Saturday, April 09, 2022

World Cup draw

 I have been busy with work, traveling, and non-football things in my head and heart, but I have nevertheless followed last week's World Cup draw, which points at some very interesting matches in Qatar (that should never have had the World Cup):

Group A:

  • Qatar
  • Ecuador
  • Senegal
  • Netherlands

This group could plausibly be the most difficult one to predict. Qatar are playing their first World Cup, but as hosts they have been preparing for years and will not want to disappoint at home (even though I will not support them). Senegal are African champions and with a strong core of experienced Europe-based players. Netherlands are always strong, but can also disappoint, while Ecuador has sufficient experience and skills to upset any team. Watch this group, and support all but Qatar.

Group B:

  • England
  • USA
  • Iran
  • Scotland/Ukraine/Wales

This is an interesting group that could potentially be the Anglo-Saxon world against Iran. Iran are surely not to be underestimated, having qualified with style, and will recall their 1998 group win over USA. England are probably favourites to win the group, but USA will recall that they have never been defeated by England in a World Cup, and most famously recall the 1950 miracle in Belo Horizonte. If Ukraine qualify, the group will be watched even more closely for political reasons in an already highly politicized World Cup.

Group C:

  • Argentina
  • Mexico
  • Poland
  • Saudi Arabia

This is a good draw for Argentina, although of course they should never underestimate any of the teams in the group. But Argentina is playing excellently, have a hungry Lionel Messi likely in his last World Cup, so should hopefully (I fully support Argentina) pull through. Mexico has looked very poor in qualification, so Poland and Saudi Arabia have good chances in pulling through, where expectations to Lewandowski's Poland will probably be highest.

Group D

  • France
  • Denmark
  • Tunisia
  • Peru/Australia

This group is curiously a 75% repeat of the 2018 group C, which included France, Denmark, Peru and Australia. That group was won by France (who went on to become World Champions), with Denmark as runners-up, and an excellent Peru was unlucky to be eliminated. France are surely favourites, but note that the defending winners tend to do badly when they have to defend their title (Denmark notably defeating France in 2002), and that may be a hope for the other teams. Denmark are surely much better than they were in 2018, but Peru will be looking to avenge their rather unfair 2018 defeat. Tunisia are the most unwritten chapter of the group, but never to be underestimated.

Group E:

  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Costa Rica/New Zealand

This could potentially be the "Group of Death". Two former World Champions Spain and Germany, and both teams are also contenders for the title. At the same time Japan is always highly competitive, growing stronger in every World Cup (remember their spectacular match against Belgium in 2018). In the meantime neither Costa Rica or New Zealand are to be underestimated: remember in 2014 when Costa Rica won the "Group of Death ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay?

Group F:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Morocco
  • Croatia

This group has four exciting teams. Belgium is at the end of its most golden generation, and while they are still ranked number 1 in the world, one no longer has the feeling that they are able to go all the way. That said, they should be favourites in a group that sees the exciting Canadians, in the first World Cup since 1986, as well as Croatia, finalists and the world's darlings from 2018. Morocco is never to be underestimated, and may have hopes of fighting it out in the group.

Group G:

  • Brazil
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland
  • Cameroun

Brazil are surely huge favourites in the group, and contenders for the title that they have not taken since 2002. Of course they cannot underestimate any of the other teams, which have their strengths, but will have to fight it out between them. Switzerland may have a slight edge: a very strong team that eliminated France from the Euros, and won qualification ahead of European champions Italy, they have shown that they can take on everyone. Serbia has a strong base of experienced players but have never made it past the group stages since 1998. The same can be said of Cameroun; it is great to see the Lions in the World Cup again, but they have not made it past the group stages since 1990!

Group H:

  • Portugal
  • Ghana
  • Uruguay
  • South Corea

Portugal may be favourites in this group, even though nothing is written, of course, and Portugal can lose to all of these teams. That said, the match everyone thought about when they saw the draw was the legendary 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Ghana and Uruguay, which saw Uruguay through after penalty kicks and Luis Suarez' infamous hand ball save. Ghana will look for revenge, but will have to keep their heads cool against an experienced Uruguay side, while Ghana at times has looked shaky (most recently in their disappointing Africa Cup of Nations). In the meantime South Corea is most certainly a team to reckon with, having qualified for every World Cup since 1986 they have the experience, although they have struggled to get past the group stages (That said, in 2018 they knocked out the defending champions of Germany).

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