World Cup Group C preview

10 days until the World Cup kicks off, and it’s fitting that today we look at one of the best 10s in the history of the game! We’re continuing our preview series with a look at Group C.

As always, join our World Cup predictor challenge to compete with fans and pick the winner.

World Cup Previews

GROUP A | GROUP B


Argentina 🇦🇷 (FIFA Ranking: 3)

How they got here

By having the greatest player in the history of soccer. Okay, so they would have assuredly qualified even without Lionel Messi, but it is nice knowing you can count on the GOAT. Argentina finished in second place in Conembol World Cup qualifying, six points behind Brazil. La Albiceleste never lost a match concluding with an 11-6-0 record. They have not lost a match since a 2019 affair in Brazil. 

Argentia failed to qualify for the World Cup only once. They won the title in 1978 and 1986 and finished as runners-up in 1990 and 2014. In 2021, they finally earned a major title for Messi by capturing the Copa America crown, the country’s first since 1993. 

The only thing missing from Messi’s storied career is a World Cup trophy. In what is likely the last World Cup for the 35-year-old, Argentina will have plenty of added motivation to see their leading man go out on top. 

The outlook

Argentina are getting out of the group. They are simply too good not to, even if they turn in a few subpar performances. The real question is how far can they go. Do they have enough in them to get to the podium on December 18th? Based on pure talent, absolutely. They are a real favorite entering the tournament. But once you reach the knockout stage, it becomes a crapshoot. 

Key players

Lionel Messi (PSG); Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan); Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica); Ángel Di María (Jueventus)

Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Emiliano Martínez; Nicolás Tagliafico, Nicolás Otamendi, Cristian Romero, Nahuel Molina; Giovani Lo Celso, Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul; Ángel Di María, Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martínez

Predicted group finish

1st.

Mexico or Poland could nick a point off Argentina if the ball bounces their way. However, anything less than seven points would be a shock for Argentina in the group stage. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+650


Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦 (FIFA Ranking: 51)

How they got here

With a cohesive, all-domestic roster. Saudi Arabia won their group in the final round of qualifying utilizing only players from the Saudi Professional League. By winning their group, the Saudis punched their bus ticket to Qatar. The Green Men concluded qualifying with a 7-2-1 record with the sole loss coming on an away trip to Japan. 

Saudi Arabia appeared in four straight World Cups before missing out in consecutive cycles (2010 and 2014). They have advanced from their group just one time (1994). Since then, Saudi Arabia has won just once in twelve matches. It was a 2-1 victory over Egypt. 

The outlook

Let’s be blunt. Saudi Arabia have a snowball’s chance in… Qatar of advancing out of this group. The realistic aim is to just not finish dead last in the tournament by finding a way to eek out a point or perhaps even an upset win. 

If they are to find a measure of success, they will lean on a domestic-based roster that will have plenty of familiarity. There are 16 men on Saudi Arabia’s roster with at least 20 caps for the national team. Of those, 11 play for Al-Hilal, the most decorated club in Asia. 

One other factor in the Saudis’ favor is geographic proximity. Doha is just a six-hour drive from Riyadh by car and an hour and a half away by flight. Given the shared border, it should be no surprise that Saudis bought the third most tickets for this World Cup. It should give the Green Men a strong backing of support at each match. 

Key players

Firas Al-Buraikan (Al-Fateh); Salem Al-Dawsari (Al-Hilal); Fahad Al-Muwallad (Al-Shabab)

Predicted XI (4-1-4-1)

Mohammed Al-Owais; Yasser Al-Shahrani, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Abdulelah Al-Amri, Ali Al-Hassan; Nasser Al-Dawsari; Riyadh Sharahili, Salem Al-Dawsari, Hattan Bahebri, Fahad Al-Muwallad; Firas Al-Buraikan

Predicted group finish

4th.

It’s a strong group above them. I don’t anticipate anything beyond a solitary point; and even that would require a heavy upset. While Saudi Arabia don’t have a lot of familiarity within their group, not all those on the roster are even first-choice starters for their own clubs in the Kingdom. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+75000


Mexico 🇲🇽 (FIFA Ranking: 13)

How they got here

By losing only to their northern neighbors. Mexico finished second in Concacaf’s Octagonal earning qualification for the World Cup. Unlike the U.S., El Tri never lost to a Central American or Caribbean team. They took care of business and booked their eighth straight trip to the World Cup. 

In the previous seven tries, Mexico have made it out of the group stage, only to immediately fall in the Round of 16. It’s a nationwide hurdle that frames the entire discussion around this national team. Is this the year that they can finally make it to the quarterfinals or beyond? 

The outlook

Questions about Mexico’s ceiling abound, but let’s discuss their floor. Making it out of seven straight group stages is no fluke. It demonstrates a country with a replenishing pool of capable talent and a strong domestic league capable of cultivating young, promising players. However, the floor is cracking beneath Tata Martino’s feet. 

An Injury to star attacker Raúl Jiménez has left him doubtful for the World Cup while Jesús “Tecatito” Corona has been ruled out altogether. Even if Jiménez manages to beat the clock and make it back to the national team, form and fitness will be major concerns. He simply can’t be counted on to make an impact at this year’s tournament.

With those two down, Martino could call in Los Angeles based Chicharito and Carlos Vela as like-for-life replacements. But both have been removed from national team consideration for various reasons and will be watching the tournament from home, keeping their 71 international goals on the couch with them.

Without the usual cadre of difference makers up top, Mexico’s ceiling is lowered and the floor beings to show cracks that may cause Mexico to stumble if they have trouble finding the back of the net.

Key players

Hirving Lozano (Napoli); Edson Álvarez (Ajax); Andrés Guardado (Real Betis)

Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Guillermo Ochoa, Gerardo Arteaga, Héctor Moreno, Néstor Araujo, Jorge Sánchez, Edson Álvarez, Andrés Guardado, Carlos Rodríguez, Hirving Lozano, Alexis Vega, Henry Martin

Predicted group finish

2nd.

Despite my concerns, I’m still not betting against a team that has made seven straight knockout rounds. This will be the fifth World Cup for Andrés Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa. Beyond those two, the roster is full of veterans with multiple World Cup trips.

That level of experience is invaluable and may be the difference maker. Mexico’s biggest competition here is Poland. It may take goal differential to see El Tri through, but they will find a way to survive. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+15000


Poland 🇵🇱 (FIFA Ranking: 8)

How they got here

By way of Vladimir Putin.

Sounds crazy, I know, but let me explain. Poland finished second in their UEFA qualifying group behind England. This put Poland into the Second Round to play for one of the three final spots for Qatar. Based on their point total, The White and Red were an unseeded team. They drew into Path B against Russia.

The single-leg tie would have been played in Russia, where the home team would carry a significant home-pitch advantage. However, Putin’s illegal and asinine invasion of Ukraine resulted in Russia being suspended from qualification. Poland advanced on a forfeit.

The final leg host was determined via a random draw. So despite Poland having a lower ranking from the first-round results, they won the draw and hosted Sweden in the Path B final which Poland won 2-0. If not for Putin, Poland may not be headed to Qatar.

This is the second straight World Cup for Poland after failing to qualify in 2010 and 2014. The Polish glory days date back to the 1970s and 1980s when the national team twice finished in third place overall (1974 and 1982) and captured the gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. However, they have not returned to the knockout rounds since 1986.

The outlook

Poland switched managers following the first round of qualifying having failed to make the seeded pot for the second round. Out came Paul Sousa and in came Czesław Michniewicz. The new manager brought a change in tactics. The primary effect is that Robert Lewandowski now largely operates as a single striker without a partner up top. Whether it’s working or not is an open question.

Lewandowski will always give this team a chance to advance. Even at 34 years old, he remains one of the best players in the world. The question is whether those behind him, largely a collection of midfielders rather than forwards/wingers, provide enough firepower to advance out of the group for the first time in nearly four decades. 

The game plan would seemingly be to control the midfield. That ability took a slight hit with an injury to Jacek Góralski. The rugged defensive midfielder solidified the spine and brought a level of physicality that is tough to match. 

Key players

Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Wojciech Szczęsny (Juventus)

Predicted XI (3-4-2-1)

Wojciech Szczęsny; Jakub Kiwior, Kamil Glik, Jan Bednarek; Nicola Zalewski, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Szymon Żurkowski, Bartosz Bereszyński; Piotr Zieliński, Sebastian Szymański; Robert Lewandowski

Predicted group finish

3rd.

The first match is always the most important for any World Cup team. This is especially true for Poland and Mexico. A loss to the Mexicans would plummet Poland’s odds of reaching the Round of 16. These are two evenly-matched teams that cannot afford an opening-match loss.

I expect a draw between the two and a race for goal differential in the remaining two contests. For my bracket, I have Mexico moving on, but the margin will be razor thin. 

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+15000


Check back tomorrow for our preview of Group D.

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

Leave a Reply