26-Man Squads At Qatar 2022 World Cup Give Coaches Chance To Select Specialists
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FIFA has increased the number of players that each country is allowed to bring to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Teams can now select between 23 and 26 players and can name 15 substitutes for each match.

The logic behind FIFA’s decision is that increasing the squad size will give more flexibility, which FIFA believe is needed due to the unique timing of the World Cup in the global soccer calendar and the impact of Covid-19.

But teams might not need such large squads, so those extra three places could be used to give them tactical flexibility or to select specialist players.

26-man squads were allowed at Euro 2020, where Covid-19 really did have a disruptive influence on some teams. Scotland’s Billy Gilmour had a positive test, and two England players, Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell were deemed close contacts and had to self-isolate.

But despite this, England only used 21 players on their route to the final, four of whom were only used as substitutes. Winners Italy used 25 players, mainly because they used their final group game against Wales to give fringe players a run out, but semi-finalists Spain and Denmark also used just 21 players each.

With the World Cup coming earlier in the season when players should be less fatigued, and with COVID-19 less of a risk factor than at Euro 2020, it is unlikely that fitness reasons will force teams to use all 26 players at the World Cup.

This means that teams effectively have three bonus spots on their squad.

Some head coaches could use one or two of those spots to select specialist players to give them more tactical options.

One option for England might be to select Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse as a specialist free kick taker.

In Premier League history, only David Beckham has scored more free kicks than Ward-Prowse, who has 11 caps for England but wasn’t in the Euro 2022 squad.

Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier is usually on free kick duty when he plays for England, and scores at a similar rate as Ward-Prowse, but Trippier has a lot of competition for England’s right-back spot. If England need a goal late in the game, many people have suggested using Jack Grealish, one of the most fouled players in the Premier League, to win a free kick and then bringing Ward-Prowse on to take a shot.

Other teams might have other specialists who could make a difference in certain situations. Wales’ Will Vaulks only has seven caps, but the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder’s impressive ability to take long throw-ins could make him a useful option as the 26th player.

With many World Cup matches going to penalty kicks, using any extra spots for penalty kick specialists like Australian goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne could be another option for teams. Could Brentford striker Ivan Toney’s penalty record put him in contention for a spot on the England substitutes bench?

Others could opt for a player unlikely to start, but whose presence helps team morale and improves the quality of training sessions.

Sometimes bringing too many players for the sake of it can harm team morale, especially if some of those players know they aren’t going to play. But bringing specialists could give teams more options, especially in the tight knockout games where a single set-piece or penalty kick can be the difference between winning and losing.

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