The 2022 World Cup field is full of surprises and shake ups.
The 32-country field is set, for possibly the last time, as the 2026 World Cup is set to expand to include 48 teams. This year’s list includes several new and unfamiliar faces scattered among the traditional staples.
While the European and South American powerhouses remain favorites, there are plenty of underdogs and Cinderella stories to root for along the way.
What notable droughts will be broken at the 2022 World Cup?
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Wales is by the far the most notable country returning to the fold at the 2022 World Cup. The small British country hadn’t made a World Cup since 1958 before beating Ukraine in a playoff back in June. The team will be led by forward Gareth Bale, the country’s all-time leading scorer of international goals.
While not as notable, Canada’s appearance in Qatar comes after nearly four decades away from the World Cup stage.
Despite the Canadian women qualifying for seven consecutive tournaments, the men have yet to establish themselves on the international stage. Their one and only World Cup appearance came back in 1986. Fans of the Maple Leafs will be guaranteed at least one more tournament appearance as co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup.
Finally, Qatar is the lone debutant of the tournament, receiving an automatic qualification as host. The middle eastern country is ranked No. 50 by FIFA.
What country has the most World Cup appearances?
Brazil truly is the king of the dance.
In addition to owning five World Cup trophies, the most of any country, the South American giant is the only country with perfect attendance on the world stage. It has not only qualified for the World Cup every year, but it has also participated, unlike other countries that abstained or were banned for political reasons.
Brazil enters Qatar with the No. 1 overall ranking, according to FIFA. It will be looking to make the most out of its 22nd World Cup appearance as it seeks to hoist the trophy for the first time since the 2002 World Cup that took place in South Korea and Japan.
How many countries from the 2018 World Cup are returning in 2022?
Three quarters of the teams that competed in the 2018 World Cup in Russia are returning to Qatar, including the top-four finishers -- France, Croatia, Belgium and England.
The eight 2018 teams missing from the 2022 list are: Russia, Sweden, Egypt, Peru, Colombia, Iceland, Panama and Nigeria. Taking their place are Qatar, Netherlands, the United States, Cameroon, Canada, Ecuador, Wales and Ghana.
Why is Russia not competing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?
Russia, already in hot water with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for allegations of state-sponsored doping, was expected to compete at the World Cup without a flag or anthem, similar to its participation in the past two Olympics. This ban by WADA, upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, came in response to evidence of non-compliance within RUSADA, the national anti-doping organization within Russia.
Whatever place it was expected to occupy at the World Cup took a nosedive with the Russian invasion of Ukraine this past February.
FIFA, prompted by protests from the three other countries competing in the qualifying round, originally banned Russian teams from playing on home soil. That proved unsatisfactory and the three countries banded together within three days of the initial decision to protest any contests involving Russia.
By Feb. 28 -- four days after the invasion began -- FIFA and the UEFA announced an indefinite suspension of all Russian teams. This decision came as both organizations remain ensnarled in controversy regarding corruption and appeasement of Russian oligarchs at both the club and international level.
What are some notable countries absent from the 2022 World Cup?
While Qatar has no shortage of football heavyweights, there are several big names missing from the list for 2022.
In addition to Russia, Sweden is undoubtedly one of the biggest absences from the aforementioned list. The Swedes, along with Poland and the Czech Republic, were part of the three-team cohort that ultimately forced FIFA’s hand in banning Russia.
With Russia no longer in the running, Poland and Sweden faced off in the playoff finals of their qualifying group, with Poland winning 2-0.
Other notable countries who won’t be making the trip to Qatar include Hungary and Chile.
Hungary and Chile each have nine appearances to their name, placing them in a tie for 18th-most tournaments.
Italy is perhaps the biggest name historically missing from this list. Prior to 2018, the four-time champions had only missed the World Cup once – in 1958. It has since missed back-to-back tournaments for the first time in the country’s history.
Italy’s absence is particularly notable as it is the reigning European champion and currently ranked No. 7 in FIFA standings. The country’s elimination came at the hands of North Macedonia, which pulled off an upset in epic fashion at home.