World Cup Group A preview

The 2022 World Cup is less than two weeks away! We’re previewing each group in soccer’s biggest tournament. Also, make sure to join our Fotmob predictor challenge to compete with other fans for the most accurate World Cup bracket.

Let’s get right to it


Qatar 🇶🇦 (FIFA Ranking: 50)

How they got here

Bribery.

Now that I got that one-word retort out of the way, let’s address the elephant in the room.  

Qatar automatically qualified as the host country for this tournament. The hosting duties should have never been awarded to Qatar. There are rampant allegations of corruption that have resulted in raids on FIFA properties and arrests of officials across the globe. Without bribery, Qatar’s bid would have never been accepted. Their bid officials sold fanciful dreams of controlling the weather and host cities that did not even exist yet. Ill-prepared, Qatar is on the verge of hosting the Fyre Festival of World Cups. 

This is all before you consider the deeper moral ramifications of this tournament. Qatar has built stadiums on the back of modern slave labor and human rights abuses. Thousands of migrant workers have died erecting the infrastructure necessary to host this tournament.

For what? A spotlight on the nation. The government leaders of Qatar are betting on world viewers coming away with a viewpoint that the country is bigger and more financially powerful than previously believed. They are also betting that the tacit endorsement of the tournament by FIFA and the many multi-national corporate sponsors will paper over concerns about the treatment of women and LGBT rights in a country where homosexuality can be punishable by death.

So, we got here because of sport washing. You can still enjoy this World Cup from afar. I certainly will. But I hope no one, save for the families of those players involved, decided to attend this travesty in person.   

The outlook

South Africa, in 2010, is the only host country to not have advanced past the group stage. Based on size and stature, it is easy to predict a similar outcome for Qatar. 

While the Qataris are newcomers to the World Cup, they should not go underestimated. A lot of financial resources have been poured into improving the nation’s soccer prowess. The entire roster will be formed by domestic players with nearly three-fourths of those coming from two clubs, Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail. The pool will have a better on-field understanding of their teammates than perhaps any team in this tournament. 

Qatar captured the 2019 Asian Cup, besting South Korea in the quarterfinals and Japan in the final. Qatar also reached the semifinals of the 2021 Gold Cup, falling to the USA by way of a late goal from Gyasi Zardes. On their day and in front of a home crowd, they can stand toe-to-toe with much bigger powers. If Qatar begins with a win over Ecuador, it will put an extreme amount of pressure on both Senegal and the Netherlands. 

Key players

Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail), Akram Afif (Al-Sadd), Hassan Al-Haydos (Al-Sadd), Abdelkarim Hassan (Al-Sadd) 

Predicted XI (5-3-2)

Meshaal Barsham; Elamin, Abdelkarim Haasan, Mohammed Waad, Bassam Al Rawi, Ró-Ró; Abdulaziz Hatem, Karim Bouidaf, Hassan Al-Haydos ©; Akram Afif, Almoez Ali

Predicted group finish

3rd.

We have seen relatively weaker host nations advance before. The USA in 1994 is a prime example. It is not out of the realm of possibility that it happens again. If they are to advance, they likely will need Ecuador to play the role of spoilers against the top two teams in the group. As of now, I do not predict that to occur. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+25000

Ecuador 🇪🇨 (FIFA Ranking: 44)

How they got here

An impressive display throughout Conembol qualifying. La Tri finished fourth managing to pick up home draws against Brazil and Argentina as well as delivering beatdowns to Uruguay (4-2) and Colombia (6-1). 

This will be Ecuador’s fourth World Cup appearance. They finished third in their group twice (2002; 2014) and made it to the Knockout Round once (2006). 

The outlook

Ecuador features several names that should be familiar to MLS fans such as Xavier Arreaga (Seattle), Diego Palacios (LAFC), Jhegson Méndez (LAFC), and José Cifuentes (LAFC). There’s also Micheal Estrada, a reserve striker who was once linked with Nashville SC. Those familiar faces should make Ecuador a fun team to follow for American-based fans.

Ecuador will field a good mix of youth and veteran leadership. Enner Valencia participated and scored in the 2014 World Cup. He will need to prepare his compadres for the task at hand. As much as Ecuador will lean on Valencia, he needs help. No one else in the projected roster has scored double-digit goals for the national team. In fact, Ecuador has not scored multiple goals in their last 10 matches. 

In the back, they keep things tight but you do have to worry about the relative inexperience of the center-back pairing. Piero Hincapié, 20, and Jackson Porozo, 22, are talented but young. Look for Ecuador to limit opportunities and try to steal a goal with Valencia on the counter.

Key players

Enner Valencia (Fenerbahçe); Piero Hincapié (Bayer Leverkusen); Moisés Caicedo (Brighton); Pervis Estupiñán (Brighton)

Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Alexander Dominguez; Pervis Estupiñán, Piero Hincapié, Jackson Porozo, Ángelo Preciado; Carlos Gruezo, Moisés Caicedo; Ángel Mena, Gonzalo Plata, Romario Ibarra; Enner Valencia ©

Predicted group finish

4th.

This is by far the hardest group to predict in the tournament. Ecuador could just as easily recapture their form from a successful qualifying campaign as they could fall flat on their face. If Ecuador is to advance, they must find a way to spoil Qatar’s party on opening night. A loss in that first match will make the uphill climb that much harder. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+15000

Senegal 🇸🇳 (FIFA Ranking: 18)

How they got here

By topping Egypt in a trio of nailbiters. Senegal advanced to the third round of the CAF World Cup Qualifiers with relative ease. In the final stage, Senegal drew Egypt – a rematch of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final which Senegal won on penalties. 

The qualifying round saw the Egyptians win 1-0 on home soil thanks to an own goal from Sailou Siss. The second leg finished 1-0 to Senegal in regular time. The two sides were unable to break the deadlock and went to penalties. At that moment, the Dakar crowd took over with a laser light show that distracted Mohammed Salah leading to a missed penalty kick. Senegal and Bayern Munich star Sadio Mané buried the final penalty kick to send his country to its third World Cup.

The outlook

I love, love, love this Senegal team. They are battle-tested in tough environments and have several players plying their trade at some of the biggest clubs in the world. This is a side with balance front to back. Mané is one of the best wingers in the world and the type of difference-maker that can turn a match on its head. In the back, Édouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly anchor what can be a formidable defensive unit. 

Let’s put this into a college basketball analogy. Senegal is the mid-major team with a veteran-laden roster and championship pedigree that no one wants to play. They have hardly played anyone outside their region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they managed a 1-1 draw against a full-strength Brazil in late 2021. Senegal should be a trendy pick to make a run in this tournament, and I am fully on board with them as my Cinderella. 

Key players

Sadio Mané (Bayren Munich); Édouard Mendy (Chelsea); Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea)

Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Édouard Mendy; Saliou Ciss, Abdou Diallo, Kalidou Koulibaly ©, Youssouf Sabaly; Nampalys Mendy, Idrissa Gueye, Cheikou Kouyaté; Sadio Mané, Ismaïla Sarr, Famara Diédhiou

Predicted group finish

1st.

Did I mention how much I love this team? With an experienced lineup featuring core pieces in their prime, Senegal will have no fear entering their opening match against the Netherlands. After all, these are players they routinely match up against in league play and Champions League bouts. I think a draw is very much in the cards. The World Cup is always full of surprises. Senegal, and not the Netherlands, topping the group would be one of those. But you have to always predict a few upsets along the way. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+8000

Netherlands 🇳🇱 (FIFA Ranking: 8)

How they got here

By redeeming themselves for the national embarrassment of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Oranje qualified outright for Qatar by winning UEFA’s Group G, finishing ahead of Turkey and Erling Haaland’s Norway. 

2018 was truly a fall from grace for the Netherlands. This is a country used to making deep runs in the World Cup. In the previous two World Cups, they finished second (2010) and third (2014) overall. When they are in the tournament, they have always reached at least the Round of 16. Even in the Euros, the Netherlands has only once failed to make it past the group stage when they have qualified. 

The outlook

The Netherlands is riding a wave of momentum into Qatar. Unbeaten in their last 14 matches, the Netherlands topped their Nations League group winning five of the six matches.

My question is not talent, but mentality. There were celebrations from supporters when the Netherlands, a Pot 2 team, landed in Qatar’s group. They managed to avoid any higher-ranked teams. Do they come in focused on the task on hand….or are they already looking ahead to the Knockout phase? How dialed in Louis van Gaal has his side will be the chief determinator of how the Netherlands looks in the group stage. 

Key players

Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Memphis Depay (Barcelona)

Predicted XI (3-4-1-2)

Jasper Cillessen; Nathan Aké, Virgil van Dijk, Jurriën Timber; Daley Blind, Frenkie de Jong, Steven Berghuis, Denzel Dumfries; Davy Klaassen; Memphis Depay, Steven Bergwijn  

Predicted group finish

2nd.

They are the prohibitive favorites of the group and will draw everyone’s best shot. I went out on a limb by picking Senegal to top the group, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Netherlands top the group with 9 points. Regardless of my questions about mentality, there is enough talent and history behind them to make it through to the next round. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+1200

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His work includes his "Three Thoughts" piece after every Nashville match that highlights the important storylines and incorporates key video clips from the match. Chris' other articles often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS roster rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney serving as in-house counsel for a large insurance company. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Manchester United, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Mastodon

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