At this point, it's easier to list which national teams are not in the middle of some kind of pre-World Cup crisis. Forget the USMNT's forgettable loss to Japan; after all, the majority of the tournament favorites all seem to be experiencing their own kinds of meltdowns.
Such is the nature of international soccer. While federations don't necessarily have to worry about losing star players to richer teams, they also can't just go out and sign whomever they want. Coaches can select only from a mostly random collection of people who, as FIFA rules state, are citizens of that country and also exhibit a "genuine link" to the nation. That leads to lopsided player pools — you can't do anything if your four best players all happen to be right-backs — which theoretically requires a higher degree of tactical sophistication from the manager in order to make it all work.
Except for the most part, the best coaches don't coach national teams anymore because the pay isn't as good. And if they did still coach national teams, they wouldn't be able to implement the right kind of high-wire, tactical plans because their rosters are always changing and the teams train together for only a couple of weeks per year.
Depending on how you want to look at it, this is either the charm or the bane of international soccer: Everyone is deeply flawed, including the nine favorites to lift the trophy in Qatar. So let's go through each one and their profound issues, in ascending order of how likely the betting markets think they are to win the whole thing.
Netherlands: OK … so who's going to score the goals? (+1400 to win, per Caesars Sportsbook)
After losing to the Czech Republic in hilarious/embarrassing fashion in the round of 16 at last summer's Euros, the Netherlands have been on fire. After replacing Frank De Boer with Louis Van Gaal as manager, the Dutch haven't lost a match, and they've improved their elo rating more than any other nation in the top 15. In fact, they're currently the highest-rated European team in the elo ratings, which award/penalize teams a certain number of points based on the result of each match, the quality of the opponent and the level of competitiveness.
It's not really driven by any fluky results, either, as they have the third-best xG differential among all the teams we're looking at since last summer. Plus, they have a pretty cushy World Cup draw (hosts Qatar, plus Senegal and Ecuador) and they match up with a relatively easy group in the round of 16 — either England, the U.S., Wales or Iran.
So, what's not to like?
In the past, the problem for the Dutch was that they had too many attackers to fit on the field: Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Robin Van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and so on. Now, they're incredibly reliant on Memphis Depay who, to be fair, has been absolutely lights out since LVG took over, scoring 13 goals and assisting on five more in 11 matches. He leads the team in goals, assists, shots attempted and chances created.
With either unproven (Cody Gakpo) or uninspiring (Steven Bergwijn) options outside of him, can Memphis carry an attack all the way to the World Cup final?