It varies from some of the largest nations who have silverware to minnows who have just barely qualified for a tournament - the challenges vary.
Stay tuned to the end to see our 35th selection which for those who like to build nations up from the bottom, you will be especially interested in.
Thanks to J_ames for helping me with nation selection.
The People’s Republic of China may soon be the powerhouse that many have predicted, but it’s coming in a different manner than football fans are used to. The government has stepped in to stop the lavish spending and foreign investment into clubs to reinvest locally in infrastructure and youth. Massive investments have gone into programmes all across the country hosting over 1.3 Billion people. The benefits may not be seen for another decade but the future for football is seemingly bright, and it may reflect on the national team level with you in charge.
Football in India is still behind most other Asian Associations but there always looks to be promise with a population so large. True there is still much that needs to be done, and the FA looks to grow and work with the main sport - cricket - to help football within this nation and make them an Asian powerhouse. That’s long far off, and poor performances on the international level means that this is a job for the long haul.
Iran is arguably Asia’s strongest nation at this moment in time. Unfortunately due to global circumstances, football within this region is not an easy task to grow and develop, nor to establish oneself as a respectable nation outside of Europe and South America. But Iran does have a chance, with extremely passionate fans, strong teams and solid raw talents - there is a chance that just maybe Iran can be a thorn in the side of the big footballing nations.
The Philippines are another one of those associations who have traditionally found themselves at the bottom of World rankings but in recent seasons have seen them progress and make strides. They most recently qualified for their first ever AFC Asian Cup in 2019 but lost all three matches. This is the start of the beginning though as the country started to develop football as a part of the sport’s renaissance which has seen the Philippines rise dramatically over the past decade and they look to grow and start to compete with the next level of those in AFC.
Syria has recently nearly pulled off one of the biggest underdog stories in football history. They nearly went all the way to the World Cup in 2018 but fell short to Australia, losing in extra time as they failed to reach the inter-confederation play-offs in AFC’s last play-off round. The national team has gone through turbulent times and are still under a ban which dates back to December 2010 by FIFA on being unable to play at home thanks to the civil war which still ravishes this nation. The player’s have constantly talked about trying to bring joy to their nation through their football, and hopefully you as their manager can bring that to them.
United Arab Emirates
A solid nation who in the current qualification campaign may have a chance to qualify for the World Cup where they have participated once before - in 1990. Firstly, maybe major confederation silverware should be a priority - they have yet to win the AFC Asian Cup where the last two campaigns have placed them 4th and 3rd - 2023 is the next bet as they try to build to be one of AFC’s big guns and build on a promising start to qualification.
The White Wolves find themselves with a label as the nearly men. 2010 World Cup qualifying didn’t end too great but a failure at the end versus Jordan in the 2014 play-offs and in 2018 losing out on goal difference has now seen Uzbekistan slip as others catch up. They seemingly failed to grasp their chance and have now let standards fall, failing to get to the final qualifying round in AFC for the first time ever. Someone needs to take control and now make Uzbekistan competitive and eventually take that next step into being one of the best in the AFC Confederation.
One of the more modern Football Associations as the Cape Verde FA was formed in 1982 and joined FIFA in 1986. Despite this they have produced incredible talents and many quality footballers have origins from Cape Verde but they have chosen to play for other national teams. This has stunted the growth of Cape Verde and are only appearing in their third ever African Cup of Nations in 2021 while World Cup Qualification is a bit of a stretch at this moment. Trying to keep the talent and get quality players to play for this nation is the challenge in rising Cape Verde through the ranks.
They’re the biggest in Africa, you can’t deny it. The most Confederation trophies and their domestic teams dominate the continent as well. But they’ve only had three World Cup appearances and unlike Ghana, Senegal or South Africa in recent years - they’ve failed to capture the hearts and minds of viewers on that stage. So it’s time for a step-up, while CAF is not an easy confederation - Egypt should be one of the teams to make waves against the Europeans and South Americans and make their mark at the World Cup.
Mali is a youth powerhouse not just in Africa but in World football. Despite this - they’ve never qualified for the FIFA World Cup nor have any Confederational trophy. There is talent both at youth level and in the senior squad but someone needs to take over to bring them success. The African Cup of Nations in 2021 is already qualified for, but it may be a step too soon for silverware while Mali has not been convincing in World Cup Qualifying either.
A modern miracle occurred as this small nation, usually one of the weakest in the World, managed to qualify for their first ever African Cup of Nations tournament back in 2019. A literal miracle when it was only in 2013 where they were ranked as one of the worst associations in FIFA, all the way down in 206th place. Two draws and a loss meant a group stage exit but they’ve managed to qualify for the tournament again in 2021 and hopefully this time a win will be on the cards.
Madagascar has only recently caused one shockwave and that was beating Nigeria in their first ever African Cup of Nations during the 2019 edition in the group stages where they went on to the quarter-finals. But that’s all there was to it as they failed to qualify for the 2021 edition, and that is normally where you find Madagascar - failing to qualify and early exits from any qualification campaign. They do however pose an interesting challenge, thanks to historical routes, Madagascar do have some interesting young talents available and other decent players but they choose to represent other nations instead. A challenge with developing this country is to capture young talents early, making them switch their allegiances to play for Madagascar and grow the nation to compete in CAF.
Morocco are one of the bigger nations from CAF but in truth a lot of that success and grandeur came in the previous century but they are still behind the big boys of Egypt, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. Recently they ended their wait of appearing at a World Cup for 20 years, they are back-to-back African Nations Championship champions and are looking to end the drought of another African Cup of Nations trophy which their only one came in 1976. With you in charge, they can potentially grow beyond their history and compete more directly with Africa’s giants.
Senegal are generally lumped together with other African giants but in truth, they’ve still failed to win any silverware or even be in more than two World Cups. Despite numerous talents playing in Europe, the most recent African Cup of Nations saw them as Runners-Up for the second time with the first being in 2002. In World Cup terms, while that campaign in South Korea & Japan was memorable, that was their first appearance, while their second was in 2018 where they fell at the group stage. CAF is harder than it looks to compete in it but you could argue that Senegal are underperforming and need a boost.
For the Men’s team things look positive. A generation of promising young players lead the line as Canada managed to get to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying for the first time since 1997. They also had a strong showing in the recent 2021 Gold Cup and look set to be competitive in the Nations League as well. All of this, companied with the newer Canadian Premier League and more young talents choosing to represent Canada means that the future is very bright indeed.
It goes well under the radar but the small island nation under the sovereign state of the Netherlands has been on fire in the past few years. They won their first ever Caribbean Cup by beating Jamaica, got to the Quarter Finals of the 2019 Gold Cup and narrowly lost out to Panama in the Second Round of Qualifying to get to the final World Cup qualifying round in CONCACAF. The pandemic hasn’t helped cases and denied an appearance at the 2021 Gold Cup despite qualifying. Guus Hiddink has now left the role and it remains vacant while Patrick Kluivert who is the Assistant Manager fills in as caretaker manager.
Jamaica seemingly overnight started to turn into a frightening side to face in CONCACAF. The Reggae Boyz have increased their efforts to find talented players who could represent their nation to switch allegiances and managed to grab Michail Antonio amongst others in the process. While COVID made things difficult and prevented several top talents from competing at the 2021 Gold Cup - they still gave the U.S.A a run in their Quarter Finals 1-0 loss and the future looks very bright as World Cup Qualifying continues.
Martinique offers a very unique challenge, as they are an overseas department of the French Republic - therefore not a member of FIFA, but they are however a member of CONCACAF. This means that they are able to compete in CONCACAF competitions but unable to participate in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Despite the non-FIFA status Martinique have performed impressively, holding their own against Honduras and Trinidad in the Nations League remaining in the top division while qualifying for the 2021 Gold Cup and giving Haiti a run for their money. FIFA status may not be coming but that doesn’t mean that Martinique can set CONCACAF alight and challenge the traditional bigger associations.
When you sit back and look at the greater picture, Mexico should be a football powerhouse. “Should” is the keyword and reality is that they are not the power they should be and it doesn’t quite look like that will be coming any time soon. While they lost the Gold Cup final to the U.S.A. most recently, you will always find Mexico competing for Confederational silverware and they remain as the biggest in CONCACAF - the World Cup is a different story. Mexico are fourth in terms of World Cup appearances with 16 tournaments in total, they are only one of six associations to qualify continuously since 1994 and along with Brazil are the only two nations to make it out of the group stage over the last seven world cups. But every single one of those campaigns in the last seven tournaments ended in the Round of 16. To turn Mexico into a true giant, they need to go beyond that and make their mark now and in tournaments to come.
Curacao is where Suriname should be, if not better. Like Curacao, Suriname has Dutch ties but they left the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1975 to become independent - but these ties are still what messes up the footballing team. Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Georginio Wijnaldum, Virgil Van Dijk and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are one of countless footballers who were born in Suriname or have parents of Surinamese descent who play for the Dutch national team instead. Even now the talent is there but the real challenge lies in gaining good players to swap representation and build the nation to be competitive.
I can’t believe I’m putting Brazil on this list but they do need some attention. Qualification is always a breeze as they’re the only nation to never fail to qualify for a World Cup but things haven’t gone as smoothly as one might hope. The past four editions have seen Quarter-Finals appearances with that infamous 2014 campaign seeing them finish 4th. In truth when looking back at each of the past four campaigns it’s been disappointing and alarming as European nations are starting to dominate over their South American counterparts. A revamp is needed to bring back success and a new World Cup title where in 2022 - it will be 20 years since Brazil won its last.
Paraguay first tasted success with the first of their two Copa America wins coming in 1953 while the other in 1979, their golden generation however started in the late 90’s. For the first time in their history they qualified for back-to-back world cups from 1998 and 2002 then qualified for the following two editions as well - getting to the Quarter-Finals (their best finish) in 2010. In the process they were runners up at the Copa America in 2011. Now, Paraguay are coasting - with an outside shout of qualification as one of the weaker nations in CONMEBOL and banking on some promising young talent to lead them in the future.
It would be easy to dismiss Uruguay as a nation not in need from a footballing perspective but that is not farther from the truth. While they hold the record for most Copa America wins, only two came in the last twenty years and their World Cup appearances aren’t the most reliable either. They failed to qualify in 2006 and while 2010 was a fourth place finish - their previous semi-finals appearance was back in 1970. So while they are one of the big three in South America - you could make the argument that they lie both behind Brazil and Argentina for winning a Copa America or even a World Cup again. 2030 will see the World Cup centurion take place where in the first edition Uruguay hosted and won back in 1930 - their second and last World Cup title… 1950.
Thanks to Basketball being the most popular sport within the country, football has been lacking - hence for Venezuela to be the only nation to fail to qualify for the World Cup from CONMEBOL. They also have not won a Copa America, their best finish being 4th place in 2011. Venezuela is far behind the other nine associations with their first World Cup qualification in 1966, their first win in qualifiers wasn’t until 1982 where they beat Bolivia and their second ever qualification win was in 1994 where they defeated Ecuador. Things aren’t as bad as that now, but you can still always find Venezuela near the bottom of the table or exiting the group stage of the Copa America. Especially for the circumstances the nation now finds themselves in, maybe some hope can be given through their men’s team to the people.
New Zealand are the powerhouse of OFC. After their eternal rivals Australia left OFC to join AFC in 2006 however, there has been little challenge for the All Whites. Despite this they have qualified for the World Cup twice - the most recent in 2010 - while you will normally find them in the finals of the OFC Nations Cup. The issue is the lack of competition - the gap between them and the rest is simply too large, even at club level. Solomon Islands have stepped up recently but it’s doubtful that they will become a long-term competitor. Taking over this nation leads to the challenge of building up the Confederation while trying to make a mark internationally where they normally fail to even qualify.
Papua New Guinea
Recently, Papua New Guinea found themselves in uncharted territory as they managed to reach the finals of the 2016 OFC Nations Cup - where they ran New Zealand to penalties but lost. Quite impressive for a nation who were ranked 198th in the World. This however just looks like a small flash as other nations such as Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia all look to be more of a threat. So Papua New Guinea find themselves in a unique position now - not ranked with the worst of the worst like Samoa, American Samoa or Tonga - but not quite as good as New Caledonia and Tahiti. Challenging New Zealand seems a stretch at this moment but becoming number two in the confederation is possible.
The final team in OFC to look at is the second-best nation currently, the Solomon Islands. Now despite them not winning the OFC Nations Cup like Tahiti or even being as consistent with stronger clubs like New Caledonia - Solomon Islands have found themselves on an influx recently. In fact Solomon Islands lost to New Zealand in the final rounds of OFC Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. While COVID has prevented any qualifying to happen so far, Solomon Islands are currently ranked as OFC’s second best team and maybe under your care - could try and topple New Zealand for that inter-confederation play-offs spot.
At the turn of the century - Austria went into a footballing decline. Failing to qualify for every World Cup since 1998 and only made their first ever Euro’s as hosts in 2008 while 2016 and 2020 weren’t the greatest of performances. On paper Austria should be doing better and have shown as such with the Nations League getting promotion to the top division but in tournaments - they falter. Even in this World Cup qualification campaign they sit below Denmark, Scotland and Israel and only 3 points above Faroe Islands and with one more wrong result they may not be able to qualify. There are plenty of young promising talents for Austria but they are one of those nations which just can’t get the best out of their players and need someone to take over to get them competing at a level which they should be competing at.
After Euro 2020, the common consensus is that it looks like Croatia are now over the hill and past their peak. Their opportunity to win the World Cup or Euro’s (much like Belgium) are seemingly now behind them as their best opportunities were just a few years ago. The challenge with managing Croatia is now blooding in new talent and trying to keep Croatia competitive for international trophies, whether that’s the Nation’s League, Euro’s or World Cup. They went through the same process back in the late 1990’s and things fell sour quickly, this time more sustainability is needed to keep Croatia competitive so as not to repeat the mistakes after their previous golden generation.
Need I really say more? A strong showing at the last World Cup and a finals appearance at Euro 2020 saw England look to be competitive at the very top once again. However there still remain questions over England as the long wait continues for another international trophy. There’s no need to talk about history or records at this point, what matters is getting things right. The Nations League was shocking from England and while the Euro finals sounds impressive - again England weren’t as convincing as some of their European counterparts. The challenge is now to wipe out the doubters and actually bring silverware back to football’s modern home.
Hungary’s footballing history is well known. They were one of the greatest sides to ever exist at the international level and it is well known their fall from those heights. Recently however, things look to be on the up - at club level some clubs like Ferencvaros are becoming competitive once more on the European stage while Hungary have now made the Euro’s on back-to-back occasions after a 44 year absence. They still haven’t been back to a World Cup since 1986 but they are no longer a team to ignore - gaining promotion to League A in the Nations League in a group with Russia, Serbia and Turkey while they are still a strong contender to qualify for the World Cup. Raw talent is starting to flow once more out of the once great footballing nation and under your care, they may start to be a real force once more.
Luxembourg in recent years are one of the smaller nations who have risen from the bottom of the rankings to a respectable position. In recent seasons, Luxembourg clubs have qualified for UEFA competitions even claiming some big scalps along the way while the men's national team are not an easy team to face. In the Nations League they just narrowly missed out on promotion to League B while in World Cup qualifying, they are no longer the whipping boys at the bottom of the table. They’ve won against the Republic of Ireland and Azerbaijan while they only narrowly lost to Portugal 3-1 and a flurry of late goals made a rather even match finish 4-1 against Serbia. World Cup appearances may be a long-term goal but Nations League promotion is a real possibility while a first appearance at the Euro’s may not be too far off.
The focus as always lands on Erling Haaland but in truth Norway do have a talented squad with lots of young talent and exciting youth teams. That being said, Norway haven’t fully clicked into gear yet, failing to qualify for the Euro’s losing out on promotion in the Nations League with a group containing Austria, Romania and Northern Ireland while results have been mixed in World Cup qualifying. They may be tied on points with the Netherlands but a 3-0 loss to Turkey partnered with unconvincing wins against Montenegro and Latvia paint Norway as a team not quite ready to challenge on the big stage just yet.
Disappointment is the word I would use to describe Poland as they waste Lewandowski’s final years at the top. Despite fiddling around with friendlies enough to improve their ranking and get into Pot 1 of the 2018 World Cup - they finished bottom of their group, failed at the recent Euro’s without winning a game and look set to battle against relegation in the upcoming Nations League. Complaints about the manager and the tactics leave the men’s side in a state of potential collapse, someone needs to step in to get the best out of this team and bring in young replacements before it’s too late.
Everyone knows the “San Marino” challenge, so as a part of our final suggestion - I have listed the worst FIFA Associations based on ELO rankings (the most accurate football rankings) that you can manage to try a similar challenge for yourself.
AFC - Sri Lanka, Brunei, Bhutan
CAF - Somalia, Djibouti, Seychelles
CONCACAF - US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla
OFC - American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga
UEFA - Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, Andorra and of course - San Marino
And that's it from myself. Of course there are plenty more Associations to manage within FM22 and you may feel that we've missed one, which I am sure we have.
Do you have a save in mind? Let us know in the comments below or on our socials!
Stay safe, stay healthy - and enjoy your FM saves.