Atletico Madrid do not return to action until the end of 2022, which means the World Cup will now take centre stage for Colchoneros across the globe. This year’s tournament, held in Qatar, will boast more Atletico Madrid players than any previous World Cup, with 12 players featuring.
This serves as your ultimate guide for the nations to keep an eye on, including who to watch from their teams, the coaches in charge, and the key group stage games to take in.
Spain - Koke, Álvaro Morata, Marcos Llorente
Luis Enrique’s squad will feature three different Atleti players, with one of them essential to the team’s tactics.
La Roja are dark horses for this tournament, with a young generation of talent coming through and a coach who is capable of getting the best out of a strong group. But they may have their work cut out to go all the way.
Álvaro Morata has been Spain’s reference point in attack since Luis Enrique’s return to the bench, and he has shown tremendous faith in the centre-forward. With 27 goals in 57 appearances for his country, Morata is only two away from entering the top-five top scorers of all time for his country and he will start the tournament as Spain’s number nine (while wearing the number seven, of course).
Looking to establish themselves will be Koke and Marcos Llorente. Neither is likely to break into Spain’s starting XI for the start of the tournament, but Koke is Mr. Reliable for Spain just as he is for Atlético, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him favoured over Gavi in more challenging battles. Llorente’s versatility and explosiveness could see him feature from the bench, too.
The coach: Luis Enrique is a familiar face given his past as a player for Real Madrid and FC Barcelona before a decorated coaching career, which has seen him tipped as an eventual replacement for Diego Simeone.
Ex-Atleti players: Rodri, the holding midfielder billed as the replacement for Gabi. Since moving to Manchester City, he’s established himself as a regular in the Spain side, either alongside or in place of Sergio Busquets.
Non-Atleti player to watch: Pablo Sarabia may be a player of interest for Atleti given the links to him in the summer. Much like Carlos Soler, also in Luis Enrique’s squad, he ended up at PSG and has never nailed down a first team spot.
Group stage match to watch: Spain vs Germany, Wednesday November 27th, 10:00pm AST (local time), which pits two of Europe’s giants — and two of the competition’s dark horses — up against one another early on.
Argentina - Nahuel Molina, Rodrigo de Paul, Ángel Correa
Correa’s initial from this squad was one of the most controversial decisions involving an Atlético player ahead of the World Cup. But the player was informed Thursday that he will be in the squad for Qatar, and Atleti will still have two other representatives from the home nation of their coach, Cholo Simeone.
#SelecciónMayor Tras el entrenamiento de hoy, el futbolista Nicolás González sufrió una lesión muscular y quedará desafectado de la nómina mundialista. En su reemplazo, el CT de @Argentina, convoca a Ángel Correa. pic.twitter.com/SkqSuSXtGl— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) November 17, 2022
In this case, both men will be expecting to start as regulars for Argentina. De Paul and Molina were stars in the nation’s conquering of the Copa América, and de Paul will feature in the three-man midfield while Molina offers an offensive full-back option on the right.
If an Atlético player is to get their hands on a World Cup winners medal as Antoine Griezmann and Lucas Hernández did in 2018, it could well be these two, who find themselves part of one of the competition’s favourites.
The coach: Lionel Scaloni was almost unheard of when he took charge after the 2018 World Cup, but he brought Argentina their first major trophy in 28 years as they won the Copa América. A 35-match unbeaten run over the past three years means his position is secure and expectations are high for him and his squad.
Ex-Atleti players: None, but there are as many as seven LaLiga players in this squad with Sevilla, Real Betis and Villarreal among the rival teams whose players have made the cut.
Non-Atleti player to watch: A certain Lionel Messi may be familiar to some LaLiga fans, and this will almost certainly be his last shot at getting his hands on football’s greatest prize.
Group stage match to watch: Argentina vs Mexico, Saturday November 26th, 10:00pm AST (local time). A match-up full of flair and passion. Mexico could have it all to play for if they don’t get the desired result against Poland in their opening game.
Belgium - Yannick Carrasco, Axel Witsel
Belgium come into this tournament more in hope than in expectation, with a squad boasting many of the same names who have struggled to deliver in recent years.
One of the elder statesmen in this squad in what is likely to be his final bow at international level, Axel Witsel is a favourite of Roberto Martínez and will be expecting to start in the 3-4-3 shape that sees him sit as a double pivot alongside Youri Tielemans.
The same cannot be said for Yannick Carrasco, whose inconsistency means his role with Belgium is similar to the one he has in Madrid. Timothy Castagne is likely to be preferred as the left wing-back, purely as a more reliable player, but Carrasco does offer a more offensive alternative.
The coach: Roberto Martínez was an outside pick for the squad, and anything but success in Qatar will likely mean this will be his final tournament in charge of Belgium’s golden generation — which is set to end without a trophy.
Ex-Atleti players: Representing Belgium from this category include he-who-should-not-be-named after crossing the divide to play for Real Madrid (okay, we’ll name him: Thibaut Courtois), as well as Toby Alderweireld, who won the league with Atlético in 2014 alongside Courtois. Alderweireld is now plying his trade for Royal Antwerp back in Belgium, but he is one of the leaders in this squad.
Non-Atleti player to watch: Charles De Ketelaere is waiting to explode a global star after a record-breaking moving to AC Milan. The 21-year-old winger may use the World Cup as the platform to do so.
Group-stage match to watch: Belgium vs Croatia, Thursday December 1st, 6:00pm AST (local time). This match could see both teams already qualified, but will also pit two of the tournament’s most talented squads against one another.
Check back later this week for Part 2 of our 2022 World Cup guide.