World Cup 2022 too-early predictions: France struggle, Ronaldo's farewell
Right then. The 2018 World Cup is over. What will we do next? The best thing might be to take a look ahead for the next one and so we asked Mark Ogden to commit to some way-too-early predictions for 2022.
The big guns return
Russia 2018 has been a great World Cup, perhaps even the best ever, but the absence of several regional heavyweights has been an anomaly that can be rectified in Qatar.
A World Cup without Italy, the Netherlands, back-to-back Copa America winners Chile, the United States and Cameroon lacks something, but they all now have four years to show that their failure to qualify for Russia was a one-off.
If they learn the lessons from their World Cup no-shows, they can all come back stronger in Qatar in 2022.
Ronaldo bids farewell
Cristiano Ronaldo will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around but it is difficult to envisage the Portugal forward missing one last chance to play on the big stage. If Portugal qualify you can expect Ronaldo to be there, with slowing limbs and graying hair, but still with the appetite to be the best.
Can he win the World Cup with Portugal at 37? Probably not, but Ronaldo will make sure he makes his mark in Qatar, even if it's only because he chooses that point at which to wave farewell to the game.
Qatar become the worst-performing hosts
Only one World Cup host nation has ever failed to qualify from the group stages when South Africa earned that unenviable distinction back in 2010. Yet they still managed to end their own campaign on a high with a 2-1 win against France in Bloemfontein.
A truly successful World Cup needs a host capable of at least recording some kind of positive result -- something we got when Russia cruised through Group A and even eliminated Spain, against all odds -- but Qatar are currently 97th in the FIFA World Ranking and have no pedigree of qualifying for previous World Cups. Having joined FIFA in 1970, their best tournament performances have come in the eight-nation Arabian Gulf Cup and they'll need their players to start finding opportunities to break through in Europe, too.
Qatar have an awfully long way to go in terms of becoming competitive, and they're a fairly new arrival on the international football scene, but competing in next year's Copa America in Brazil will give them tournament experience and a valuable insight into how much improvement they need to make. They'll also need to catch the emotional spark of performing at home on the world's biggest sporting stage.
African teams mount a better challenge
Russia 2018 was a disaster for Africa, with all five of its competing nations failing to go beyond the group stages.
Egypt, tipped as a dangerous outsider before the competition thanks to Mohamed Salah's year with Liverpool, lost every game and endured a miserable first World Cup in 28 years. Morocco came within minutes of beating Spain but bowed out with just one point from their three games, losing 1-0 to Portugal and Iran.
Nigeria can feel most aggrieved at being knocked out in the group stage, having beaten Iceland before defeat on the final day to Argentina -- and Marcos Rojo's dramatic late goal -- meant they went home early. Tunisia were minutes from holding England to a draw and beat Panama to end their group stage campaign on a muted but positive note, while Senegal became the first team in World Cup history to be eliminated via a fair play tie-breaker in Group H.
While several of the CAF teams were unlucky not to reach the knockout rounds this summer, it's vital that they push on over the next four years. Qatar is an opportunity for Africa to strike back and remind the world of its footballing ability.
Mbappe confirms himself as the star of his generation
Kylian Mbappe will be 23 by the time he plays in Qatar in 2022 and the France forward could be absolutely anything he wants to be by that stage. Age will almost certainly have caught up with Lionel Messi and Ronaldo by then -- you'd imagine Messi might not even be there after his string of international frustration -- and Neymar will be in his 30s, meaning the stage is set for Mbappe to take over as the best in the world.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward is currently so far head of his rivals that he can expect to dominate the 2022 World Cup if he maintains his rate of progress.
Football doesn't come home
Greg Dyke, former chairman of the English Football Association, famously set England the target of winning the World Cup in 2022. His ambition was based around the opening of the National Football Centre at St. George's Park, with England finally having a facility to develop football excellence.
As this summer's tournament has shown, England have improved as a football force and two of their under-age teams have become world champions over the past year. But the senior team's big chance came in Russia and they will do well to get such a good opportunity again in Qatar.
Small isn't necessarily beautiful
One of the joys of Russia 2018 has been the sight of fans from every nation criss-crossing the country and, in the cases of Peru, Argentina and Mexico, seemingly moving en masse from one part of the nation to another.
Qatar will be different, though, with all of the stadiums within a 50-mile radius in the tiny Gulf state. Can Qatar accommodate all of the supporters in such a small space? Will hotel rooms be at such a premium that it becomes a campsite World Cup?
VAR ends controversy
Russia 2018 has shown us that the Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) is here to stay.
Pre-tournament concerns over its introduction at the World Cup, amid fears that it was under-cooked, proved to be wide of the mark, with the system successfully ensuring that the big decisions were called correctly.
But in Russia, it was almost a case of learning on the job, with VAR's remit fairly narrow considering its potential. Just imagine what it will be like in four years' time when it has become part of the fabric of the game. The next iteration of VAR will probably end all controversy by getting every decision right.
Who will win all the awards?
In a super-early look-ahead to the next time, we'll pick our major awards. Germany's Timo Werner will benefit from another qualification cycle to assert himself up front and he'll claim the Golden Boot.
The Golden Glove for best goalkeeper will go to a player from a country that didn't even qualify for Russia 2018: Gianluigi Donnarumma of Italy will claim the crown between the posts.
Best young player will be England's Phil Foden (assuming he can assert himself at a top club, even if it's not Manchester City) as he stakes his claim in the Three Lions' midfield.
Biggest surprise? After Croatia's stunning run to the final in 2018, we reckon Iran will be the shock team to make a deep surge in 2022. The core of their team is still in its late-20s while the likes of Alireza Jahanbakhsh will have another four years to continue his progress. They were unfortunate not to advance from Group B but will pose a genuine threat next time around.
And finally, the nation poised for the biggest collapse, something Germany suffered in 2018? We'll go with France. Even though they just won it all in Moscow, history shows it's always difficult to be a defending champion!