By: Dylan Moore
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is only a couple of weeks away. The world’s biggest sporting event will go throughout the holiday season, lasting up until December 18th. This edition of the World Cup will be played in Qatar, which means most of the games will be at 7:00 or 10:00 AM CST. The prime time games will fortunately be a little later, with kickoff closer to 1:00 PM.
Group A: Consisting of Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands, group A is quite exciting. Although Qatar did not qualify (the host nation doesn’t need to), the host nation has a historically good record in the opening match. Their quarter final appearance in the 2014 Cup seemed just as likely before that tournament, as a deep run does before this one, but anything can happen. Ecuador could prove to sneak into the knockouts, given their excellent showing at the recent Copa America. Senegal is one of the many exciting African nations of the tournament, with a core of superstars like Sadio Mane (may be injured) and Edouard Mendy expected to take them deep into the tournament. The Netherlands bring a fully fit team (unlike the Euros) to the World Cup, after missing out on the 2018 edition. With a captain like Virgil Van Dijk and midfield talent like Frenkie De Jong, the sky’s the limit for the Dutch.
Group B: It doesn’t get more politically charged than group B. Consisting of England, Wales, The United States and Iran. Soccer ability aside, you could write up 2 articles worth of narratives between these countries. With that being said, it is an equally interesting group as far as soccer goes. The US and England play their first World Cup game against each other since 1950. While England are favorites to qualify, given their finals appearance in the Euros, the second spot is seemingly up for grabs. The US sees their first World Cup with their golden generation, led by talent such as Christian Pulisic, Weston Mckennie and Gio Reyna. Wales makes their first World Cup appearance in 64 years, given a masterclass from waning superstar Gareth Bale. Which leaves Iran, who have dominated Asian competition in the qualifiers and in friendlies leading up to this tournament. Safe to say the world will have its eyes on this group.
Group C: Group C consists of some of the most in form players in the world. Argentina is a heavy favorite coming into the tournament. Messi’s team enters the tournament a few short games behind the record unbeaten run recently set by Italy. This will be Messi’s last World Cup. Poland’s Robert Lewandowski has acclimated to life in Barcelona quite well, setting LaLiga on fire. Lewandowski and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny look to get revenge for their poor performance in the Euros. Similar to Iran, Saudi Arabia have torched their Asian competition, and are impossible to count out in this group.
Group D: Just by looking at group D, there appears to be 2 clear favorites. The 2018 winners, France, will look to exact revenge for their early exit in the recent Euros. They enter the tournament as a favorite, given their deep squad, but will face the World Cup curse (no team who has won a World Cup has made it out of the group stage since 2006). The second team most think will qualify is Denmark, who recently made the semifinals of the Euros. Now that star man Christian Eriksen is back to form, most think they will continue to ride the momentum from the Euros to success in the knockouts. Australia and Tunisia, 2 teams who barely qualified in a weaker qualifying path, have a lot to prove in these group stage matches.
Group E: Consisting of Spain, Costa Rica, Germany and Japan, group A will very quickly grab the attention of many. On paper, it should be very clear that Spain and Germany, 2 of the nations considered able to win the entire tournament, will be the 2 from the group to advance in the competition. That being said, it’s impossible to count Japan out. In the recent international break, they beat the US, considered to be a much better side, in dominating fashion. Expect Daichi Kamada and Takefusa Kubo, both in flying form, to put on performances that will keep their nation in every game. As for Costa Rica, a team with a goalie like Keylor Navas can never be counted out, with his famous efforts in the 2014 World Cup getting him signed to the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid. Their quarter final appearance seemed just as likely before that tournament as a deep run does before this one, but anything can happen.
Group F: Similar to group B, group F is one of the more balanced groups in the competition, with no clear favorites and no team that is lacking compared to their competition. Belgium faces the end of their golden generation, with Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku among others looking to have more to show for their cumulative talent than a measly third place at the 2018 World cCup. Canada returns to the competition after qualifying in dominant fashion. Unlike Canadian teams of the past, they have household names, like striker Jonathan David and speedy defender Alphonso Davies to lead them in this competition. Croatia, runners-up in 2018, look to ageless wonder Luka Modric yet again to produce some magic in this competition, now knowing there are no limits to how far the red and white checkered team can go. Morocco, a surprise qualifier, brought Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi to the world’s biggest stage with the hope of shocking the globe in this surprisingly stacked group. Nothing is guaranteed in group F but steep competition.
Group G: Group G has everything, from powerhouses to dark horses to new faces and perennial knockout stage qualifiers. To start, the hype behind Brazil is real. A nation still healing from their devastating 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi finals of the 2014 World Cup that they themselves hosted, Neymar has confirmed this is his last dance. If a nation could play 11 forwards, they certainly would. In my opinion, I believe that no one is more likely to qualify for the knockouts than Brazil. Switzerland, fresh off of eliminating France in the recent Euros, have a whole host of players in amazing form. With that being said, they will go as far as goalkeeper Yann Sommer takes them, as we saw in the Euros. If you asked someone even 5 years ago if Serbia were any good at soccer, they would laugh in your face. Nobody is laughing now, as they boast superstars like Filip Kostic, Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, the latter 2 being some of the most in-form strikers in the world. Whether or not Serbia performs is more or less entirely up to if Vlahovic and Mitrovic can score the way they have been in the Premier League and Serie A, respectively. Cameroon look to phenomenal goalkeeper André Onana, along with midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa to help them through this tough group. Although most are quite sure Brazil will qualify, who will claim the second spot is far less certain.
Group H: The final group consists of Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. The Cristiano Ronaldo effect can really be felt in Portugal. Always having been a nation carried by 1 or maybe 2 outstanding players at a time, Portugal comes into the 2022 World Cup with a load of young players at their first tournament, who all grew up idolizing Ronaldo, who will captain his nation in his fifth (yes, fifth) World Cup. Electrifying talents such as Nuno Mendes, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao enter their first World Cup hungry to win their hero his first World Cup in what will almost certainly be his last tournament. As for Ghana, the “Black Stars” enter the 2022 World Cup with the smell of revenge in the air. In the group stage, they will play Uruguay, and (more importantly) Luis Suarez. He is the man who hand balled a header off of the goal line, saving what would have surely been a goal in the last minute, after he got sent off, the penalty kick went off the crossbar, and Ghana wert on to lose in heartbreaking fashion, sending Uruguay instead into the semifinals. 12 years later, nobody has forgotten what Suarez did to them, and they will be hungry to win, at all costs. Speaking of Suarez, his Uruguayan side look to be the strongest since their 2010 semi finals appearance. New star striker Darwin Nunez looks to take some of the workload of off Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani’s shoulders in their collective old age. Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde finds the form of his life, seeming to become one of the best and most adaptable players in the world, seeing as he can play just about any position and thrive. As for South Korea, they look to the Tottenham sensation Son Heung-min, fresh off winning a golden boot in the Premier League, to lead them to upset this group full of powerhouses.
Starting on November 20th, people around the world prepare for the endless entertainment the World Cup is sure to bring during the holiday season. As the stars of this generation like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Lewandowsi and Suarez play in their last World Cup, look for an exciting team full of youngsters to stake their claim as the prominent figures of the future of this sport for many years to come.