangerous, as ever, and so do Denmark.

The accepted reasoning for Europe’s dominance of the World Cup since 2002 is that the European game, and the Premier League and Champions League in particular, is simply the highest level of football anywhere in the world.

This no longer provides the advantage that it once did, though, as the vast majority of Brazil and Argentina’s players are now playing in Europe. Of Brazil’s 26-man squad for this current international break, only three players were based outside of Europe. Of Argentina’s most recent 28-man squad, there were only two from non-European clubs, compared to six in their 2018 World Cup squad.

To underline the point further: nine of the 11 players who started Brazil’s 3-0 win over Ghana are currently playing in the Champions League. The other two are Manchester United’s Casemiro, a Champions League winner last season, and Lucas Paqueta, the £50 million record signing for West Ham United.

There can be no telling, at this point of the season, how the unusual date of the World Cup will affect teams. So much can and will change before the start of the tournament. But the form guide does not make for happy reading for many of the European giants, and a global power shift currently appears more feasible than it has done for years.



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