World Cup: Will Messi rectify knockout drought? Can France lift holders' curse? – the big questions we want answered

In many ways, the anticipation in the days leading up to the World Cup is just as exciting as the tournament itself.

Debates rumble over who is best equipped to lift the most famous trophy of them all and countless hours are spent deliberating which player to back for the Golden Boot award.

There will be subplots aplenty in Qatar in what will be a unique tournament staged late in the year, only adding to the intrigue in many ways.

Ahead of the tournament getting under way on Sunday, Stats Perform looks at some of the key questions that will be answered over the coming weeks.

 

RECORD FIVE FOR RONALDO?

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo has seven World Cup goals to his name, spanning across four different finals. While he is well short of the record 16 scored by Miroslav Klose, he can become the first player to ever score at five editions of the tournament should he find the net in Qatar.

WILL MESSI END KNOCKOUT DROUGHT?

Fellow superstar Lionel Messi has scored a respectable six World Cup goals, though each of those have come in the group stage. The Argentina attacker has failed to find the net in 756 minutes of play in the knockout phase of the tournament, a run he will be eager to bring an end to in what – like Ronaldo – may well be his final participation in the tournament.

Lionel Messi has gone 756 minutes without a knockout-stage goal at the World Cup
Lionel Messi has gone 756 minutes without a knockout-stage goal at the World Cup

CAN GOLDEN KANE DOUBLE UP?

Having finished as top scorer in the 2018 edition, with five of his six goals arriving in the group stage, England's Harry Kane is now out to become the first player to win the Golden Boot in separate World Cups.

FRANCE LATEST TO FACE GROUP-STAGE CURSE?

France enter the competition as reigning champions after beating Croatia in the final four and a half years ago. Only twice before – Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 – has a nation retained the trophy, while the past three holders have been eliminated at the first hurdle (Italy 2010, Spain 2014 and Germany 2018).

WILL BRILLIANT BRAZIL BREEZE THROUGH AGAIN?

As ever, Brazil will be backed by many to go all the way and lift a record-extending sixth title. The Selecao boast an incredible record in the group stage in particular, having gone 15 games without defeat in a run stretching back to 1998, winning 12 of those. Indeed, the South American giants have topped their group in each edition since 1982.

Brazil are unbeaten in 15 group matches at the World Cup
Brazil are unbeaten in 15 group matches at the World Cup

QATAR TO GO THE WAY OF SOUTH AFRICA?

Qatar will become the first country from the Arab world to host the tournament in what is the 22nd edition. The World Cup hosts have reached the second round of the competition in 20 of the previous 21 tournaments, the exception being South Africa in 2010.

SAME OLD STORY FOR MEXICO?

Mexico are World Cup regulars, qualifying for each of the past seven editions, but they have crashed out at the last-16 stage on each occasion. In all El Tri have played 57 finals matches, which is the most of any nation to have never reached the final.

TIME FOR SOME DUTCH DELIGHT?

After failing to qualify in 2018, the Netherlands make a welcome return in Qatar. This will be the Oranje's 11th participation and they have reached the final on three previous occasions – no side has ever finished runners-up as many times without lifting the famous trophy.

Mexico have progressed from their first round group in each of their past eight World Cup appearances
Mexico have progressed from their first round group in each of their past eight World Cup appearances