The World Cup: A Group-by-Group Preview

The 2022 World Cup will be scrutinised heavily for reasons off the pitch – migrant workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ persecution and the treatment of women will come to the fore – but among the noise are 32 teams who will battle it out for international football’s most coveted trophy.

A winter World Cup, where average temperatures in Qatar will sit around 30 degrees, will also add to the unprecedented nature of this tournament.

This week, 381 players from across the globe gather in Doha, the country’s capital, to form eight groups who look to make their own World Cup history on the pitch. Hosts Qatar kick off the tournament on Sunday’s Group A game against Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Group A (Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador)

The Netherlands are the obvious favourites to top Group A. Louis van Gaal’s side are unbeaten in 15 games and boast some of football’s leading lights. Winger Cody Gakpo has taken the Eredivisie by storm and will shoulder the attacking burden alongside Memphis Depay. 

Senegal won their first Africa Cup of Nations in February and possess three world-class players in Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Sadio Mané. Manager Aliou Cissé captained the team to the quarter-finals in 2002 and the Lions of Teranga could emulate that success two decades on. 

Ecuador are free-scoring – 27 goals in qualifying was their best ever. This young side, headlined by Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, know that the last 16 is well within their capabilities. 

Then there’s the hosts. They’ve been preparing hard for this, winning the 2019 Asian Cup, reaching the semi-finals of North America’s 2021 Gold Cup, and competing in the 2019 Copa America. They were the top scorers in the first two of those, so expect an ambitious team. Don’t underestimate them.

Luke Power

Group B (England, Wales, Iran, USA)

Group B features the only two Home Nations – England and Wales – competing in Qatar, alongside Iran and the USA.

The Three Lions are FIFA’s fifth-ranked men’s team and strong favourites to top the group, having reached the semi-finals in 2018 and the final of the 2020 Euros.

And England’s young star Phil Foden looks set to be the player to watch in Group B, having notched 10 goal contributions in 19 appearances for Manchester City this season.

Wales beat Ukraine in the WC Qualifiers to reach only their second World Cup – their first came in 1958, where they reached the quarter-final, only to lose out to eventual champions Brazil.

The USA return to the world stage after missing out in 2018, and Iran hope to make it past the group stage for the first time in their history.

Efan Willis

Group C (Argentina, Poland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia)

Argentina headline Group C and carry a 37-unbeaten match streak going into Qatar, having won the Copa America and Finalissima in the process.

Lionel Messi will be the showpiece of this group, with Qatar being his last World Cup and last chance to emulate Maradona and bring World Cup glory to Argentina.

The 35-year-old has been playing well so far this season with PSG and looks like he can lead his team far into the knockout stages.

Poland and Mexico have almost equal chances of advancing, but the quality of players like Robert Lewandowski could be crucial when they face each other on November 22. It would be Poland’s first round of 16 appearance since 1986 if they progress.

Argentina and Mexico will go head-to-head for the third time in a World Cup since 2006. Then and in 2010 Argentina won in the round of 16, the same stage that El Tri have been eliminated in the past 7 tournaments.

Andreas Schoinarakis

Group D (France, Denmark, Tunisia, Australia)

After lifting the World Cup in 2018 France are considered favourites to top the group and will be strong contenders in the knockout stages.

There is pressure on Didier Deschamps’ side to succeed again with the attacking talent at their disposal including the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema.

The current Ballon D’Or holder Benzema has 37 goals and 20 assists in 97 games for France.

Combined with Mbappe’s 28 goals and 21 assists in 59 games, the two will no doubt come good for their national team as they look to retain the trophy.

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind heading into this competition.

The form he has come back with after his health issues at Euro 2020 surprised many, and the Manchester United midfielder will no doubt continue to shine for Denmark as they look to make it out of Group D.

Nik Anand

Group E (Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan)

Two European heavyweights, one of Asia’s most successful teams and a Central American stalwart make up an enticing Group E at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

2010 winners Spain will be looking to go one better than their Euro 2020 semi-final performance where they lost to Italy on penalties.

2014 winners Germany join them as favourites to advance and were the first side to qualify for the tournament  – not including automatic qualifiers Qatar.

Japan will make their seventh consecutive World Cup appearance and boast a plethora of stars based around Europe’s top leagues, including Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt) and youngster Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad).

They will look to push Spain and Germany close for qualification to the round of 16.

Los Ticos round off the group – they were the final country to qualify after beating New Zealand on penalties.

35-year-old PSG keeper Keylor Navas is the highest-profile inclusion in the side. Veteran midfielders Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges also bring a wealth of experience to the Costa Rican midfield – both have over 140 caps for their country.

Nathan Blackwood

Group F (Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Morocco)

Group F features the 2018 finalists Croatia, but it’s Belgium who are favourites to progress.

Boasting the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and captain Eden Hazard, the pressure is on FIFA’s second-ranked side to improve on their semi-final appearance in 2018.

With those players, plus many more of the current squad now over 30 years old, Qatar could be the final chance for Belgium to capitalise upon their dubbed ‘golden generation’.

Alongside them in the group is Morocco – who failed to win a game in Russia – and Canada, with the North American side making their first World Cup appearance since 1986. 

The Maple Leafs topped the CONCACAF qualifying group and have Lille’s Jonathan David up front, who has 22 goals in 34 international appearances.

They also have Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies on the left flank which leaves them very strong, but Croatia are still second favourites with the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic.

Ed Hardy

Group G (Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon)

Group G at the World Cup houses one of the tournament favourites with Brazil – but it may not be the smooth sailing they hope.

Alongside the South American team sits Switzerland, Serbia, and Cameroon who could all prove challenging.

All eyes will be on Neymar Jr who will attempt to help lead his team – with captain 38-year-old Thiago Silva – to their first world title since 2002.

Brazil last lost a game in June 2021 during the Copa America final to another tournament favourite, Argentina.

Meanwhile, the Swiss will field the in-form Granit Xhaka as they attempt to cause similar upsets to their victory over France in the Euro 2020 playoffs.

Ranked 21st and 43rd respectively, the Serbians and Cameroonians hope to push their higher-rated oppositions all the way for qualification to the round of 16.

Group G starts on the 24 of November as Switzerland takes on Cameroon.

Alfie Atkinson

Group H: (Portugal, Republic of Korea, Uruguay, Ghana)

The noise surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s tell-all interview with Piers Morgan will take front and centre stage of Group H in what is likely to be the 37-year-old’s last World Cup.

But Portugal will also be the favourites to top the group. The 2016 Euros winners – who have failed to advance past the last 16 since 2006 – first come up against Ghana, who could only manage bottom of the group stage in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

The Republic of Korea captain and Spurs starlet Son Heung-min is yet to return to training after eye surgery, despite his side coming up against dark horses Uruguay next week.

If history is anything to go by, it could be a group stage to remember, as Ghana’s last World Cup tie with La Celeste resulted in Luis Suarez’s hand controversially sending Uruguay into the semi-final.

The Uruguayans boast an up-and-coming youth contingent consisting of the likes of Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez.

The experience of Edison Cavani, Diego Godin and Luis Suarez could also guide the squad into the quarter-final stages at least.

Abi Curran

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