World Cup 2022: A Month Away Update and Wild Speculation

The World Cup starts in a month, in winter, because FIFA would organize the world cup in Mars if the bribe was big enough. Anyway, after some grueling qualifying rounds the participants are ready and now it’s time to go over who we got and wildly speculate as to how they will fare.

Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

In the previous World Cup the hosts got a fairly easy group, that doesn’t seem to be the case this time. It’s not the hardest and the hosts might have a chance but Ecuador and Senegal are fairly good teams and Netherlands should have the first place locked. Let’s see each team.

Qatar: one of the most controversial host nations ever, which is quite the achievement given that Russia was the previous one, have not much of a football history but that has changed in recent years. They have put their considerable resources in use, slowly moving away from their overreliance on naturalized players and spending on local academies, which might be a more roundabout form of the same system. This has given them some recent successes like winning the 2019 AFC Cup and a decent participation in the 2021 Gold Cup in which they reached the knockout stages. There were not a lucky in the 2019 Copa America, although they did manage to get a point against Paraguay. Still, with a group of players that only play in the local league, I don’t believe they will get out of the group, which will make them join South Africa as the only two hosts to not reach at least the round of 16.

Ecuador: at the start of the 2022 CONMEBOL qualifiers, Ecuador were the second lowest ranked team (according to FIFA) just above Bolivia at the end they qualified directly in 4th place with some impressive showings including a 6-1 trashing of Colombia and a surprising 1-1 draw against Brazil and all those efforts almost came crashing down due to the Byron Castillo affair, but all is well now (as of this writing). They have a good team with most of their players coming from *checks notes* Brighton & Hove Albion?? Ok, maybe they’re an OK team, they are solid and they will fight for second place in this group. Their advantage against Senegal, is that they start against Qatar which could boost their confidence or completely destroy them if they can’t get the win.

Senegal: the Lions of Teranga are back after a completely unexpected early exit last time (doubly unexpected given that they lost on their fair play record against Japan) and they’re even stronger this time. Their defense is anchored by Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly and up top they have a slightly out of form but still dangerous Sadio Mané. They’re also the current AFCON champions. They would be my pick for second place, their match against Ecuador is key.

Netherlands: after failing to qualify in 2018, the Oranje are back and ready to make up for lost time. They’ve had some coaching instability, first losing Koeman to Barcelona, then Frank De Boer getting the boot after a disappointing Euro 2020 and finally settling with Louis van Gaal who they took out of retirement. Regardless, they’re currently in good form, reaching the UEFA Nations League semifinals. They are one of the favorites, but they’re the Netherlands so they won’t win. Depending on the group stage positions, they might get Argentina in the Quarterfinals and that’s probably the end for them.

Group B:

England, Iran, USA and Wales

Ah yes, the grudge match Yanks v Brits! Get your calendars ready for 11/25. England v Wales should also be interesting as well as the geopolitical implications of USA v Iran, although we already did that before with the USA losing that match in their catastrophic-last-place-ending 1998 World Cup campaign. Ok, so what do we got

England: get ready for the coming home memes! And honestly this time it might be deserved, they do have a good team with their biggest weakness being on the bench and I don’t mean their depth but Gareth Southgate. Sure, he took them to the Euro 2020 final but they lost it and he inexplicably keeps calling up Harry Maguire. There’s been a lot said about his tactical deficiencies that I don’t think I can say more. Will it come home? I doubt it. I have them at quarterfinals, semifinals would be overachieving.

Iran: they’re back again, third appearance in a row and this time with ease. They finished first in their AFC group and conceded only 4 goals by the hand of their coach Dragan Skocic who took them into a 15-1-2 record and for his efforts got the boot as soon as Carlos Queiroz was available. This is a bold strategy by Iran, let’s see if it pays off for them. Last time I highlighted Sardar Azmoun when he was at Rubin Kazan, now he’s at Leverkusen after a successful stint at Zenit. They’ll be a hard team to beat and given the USMNT’s current form could be the surprise of the group. R16 if they’re lucky

USA: after a disastrous 2018 campaign in which they failed to qualify in freaking CONCACAF the USMNT are back and they barely finished third behind Mexico and Canada. Their current friendly matches were a disaster, being completely outclassed by Japan and getting a goalless draw against Saudi Arabia’s B team. Given their individual players, this team should be much better, except that a bunch are out of form, injured, writing early autobiographies or inexplicably not getting called up by the coach in favor of mediocre MLS players. And oh boy, the coach. Gregg Berhalter was hired in 2018 while his brother Jay was an US Soccer executive, but that had nothing to do with it and his brother quit in 2020 so you know it’s fine now. His stint has basically been sustained by his success against Mexico, which is obviously a Mexican long con. Given the current form reaching the R16 would be a success, not sure if they can make it.

Wales: one of the oldest football federations in the world is back in a World Cup since 1958 by the hand of a fantastic Gareth Bale who has his priorities in order. They had a successful qualification in which they ended defeating Ukraine, who were an even bigger Cinderella story given their current circumstances. Their coach was the ManU legend Ryan Giggs, who resigned after some serious accusations were levelled at him and was replaced by his assistant. They won’t go beyond the group stage.

Group C:

Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Argentina is a lock on first and Saudi Arabia a lock for last, Mexico and Poland will fight for second

Argentina: last World Cup campaign was a disaster, with them barely qualifying and then unceremoniously exiting in the R16. This time the vibe is completely different, they have not lost a game in the last 35 matches since the 2019 Copa America semifinal and they ended up winning the 2021 edition with Messi finally getting that weight off his shoulders. A World Cup win would finally convince the last batch of detractors. His current form for club and country is fantastic and everyone is hyped. Their team is stacked in every position except maybe GK. One of the strongest candidates to win it all, I will have to agree.

Saudi Arabia: they qualified first in AFC defeating Japan and Australia, I have no idea how. Their team is one of the weakest of the competition with all their players playing in the local league. Sure that does give them some more cohesion that other countries and sometimes that is enough against some rivals, but it’s a really weak league. Not much more to say, they should be the punching bag of this group.

Mexico: I’m Mexican so I’m usually biased in favor of the team but man this time I just can’t, they are a mess and play horribly. Only time they have played decently in recent matches was the first 45′ against Colombia, in a game they ended up losing 3-2. Their coach, Tata Martino has not made many friends. There’s a lot of reason why that is, from the team losing 3 finals against the US, his tense relationship with the press, his questionable call ups (specially not calling Acevedo at least as 3rd keeper), among others. The team is a mismatch of has-beens, players way over their prime, young players that just don’t cut it and strikers that don’t score goals, are injured or both. Still, Mexico has reached the R16 in every World Cup since 1994. They always seem to reach deep and bring some magic, that’s the only hope left. An early exit should wake up the Mexican Football Federation, but I doubt it given that Mexico hosts the next one and won’t have to qualify, so there’s no incentive to change. This is really depressing.

Poland: the other team that will fight for the second place, Poland qualified defeating Sweden (after Russia was kicked out). They’re an average team with a way above average striker in Lewandoski, that hasn’t lost a step since his move to Barcelona. Behind him, Napoli’s Zieliński is the other one to watch. Their current form has been fairly mediocre, with their only recent wins against Wales and getting trashed 6-1 by Belgium. Their match against Mexico is key and that’s their first match, things will turn really ugly for either team if they don’t get the result.

Group D:

France, Australia, Denmark and Tunisia

One of the weakest group in the competition, should be a lock for France and Denmark. Australia is even worse than last time and Tunisia recently lost 5-1 against Brazil, although not many teams can face Brazil.

France: this team has a lot of depth in every position, a lot of names, but they’re not much of a team and controversies just follow them. We have sex tape blackmail, image rights issues, football federation harassment, witchcraft, among other things. Their coach also has had his tactics criticized, in particular in Euro 2020 oh yeah and half of their team is injured. Sure, they are the defending champs, but this wouldn’t be the first time they imploded, nor the first time they imploded as defending champions. Not sure if we’ll witness that again, but I also don’t trust this team past quarter finals

Australia: last time I wrote that that team was the wort Australian team I’ve ever seen, well it seems like they keep getting worse each time. I have no clue how they defeated Peru in the inter-confederation playoff. Their team is a mismatch of folks from their local league, some J-Leaguers, a dude that plays in the EFL Championship. They also seemed to only have played two friendlies in preparation for the World Cup against New Zealand. So I don’t think they’re even trying. Group stage, might be worst of the competition.

Denmark: the Danes have been doing great lately. They topped their World Cup qualification group with ease and they just defeated France twice in Nations League. Eriksen might not be doing great at Manchester United, but the fact that he’s playing again it’s a great morale boost, Kjær is playing great in AC Milan and I’ve always rooted for baby Schmeichel (Leicester should have never left him go). I think they’ll go far, semifinal and they’ll top this group.

Tunisia: the Eagles of Carthage barely qualified over Mali, with whom they’ve have some controversial matches. Their Brazil friendly, besides ending in a crushing defeat, was also marred in racism. Oh yeah and the team is not very good. Group stage

Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany and Japan

What a though group for Japan and Costa Rica, Spain and Germany should be favorites

Spain: the 2018 WC was an incredible disappointment for Spain being eliminated in the R16 by the hosts and having the coaching controversy just before the cup. This time it’s different, they have had the same coach since 2019, they hadn’t lost at home in almost 4 years until recently against Switzerland and they’re ranked pretty high. Unai Simón seems to be a guarantee as GK, their defense is solid and their midfield is one of the best in the world. If anything is lacking it’s their attack, but they’re no pushovers there either. I’d say semifinals.

Costa Rica: the only reason los ticos are here is because Panamá choked in the last matches of the WC qualifiers. Their team is getting old, with the corpse of Bryan Ruiz (37) not only still playing but acting as team captain, and the young ones have not really shined yet. Keylor Navas will try his best, but this was a really tough draw for them and they’ll most likely won’t get out of the group for the second world cup in a row.

Germany: the Mannschaft had a terrible tournament in Russia, with their first time not getting out of the group stage. Surprisingly, this didn’t put an end to the era of our favorite ball sniffing coach Joachim Low, who only stepped down after a disappointing Euro 2020. Now under former Bayern Munich manager, Hansi Flick, the team seems to be back in business. A solid team in every area, with a good mix of veterans and young ones (and Timo Werner back in Lepizig after a fairly mediocre stint at Chelsea), this should be the chance for them to redeem themselves, winning the group should be a good start. Nothing less than the final will be underperforming.

Japan: I like the Samurai Blue, the last World Cup they lost a heartbreaker against Belgium in a game in which they never betrayed their style. I don’t care what Blue Lock says, they’re doing a good job. Their keeper and defense are nothing to write home about, but their midfielders and strikers are pretty solid. Minamino is a great player that made the most of his few chances at Liverpool (although he’s struggling so much at Monaco that has been called the “flop of the season”) and Kubo is starting to get his bearings at Real Sociedad after a long time on loan. They also convincingly defeated the USMNT recently. Given all that, it’s really unlucky that they had this group, they could pull an upset but not enough to get out of the group.

Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco and Croatia

Belgium and Croatia should have a somewhat easy path forward, even if Canada showed great things in the CONCACAF qualifiers, they’re still several rungs lower in the ladder. Morocco are a good team but they just appointed a new coach three months before the World Cup, so things are not going according to plan.

Belgium: there’s a sense that their golden generation is done and that they already wasted their last opportunity in Russia. I agree. Sure, Courtois and De Bruyne are still world class, but the rest are over the hill. Lukaku’s second stint at Chelsea was atrocious, Mertens now plays in Turkey, Witsel is old and Eden Hazard is an out of shape corpse that barely plays anymore. Still their team is still solid, should be enough for at least quarterfinals. Not an exciting ending for a once exciting team.

Canada: who would have thought that Canada would not only qualify for the World Cup but top the CONCACAF qualifiers? Unconceivable! Of course, nobody expected Alphonso Davies exploding in the world stage either (and what a story it is). Even when Davies was sidelined by injury, others rose up like Cyle Larin (Canada’s current top scorer that now plays at Brugge) and Jonathan David (who plays in Lille). Oh yeah, and their keeper looks like a divorced accountant that plays at the rec league on weekends while wearing sweatpants. There’s a lot to love about this team, unfortunately their group is fairly difficult. But they’re young and they don’t care about the odds, they could pull something off.

Morocco: after having a fallout with Moroccan star striker Hakim Ziyech, national coach Vahid Halilhodzic was unceremoniously fired. He didn’t call him up after accusing him of feigning an injury and his so-so results at the 2021 AFCON didn’t help either. This is also the third time he has been fired before a World Cup after already qualifying a team (Japan 2018 and Ivory Coast 2010), so, you know, maybe the problem is you, man. Anyway, besides Ziyech, there’ also Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri and I guess that’s it. Group stage

Croatia: last time I wrote about how Croatia tends to choke in the world cup and they were going to be eliminated in the group stages, so of course they went all the way to the final. Now I will write about how they’ll reach the later stages and they will choke, I can’t really win this one. They’ve been doing well recently, with good showings at the Nations League and with the eternal Luka Modric not losing a step yet at his 37 years! That’s insane. He’s the heart of this team and while he’s still ticking they still have a chance. On defense, Dejan Lovren still has gas on the tank and up front they have Perišić who seems to always play well for the national team. Modric’s last hurrah, might be worth it. Quarterfinals

Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon

Brazil should be first, but the second place will be an interesting battle

Brazil: they’re the odds favorites to win it all and with good reason. In the past three years, they have lost 1 game out of 29, that was against Argentina in the Copa America final. Their team is so stacked they can field 2 competitive teams easily, except maybe at right back where they have Danilo and an aging Dani Alves. Their two keepers are world class, Tiago anchors the defense and looks really good for a 38 year old, the midfield is really strong with Casemiro (even if Ten Hag can’t see that) and their forwards are so talented that Gabriel Jesus might not even make the final team. Anything less than winning it all will be a failure.

Serbia: the Eagles were one of the biggest surprises in the UEFA qualifiers after defeating Portugal in Lisbon at the 90th minute with a Mitrović goal and clinching their direct spot. While their talent is fairly average, coach and national legend Dragan Stojković has gotten the best out of them and they’ve been in great form in the Nations League, winning against Sweden and Norway. Still, Serbia has been in 3 World Cups and hasn’t gotten out of the group stage ever, I don’t think it will change this time.

Switzerland: the Swiss have a decent team, Sommer is a good keeper, Akanji just signed with Manchester City, Xhaka is resurging at Arsenal, Shaqiri is in an early retirement in the MLS and Breel Embolo is doing well at AS Monaco. So, a very decent team in all lines, they should be the bet bet for second place in the group and then, round of 16 I’d say.

Cameroon: the Indomitable Lions are back in the World Cup, barely. They surprisingly defeated Algeria in extra time in the last possible play, a defeat that Algeria protested claiming the refereeing was subpar. Their form as of late has been atrocious, losing friendlies against South Korea and Uzbekistan. Things are so dire they called up Nicolas Nkoulou 5 years after he had retired from the national team and he’s barely playing in Greece after being kicked out of Watford. Group stage.

Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and Korea Republic

This groups seems wide open, hell Portugal might even get stuck in the groups.

Portugal: after being pushed to the playoffs by Serbia, the Portuguese were about to face Italy and probably not even qualify, but then North Macedonia happened. It’s wild to think given Italy’s current form. That would have been a shock given how good their team are. Rui Patricio is still going as keeper, Joao Cancelo is currently one of the best wingbacks in the world, Bernardo Silva is pure class (just don’t surprise him) and Diogo Jota is in good form even if Liverpool are not. They even have some young talent like Tiago Djalo, even if their coach forgets he has him in the bench. Yes, that literally happened. Oh yes and they have CR7, but is he now a liability? He can’t even score against Omonia. A team I had never heard in my life. Still, he is the captain and even if he isn’t in good form, his presence might be enough. Quarterfinals.

Ghana: the Black Stars are back in the World Cup after barely “defeating” Nigeria due to away goals, something that the Nigerian crowd wasn’t too pleased with. Their current coach was appointed just before the matches against Nigeria. After that they have only won two games: 3-0 v Madagascar and 1-0 v Nicaragua. Two teams that have never even been close to qualify. At least Iñaki Williams has finally played for the national team (while his brother plays for Spain), so that’s a bright spot. Group stage.

Uruguay: after 15 years (and world record number of fixtures), Oscar Tabárez was finally ousted as national coach due to poor performance on the World Cup qualifiers. Diego Alonso took over and qualified after 4 straight victories. Their recent friendlies have been a mixed back with a draw against the US, and loss to Iran while defeating Canada, Panamá and Mexico fairly convincingly. They have some veterans like keeper Muslera and biting aficionado Luis Suárez, but the rest of the team is fairly young. They have some rising talent like Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez, Madrid’s Valverde and Spurs’ Betancur. A really good crop for a country that has barely over 3 million inhabitants. I’m going semifinals for them, I think they’ll over achieve.

Korea Republic: the Taegeuk Warriors qualified easily to the World Cup, even having the liberty of losing their last game against UAE. Their coach is Paulo Bento, who coached Portugal at the 2014 World Cup and after a disappointing World Cup and later 2016 Euro qualifiers was hired by Cruzeiro, then Olympiakos and finally Chongqing Dangdai Lifan. He had fairly bad records with all those teams and the Korea Football Association thought “yeah, that’s our man”. Their recently friendlies have been average, with a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica and a 1-0 win against Cameroon. Their squad is mostly composed of local league players, but they do have two bright spots: Napoli’s Kim Min-jae which filled the Kalidou Koulibaly-sized hole successfully and of course the great Son Heung-min who, after being benched by Conte, scored a hat trick in 13 minutes. Not sure that will be enough in this group, but hey maybe they would get more help than what Mexico failed to provide in 2018.

And that’s all of them, this will be a hard World Cup to follow but welp, that’s FIFA for you.