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.
Uruguay - José María Giménez, Óscar Ortega
A country with strong links to Atletico de Madrid and a spine of players who have a Colchonero past and present, Uruguay will be a team many Atleti fans will keep an eye on as they look to spring an upset in Qatar.
Josema Giménez is the only current Atleti player in the squad, and he will be desperate to establish himself as a leader alongside Diego Godín in defence. It’s a pairing that has worked well for club and country, but the demands of tournament football could be a tough test for him physically.
There’s also the novelty of ‘Profe’ Óscar Ortega joining his national team. Atlético granted permission for their fitness coach to join the Uruguayan national set-up alongside coach and former Atlético player Diego Alonso.
The coach: Diego Alonso, the same man who once lined up in Atleti’s attack during the 2001/02 campaign, which saw the club promoted back to Primera. He scored 22 goals in 39 games for the club in Segunda that season, and has only been in charge of Uruguay for nine matches, winning seven of them.
Ex-Atleti players: A real mix here, as we have two Atleti legends who never played together in rojiblanco in the form of Diego Godín and Luis Suárez. Alongside the two veterans, former loanee Lucas Torreira also makes the cut. Plus, the main man Alonso himself.
Non-Atleti player to watch: As much as it may pain us to say it, Real Madrid’s Fede Valverde is in the form of his life and could use this platform to show his talents to the world. He’s looking to take his prolific scoring form to Qatar.
Group stage match to watch: Uruguay vs Portugal, Monday November 28th, 10:00pm AST (local time). An opportunity for Uruguay to make a real statement. In a tight group, this is where they can stand apart with their attacking flare.
France - Antoine Griezmann
The reigning champions retain former Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann in their squad from their victory in Russia in 2018, but Thomas Lemar has dropped out while another Colchonero, defender Lucas Hernández, moved on from the club in 2019.
Griezmann remains one of the team’s senior figures and will likely feature behind Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé in an offensive trio that boasts three of the biggest names in the tournament.
With 42 goals for his country, Griezmann has already overtaken Michel Platini and sits third in France’s all-time rankings. He is also only nine goals behind Thierry Henry’s record of 51, so he can still harbour reasoanable hopes of overtaking the former Arsenal star.
The coach: Didier Deschamps celebrated a decade in charge in the summer, but this could be his farewell tournament. Though victorious in Russia, Deschamps’s style means he has struggled to endear himself to French fans despite the trophies won, and he has Zinedine Zidane’s shadow lurking over him.
Ex-Atleti players: Two brothers who are far from popular in Atleti circles, Theo and Lucas Hernández, will be representing France in Qatar. Six other LaLiga players come from Real Madrid and Barcelona, most notably Benzema.
Non-Atleti player to watch: Christopher Nkunku has caught the eye for RB Leipzig and drawn attention from Chelsea and Real Madrid. His versatility and good form gave him a chance to break into the French squad, but an unfortunate training injury suffered late Tuesday has ruled him out of the tournament.
Group stage match to watch: France vs Denmark, Saturday November 26th, 7:00pm AST (local time). Les Bleus will take on a side against whom they have a poor record of late. The Danes beat them both home and away in the Nations League earlier this year, and France won’t be able to afford another slip-up.
Portugal - João Félix
Most Portugal fans are pessimistic heading into the World Cup. Their poor form and defence-first focus has brought about comparisons to Atlético’s own struggles of late, which may add irony to the man representing the club among the Portuguese ranks.
That man is João Félix — but don’t expect to see too much of him in Portugal colours.
Joao Felix to PSG? Yet another negative consequence of this ridiculous World Cup is that we're going to be subjected to a special bonus round of transfer silly season.— Andy West (@andywest01) November 10, 2022
João’s last start for his country was in April 2021, and he has only completed 90 minutes in two of his 23 international appearances, the last being in September 2020. That hasn’t helped him add to a meagre total of three international goals.
This tournament could prove to be a turning point in deciding João’s future, putting him in the shop window if Fernando Santos does turn to him more regularly than in recent years.
The coach: Fernando Santos, whose days seem numbered whatever happens in Qatar. His defence-first approach was seen as pragmatic when it won Portugal a European Championship in 2016, but it is now problematic with Portugal only scraping through to qualify for the World Cup.
Ex-Atleti players: Liverpool’s Diogo Jota would almost certainly have been included had injury not ruled him out, meaning João will be the only man with any Atleti links in the Portugal squad.
Non-Atleti player to watch: Ruben Neves’ future at Wolves is uncertain with his contract running out, and this will be a great spot to show that he is worthy of some of the links to Europe’s biggest clubs. His distribution and breaking up of play in midfield are core elements to the Portugal machine.
Group stage match to watch: Uruguay vs Portugal, Monday November 28th, 10:00pm AST (local time), as mentioned for Josema and co. Portugal face a tough opening test against Ghana, and failure to pick up a win there could mean it’s all riding on this clash with Uruguay.
Croatia - Ivo Grbić
A surprise selection in the Croatia squad, Ivo Grbić’s minutes in place of Jan Oblak this season have proven impressive enough to merit a call-up as the third-choice goalkeeper for the 2018 runners-up.
Grbić is unlikely to feature for the team, given Dominik Livaković’s dominance over the number one shirt, but this experience will be a good one for Grbić. He may hope to add to the two caps he received in November 2021, while he was on loan at Lille.
The coach: Zlatko Dalić, appointed in 2017, led Croatia to the final in the last World Cup in 2018. He will be pushed to replicate that task in Qatar. There were calls for his resignation after Croatia’s disappointing Nations League campaign, where he tried to combine youth with experience in the squad.
Ex-Atleti players: None at all, but LaLiga will be represented within this squad by Osasuna’s Ante Budimir and Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić.
Non-Atleti player to watch: Lovro Majer was strongly linked with a late summer move to join Atlético, and talk persisted that a deal could be struck in the future. Tipped as the new Luka Modrić, his creative presence in midfield could set him apart.
Group stage match to watch: Croatia vs Belgium, Thursday December 1st, 6:00pm AST (local time) is the most eye-catching clash on paper. In reality, both teams could already be through, given that they meet Morocco and Canada beforehand, but it could be a good warm-up for the knock-out stages.