It is November, which means one thing; the most controversial post-war FIFA World Cup is here. Among all the understandable concerns around human rights, workers’ rights, and FIFA corruption, the best players in the world will take the field chasing the ultimate goal. The greatest show in the world is here. The next six weeks will reveal the horror and greatness of the beautiful game. And in the end, one team and one country will be on top of the world. It is time to preview the 32 teams competing for sporting immortality.
We start with a preview of Group A. The group features the host nation, the African champions, and two intriguing teams. Here is Abbeylivenetwork.com lowdown.
The Qataris will make their World Cup debut in 2022. As the host nation, they will want to put on a good show and qualify from this group into the Round of 16. Manager Felix Sanchez has cultivated a tough, tight-knit squad that won the Asia Cup in 2019, made the semi-final in the 2021 Gold Cup, and is ranked 50th in the world rankings. Qatar lacks overall talent, but has had the best preparation. They have spent 12 years readying themselves.
Star Player – Akram Afif. For Qatar to spring a shock, striker Akram Afif needs a good tournament. He has 26 goals for his country and is the main goal threat.
Outlook – It will not be pretty. Qatar will need team spirit and hard work to scratch out enough points to get to the knockout stage. They are the weakest team in this group for a reason. Expect an early exit for the hosts.
CONMEBOL qualifying is the most challenging qualifying process in International football. Hostile atmospheres, diverse weather conditions, and highly competitive teams make it a gauntlet. For Ecuador to finish fourth and qualify automatically may have been the headline. The Ecuadorians were the youngest team in South America, but they belied their inexperience with diligence, hard work, and a little bit of Latin flair. Manager Gustavo Alfaro has transformed this team. Ranked 44th in the world, Ecuador will be no pushover.
Star Player – Moises Caicedo. Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Moises Caicedo is Ecuador’s best player. The 21-year-old is a powerful, dynamic player capable of dominating games. It surprised no one that Caicedo’s club manager called him one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.
Outlook – Do not write them off. This Ecuador side is fit, well-coached, and fearless. If they can win on opening night, Ecuador could surprise this group.
The reigning AFCON Champions might be the most talented African side to enter a World Cup. Everywhere you look, the Senegalese have players with tons of talent and experience. The squad has proven players such as Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye and young starlets Ismailia Sarr and Bamba Dieng. The blend of youth and experience feels balanced. Manager Aliou Cisse has first-hand knowledge of playing in a World Cup; he is the perfect leader for Senegal. They are rightly the favorites to win this group.
Star Player – Sadio Mane. Sadio Mane is one of the best forwards in the world. The Bayern Munich man has enjoyed an epic 2022; he kicked the winning penalty in the AFCON Final and has won the FA Cup and Football League Cup. A summer move to Germany has not slowed Mane down; he has scored 11 goals in 19 games this season. Mane is relentless. He plays at 100 miles per hour in every game. If he takes over a game, he is irresistible.
Outlook – A deep run is on the cards. An African team has never made the semi-finals of a World Cup. This Senegal team is talented and tough enough to break new ground for African football.
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, the Dutch national team is back! It feels right to have the bright Oranje back on football’s global stage. Ranked eighth in the world rankings, the Netherlands have experienced a good 2022 so far, as they qualified for the 2023 Nations League Finals. However, this Dutch side is often erratic, inconsistent, and dysfunctional. Captain Virgil van Dijk has criticized manager Louis van Gaal for ditching the traditional 4-3-3 formation for a 5-3-2 formation. Van Gaal is stubborn to a fault, but his players are starting to believe in his methods. Concerns surround the form and fitness of Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay, and Donny van de Beek. However, exciting talents like Cody Gakpo and Jurrien Timber could provide a spark for this talented, if flawed, team.
Star Player – Virgil van Dijk. The captain and totemic center-back has endured a difficult season with Liverpool and heads into the World Cup with questions about his form. But if the giant captures his best, the Netherlands could go further than expected. At his best, van Dijk is the best defender in football. The Orange Army needs him.
Outlook – It is complicated. The Dutch are the kind of team that could stitch a deep run together or goes home early. They boast talent but lack depth. They are inexperienced but fearless. It feels like a roulette spin, and even the Dutch team may not know where the ball will stop.
1 – Senegal
2 – Netherlands
3 – Ecuador
4 – Qatar
The Senegalese are the favorites to win the group. The Netherlands should be good enough to finish second and qualify, but Ecuador will make them work for it. Do not hold out many hopes for Qatar.