The 2022 FIFA World Cup was full of drama from start to finish, with plenty of nations making a big impact on proceedings. For many, there is huge cause of optimism going forward based on their showing in Qatar even if they did not progress as far as they may have wanted. With three and a half years of further development until the 2026 FIFA World Cup in United States, Canada and Mexico, some could well improve on their showing this year.
In this piece, we pick out five teams to look out for going into the next World Cup, those sides who could prove to be this year’s Morocco and make a run deep into the latter stages of the tournament.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, United States will be relatively happy with reaching the round of 16 in Qatar, however for them this felt like somewhat of a starter tournament leading into the main course come 2026. As one of three co-hosts of the next FIFA World Cup, it’s clear that United States are building towards that competition with a young squad who will be close to their peak in three and a half years down the line. Captain Tyler Adams (23), Sergino Dest (22), Weston McKennie (24) and United States men’s footballing poster boy Christian Pulisic (24) will all be of an age where they have not only gained a huge number of international caps by then, but from an ability perspective, should be showing their best form. Then you have the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna and Yunus Musah, who will both be 23-years-old and even more equipped to play in such a high-pressure environment.
It has been a long process for United States to reach this point and they won’t divert from their course now. Public expectation will be huge and all eyes will be on them. Their performance as a team and as individuals in Qatar was extremely promising and will surely improve further from here. Combine that with home advantage being in their favour and the 2026 FIFA World Cup may well be their time to shine.
For Senegal, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, was very much a question of, what if? The African champions more than held their own in the tournament, qualifying for the round of 16 after picking up six points across the group stage before being knocked out by a very strong England side. But if the Lions of Teranga had been able to call upon their star talisman in Sadio Mane, one can’t help but wonder if Aliou Cisse’s side could have progressed even further.
Having said that, Senegal are in great shape to continue building on the pitch and you can’t help but be enthused by the young talent at their disposal. In goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, they have two experienced world class pros in their respective positions, whilst 22-year-old attacker Iliman Ndiaye looks a real star of the future. With a strong spine and proven match-winners within their squad who should still be in good shape come 2026, Senegal could be the next African nation who builds upon the success of Morocco and reaches the latter stages of the FIFA World Cup.
Although the agony of still being unable to make it beyond the round of 16 must be hurting Japan, they can leave Qatar with a huge amount of hope for the future. Only a penalty shootout defeat against Croatia denied them a first ever FIFA World Cup quarter-final appearance in a tournament that saw them beat European giants and former world champions Germany and Spain across the group stage.
To take two scalps of such magnitude tells you everything about this Japanese team. Many of their squad are currently based at European clubs with a significant German contingent in particular and this is positive for them with the standard of football being played week in week out being very high. A country as highly populated as Japan are more than capable of challenging for the FIFA World Cup and the JFA clearly agree, having already set a target of becoming world champions by 2050. In the short-to-medium term, the JFA have established a goal of becoming World Cup semi-finalists by 2030 and the 2026 FIFA World Cup could be the year of the Samurai Blue.
At a World Cup, it’s not just about the progress a team makes on the pitch, it’s also about the impact it can cultivate off the pitch. No nation has demonstrated that more at the 2022 FIFA World Cup than Australia. Whilst Socceroos fans were loud and proud in the stands, back home in Australia, football fever had taken over the country. Thousands of fans crowded into Melbourne’s Fed Square in the early hours of the morning to watch their side make history as they reached the knockout stage for the first time ever. This led to AAMI Park being opened for Australia’s round of 16 clash with Argentina and 20,000 fans packed in to watch the Socceroos give everything, but ultimately fall short by two goals to one against the eventual world champions.
In a country dominated by Aussie rules football, rugby league and cricket (and that’s without taking into account individual sports such as tennis and athletics), soccer had made its big splash among the Australian public. The expectation now will surely be that Australia build on this momentum. What they don’t have in big name players, they make up for in hard work, commitment and a never say die attitude. Come the 2026 FIFA World Cup, they’ll aim to shock the world again.
Whilst they may not have qualified for the knockout stage in Qatar, Saudi Arabia achieved a feat that will be remembered forever within the world of football. The Green Falcons stunned Argentina in their opening group game, coming from behind to beat the Lionel Messi led footballing giants 1-2 in Lusail. The impact of this result, one of the biggest shocks in FIFA World Cup history cannot be understated, as the Saudi King Salman declared a public holiday to celebrate the victory. As is the case with Australia, such an achievement will surely provide a huge boost to football in the country and further investment in the sport will no doubt follow as Saudi Arabia look to back up that result going forward.
What Saudi Arabia have in their favour going forward across the next few years is a strong core of domestic players who form the national side. Every player named within Herve Renard’s squad in Qatar play their club football in the Saudi Pro League. This will continue to work wonders in regards to building team chemistry among the Saudi Arabia squad with every player already familiar with each other. The standard of football at that level is only increasing and as such, so is the quality of their players. Saudi Arabia fans will hope that this leads to future success on the world stage.