It’s been three years since France lifted the World Cup title in Russia and we are only 12 months away from the 22nd edition of the greatest international spectacle.

As one of the world’s elite clubs, Manchester United will have a host of their first-team players representing their countries at next year’s tournament in Qatar. 

Several Red Devils stars will have the opportunity to wrap up the prize at the most prominent international stage next year.

Superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo may not be one of them, as Portugal have to secure their place at the tournament via the dread play-offs.

#1 France

Reigning world champions France have bounced back from an underwhelming Euro 2020 campaign with the UEFA Nations League triumph back in October. 

Les Bleus have become the first nation to have won five different major international titles by claiming a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Spain in the grand final.

Moreover, Didier Deschamps’ men made light work of 2022 World Cup qualifying Group D, finishing top of the group without a single defeat from eight matches.

A squad filled with the finest talent on offer and the head coach who knows how to navigate the firepower at his disposal make France the leading candidates to defend the crown.

Raphael Varane has been the national team’s defensive cornerstone over the past decade and should retain his place at the heart of Deschamps’ backline at Qatar 2022.

Meanwhile, Paul Pogba, who has had ups and downs since returning to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2016, has been a completely different player at international level.

The illustrious playmaker has been France’s midfield linchpin alongside Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, with the duo forging one of the most formidable partnerships in international football.

With Karim Benzema in his prime despite being 33, and Kylian Mbappe doing ‘Kylian Mbappe’ things, Les Bleus can blow opponents away with clinical edge and unparalleled pace.

#2 Brazil

According to the oddsmakers, Brazil is a heavy favourite to win the World Cup in 2022 at the moment. However, it’s been a while since Brazil last mounted a genuine World Cup title challenge despite boasting one of the world’s best talent on their rosters throughout the years.

Since conquering the competition in 2002, the Selecao have failed to make it past the World Cup semi-finals in the last four tournament editions.

However, head coach Tite has mastered how to utilise the likes of Neymar, Raphinha and Richarlison while shoring up Brazil’s defensive gaps in the process.

The CONMBEOL heavyweights have found the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign a stroll so far, going unbeaten in their opening 13 matches to ensure automatic qualification for next year’s showpiece with six games to spare.

Much of Brazil’s success in the CONMEBOL qualifying group has to be pinned on a rock-solid defence that has conceded a mere four goals to date, letting in an average of just 0.3 per game.

Despite his unfathomable career at Old Trafford, Fred has been one of Tite’s most consistent performers, providing additional cover to his backline from midfield double-pivot alongside Liverpool’s Fabinho.

Though he is unlikely to become Brazil’s X-factor, limelight already soaked up by Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar, the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk man carries much of the defensive burden in front of the backline.

#3 England

Seeking their first World Cup title since 1966, England have grown in quality and strength since suffering the 2018 World Cup semi-final heartbreak against Croatia.

The Three Lions went from strength to strength in the recently completed World Cup qualifying campaign, finishing top of Group I with eight wins from ten and an intimidating +36 goal difference.

Several overwhelming victories over sub-par opponents in the qualifying cycle have helped Gareth Southgate’s side get over a painful Euro 2020 final defeat at the hands of Italy.

The England gaffer has an ever-increasing pool of talent to choose from, and there is a genuine feeling that the upcoming final tournament is the nation’s best chance to claim the coveted trophy in almost two decades.

From Tottenham goal-machine Harry Kane through Manchester City wizards Jack Grealish and Phil Foden to Man United speed demons Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, England’s attacking line is a force to be reckoned with.

While they’ve been struggling to impress at Old Trafford, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have been nothing short of exceptional for their country.

Both defenders were key cogs of Southgate’s backline that conceded just two goals at Euro 2020 and registered seven clean sheets in ten 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Southgate has established the right balance in the squad, and their depth could take them far at Qatar 2022 if the manager can find the cutting edge they lacked in the business end of the last two major tournaments.