As we make are way toward the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, people are starting to think about who will make it out of the group stage. While it won't be the group of death, Group A will host some interesting matchups after Qatar and Ecuador kick off at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on November 20th. There are a ton of reasons why Qatar 2022 is weird. Whether it be the first time a World Cup has been in the winter, the politics behind how we got there, or the human rights issues that surround Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran, among many others.
But for the sake of this piece, we're going to have a look at the four teams in Group A, who to watch for, and what the expected results are likely to be. We'll tackle sportswashing and the larger human issues surrounding the tournament separately.
Group A consists of Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, and The Netherlands. This is really a battle of three teams, all of whom are built pretty differently.
Qatar (50th in FIFA World Rankings)
The tournament hosts are making their first ever appearance in the World Cup. In case you're unaware, the host of a tournament automatically qualifies. Which is good for Qatar. Frankly, there's no way they would have otherwise made it through qualifying. And their chances of getting out of the World Cup group stage are slim to none.
Prior to being awarded World Cup 2022 back in 2010, their world rankings were all over the place, but generally sat somewhere between 60 and 112. Those are some wild swings. By kickoff, they'll be ranked 50th in the world, which feels pretty low for a tournament of 32 teams that are meant to be the world's best. And it really is only since Russia 2018 that they were able to crack above 60, finally having some of the infrastructure they otherwise needed.
The team itself has only managed to win two of it's nine matches in 2022, most recently drawing Chile and losing to both Canada and the Croatia U-23 team. The Qatari squad will be led by four players who have made over 100 caps for the team, and that experience is spread nicely around the pitch in defense (Abdelkarim Hasson - 125, Boualem Khoukhi - 100), the midfield (Karim Boudaif - 111), and up top (Hassan Al Haydos - 165).
Unfortunately, getting here was the "easy" part. In order to not sit at the bottom of the group standings, Qatar is going to need to move mountains. And I simply don't see that happening. They may put up a little fight, but they'll be lucky to even finish in third place. Expect the hosts to bow out after facing the Netherlands back at Al Bayt Stadium on November 29th.
Ecuador (44th in FIFA World Rankings)
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This Ecuadorian team finished fourth in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, behind Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. They were able to edge out Peru, who lost their international qualifier, as well as Chile and Colombia, who normally find themselves competing for the top prizes out of South America.
With a World Ranking of 44, Ecuador enters its fourth World Cup. Led by Fenerbahce forward Enner Valencia, they'll be hoping they can make some real noise. Much of their squad plays in the Americas, so it will be a lot to ask of them to unseat the AFCON champions or a Netherlands squad who is looking to make their mark.
Jose Cifuentes, Jhegson Mendez, and Diego Palacios just raised the MLS Cup Trophy with LAFC early this month, so they'll be looking to bring some of that winning mentality to La Tri. Ecuador did not get here without controversy though, with Chile accusing them of fielding an ineligible player in the qualifying, saying Byron Castillo was actually Colombian. That appeal fell short. And that aside, La Tri has still managed to qualify and will not allow this group to be a cake walk.
Netherlands (8th in FIFA World Rankings)
International tournaments have not been kind to the Dutch in recent years. But they will travel to Qatar with one of the strongest squads they've boasted in years. I'd fully expect the Oranje to make a splash and make it out of the group.
With a brick wall defense that includes the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Stefan de Vrij, and Matthijs de Ligt, they won't give much away. And the depth in their back line could see genuine competition for selection into the starting XI.
Former Premier League castaways Steven Bergwijn (Ajax) and Memphis Depay (Barcelona) will lead the line. The pair have enough power and speed to create chances. However they cannot just depend on the defense to stand strong. They'll need to link up well with Steven Berghuis and Frenkie de Jong to put them over the edge. There's enough UEFA Champions League experience in this side that can give the Oranje a real competitive edge.
One notable absence is Manchester United's Donny van de Beek. After leaving Ajax for Manchester, he just hasn't gotten much playing time, even including a loan spell at Everton. But Louis van Gaal went with a "what have you done for me lately" approach, leaving van de Beek at home.
Senegal (18th in FIFA World Rankings)
This Senegalese side has a lot of promise. After winning the African Cup of Nations one Penalties over runners-up Egypt back in February, they find themselves the highest ranked African team in the tournament. Sadio Mane is named in their squad despite a recent injury playing for Bayern Munich. But nothing will prevent the striker from making his way to World Cup Qatar.
Much of the Senegal team stays the same from that AFCON victory. Eduard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Pape Abou Cisse will look to keep a solid defense while Mane will be joined by Bamba Dieng and Ismaila Sarr in the attack.
The Lions of Teranga really should have no problem escaping this group. They have the talent and recent results that can push them to finish up top, but I don't see them dropping below Qatar or Ecuador. I'd expect to see Senegal win the group, with Netherlands getting through in second, as long as Mane and Koulibaly can stay healthy. But this is the greatest competition in the world. Anything can happen. Group A will play their games across three stadiums. Those will be Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, and Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Other World Cup Groups
- Group B: England,Iran, USA, Wales
- Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
- Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
- Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
- Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
- Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
- Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
World Cup Schedule
- Group Stage: November 20-December 2
- Round of 16: December 3-6
- Quarterfinals: December 9-10 at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
- Semifinals: December, 13-14 with matches held at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail and Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
- Third-place Play-off: December 17 at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan.
- World Cup Final: December 18 at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail.
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