The 2022 World Cup is now less than eight months away and the excitement will ramp up another notch on Friday when the draw takes place in Doha.
Qatar will become the first Arab country to host the global showpiece, 92 years after the inaugural event in Uruguay, in what is the 22nd edition of football’s biggest tournament.
It will become the smallest host nation by area, with matches to be spread across five different cities, making this the most concentrated edition since Argentina 1978.
Twenty-nine nations have already booked their finals spot, 22 of which competed at the 2018 edition, with the automatically-qualified hosts the only side to make their debut.
Due to the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fate of eight teams remains in the balance – only three of whom can still advance.
Wales will face the winners of the Scotland versus Ukraine play-off in June, while New Zealand take on Costa Rica and Peru meet either Australia or the United Arab Emirates.
To further whet the appetite ahead of Friday’s draw, Stats Perform looks at some key questions to be answered with the aid of Opta data.
Will Europe continue to dominate?
The past four World Cups have been won by European teams: Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014 and France in 2018.
That is the longest run of victories for a single continent in the tournament’s history, with only one defeated finalist – Argentina in 2014 – coming from outside of Europe.
Indeed, a European team has triumphed in 12 of the previous 21 editions, with South America responsible for the other nine victors.
France are the reigning champions and are aiming to become the third team to retain the trophy after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).
However, a word of warning for Les Bleus – the past three defending champions have been eliminated in the group stage (Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018).
No Italy, but will it be a familiar winner?
Despite that, France will be fancied by many having reached the final in half of the past six World Cups –1998, 2006 and 2018 – which is more than any other country.
Another World Cup heavyweight will not be present in Qatar, though, as four-time winners Italy – only Brazil (five) have won more trophies – missed out in the play-offs.
Speaking of Brazil, they are taking part in their 22nd World Cup, making them the only team to have featured in every edition of FIFA’s showpiece competition.
Like Italy, Germany have won four titles and they have reached the semi-finals on four of the past five occasions, which is double the number of any other team in that period.
No matter how strong a side, a perfect tournament is tough to come by – only Brazil in 1970 and 2002 have achieved that since the 1930s, when teams played just four games.
Or is it a chance for someone new to shine?
Canada will play in their first World Cup since 1986; that gap of 36 years the longest between appearances among teams confirmed to be taking part in this year’s event.
Egypt and Norway had the longest gap at 56 years, though Wales will break that should they advance from their play-off to qualify for the first time since 1958 (64 years).
Qatar are the only new face and will aim to avoid becoming just the second hosts to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.
Mexico will also have their sights set on the knockout stages, though no side has played as many games (57) as them without reaching the final.
Netherlands, meanwhile, have reached the final on more occasions (1974, 1978 and 2010) without lifting the coveted trophy than anyone else.
Can Ronaldo and Muller set new records?
Cristiano Ronaldo will appear at a record-equalling fifth World Cup and is out to become the first player ever to score in five different editions.
The Portugal forward has seven World Cup goals in total, nine short of the record held by Miroslav Klose, who netted all 16 of his goals from inside the penalty area.
Thomas Muller has an outside chance of catching countryman Klose in Qatar, having scored 10 times across his three previous participations – no active player has more.
The top scorer in a single World Cup is Just Fontaine, who scored 13 times in 1958, including a goal in all six of France’s games.
Not since Gerd Muller in 1970, with 10 goals for Germany, has a player reached double figures in a single edition. Brazil great Ronaldo’s eight in 2002 is the highest since then.