International soccer is heating up. Countries are battling hard to qualify for the next World Cup. The big event will be held in Qatar, in November/December 2022. It'll be just the second time that a WC will be held in Asia. Recall that South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 tournament. It'll also mark the first time that the WC will be hosted by an Arab nation. Let's get caught up.
SOCCER IN THE WINTER?
In addition to being the first tournament in this part of the world, WC 2022 will also be the first to be held in the late fall. Every previous WC has been played in May, June or July. Personally, though I know it couldn't have been in Qatar, I'd rather it be played in the summer. We've got enough sports going on in November and December.
LAST TIME WITH 32 TEAMS
As per usual, only 32 countries will qualify for the WC. That makes "just getting there" an accomplishment. After this, however, the field will expand to include 48 teams.
ITALY/PORTUGAL: THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE
When you think about international soccer, two of the first countries that come to mind are Italy and Portugal. Yet, one of them won't be going to Qatar. The Italians are 4-time champs. They failed to qualify for the 2018 WC but bounced back to win the Euro Cup in 2020. Meanwhile, Portugal won the 2016 Euro Cup. These two European soccer powers received an unfortunate draw though and will have to face each other, only one of them qualifying. Italy coach Roberto Mancini acknowledged. "It's not a great draw and it could have gone better. Just like we wanted to avoid Portugal, they would have wanted to avoid Italy."
HERE COMES CANADA
In Canada, as is the case in the United States, the women's soccer team has achieved far more success than the men's team. The Canadian women are the defending Olympic Champions. They're led by one of the best and most recognizable players (Sinclair) of all-time and have won multiple medals. The men, on the other hand, rarely ever even make it to the World Cup. In fact, they've only ever done so once. That was back in 1986 and they failed to score a single goal. The men's team is currently riding high though and appears to be in great shape to return to the world stage. The Canadians sit in first in CONCACAF and the top three countries from that group will qualify. Even if Canada slipped all the way to fourth, it would have a strong chance to win its way in by facing a team from the Oceania region in an International Playoff. The Canadians aren't thinking about fourth though. This is their strongest team ever. Fresh off a victory over Mexico, in the snow, they're looking to win the group.