World Cup Preview
On November 20, the World’s most watched sporting event, the FIFA World Cup, is set to begin. Over 200 countries were reduced to 32 in the qualifying stage, and these 32 will fight for the ultimate prize: the World Cup.
Group A: Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador, Qatar
As always, Group A contains the host of the tournament, Qatar. This will be their first ever World Cup, which makes them the first host country to simultaneously make their debut at the World Cup since 1934. The odds seem firmly stacked against them. Senegal is expected to come in second. The favorites in this group are the Netherlands. After a disappointing campaign at the Euros last year, Netherlands fired Frank De Boer and replaced him with the retired Louis Van Gaal, one of the greatest coaches of all time. In 2014, he led the Netherlands to a third place finish at the World Cup. Since his appointment in 2021, he hasn’t lost a single game. They’ve beaten Belgium twice (including a 4-1 thrashing), and Van Gaal has shown that he has not lost his tactical prowess. They have all the indications of a dark horse and look likely to be involved towards the end of the tournament.
Group B: England, USA, Wales, Iran
The battle to qualify will likely be between the US, Wales, and Iran. Wales is playing in its first World Cup since 1958, and the team has not been in great form. Iran has never made it past the group stage. Despite optimism from supporters, the US team faces several hurdles. The U.S. has not established a starting striker or goalkeeper. The US will hope that stars like Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna can lead them to at least the Round of 16, which would be satisfactory. If they fail, manager Gregg Berhalter may be released; he has been criticized for the US’ goal-scoring troubles in recent times. Many have criticized his defensive approach, which could help or hurt the US at a major tournament. England represents one of the favorites to win the whole tournament. England might just fall short, as it typically has, possibly due to manager Southgate’s difficulty in unleashing attacking talents such as Phil Foden and reigning owner of the World Cup Golden Boot, Harry Kane.
Group C: Argentina, Poland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia
Argentina is the favorite in this group, and one of the favorites in the tournament overall. After several close shaves with success, including being runners-up in the 2014 World Cup, Messi and company finally got their hands on international silverware in the 2021 Copa America. If Argentina does manage to win the World Cup, it would most likely be thanks to him. After a poor 21-22 season, Messi seems to be back to normal—at least what it is normal for him. With this being his last World Cup, his motivation will be higher than ever, and a World Cup trophy could be what finally cements his status as the GOAT. Having not lost a match since 2019, Argentina certainly looks like one of the favorites, and when you have Lionel Messi on your team, anything is possible. The prospects don’t look as bright for the rest of the group. Mexico hasn’t made it past the Round of 16 in the World Cup since 1986. Poland really only has Robert Lewandowski to help them find success, but he alone won’t be enough.
Group D: Denmark, France, Australia, Tunisia
Despite France’s position as reigning Champions, this could be a difficult tournament for the team. On one hand, they probably have the best group of players on paper, namely Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema, and Kylian Mbappe. Despite this, times have been tough for the team. A shocking Euro 2020 exit at the hands of Switzerland in the Round of 16 led to fighting within the squad. Their recent form has also been abysmal. Over the summer they lost twice to Denmark and were dominated. Most frightening of all is the “Champions Curse.” No reigning champion of the World Cup has made it past the group stage since 2006. France could be next in that line, especially with Coach Didier Deschamps looking worse and worse as time goes on. Denmark could perhaps shock everybody and top this group. Denmark beat France twice this summer in the Nations League and made the semifinals of the last Euros. If the team bests the members of the group, it could certainly go far.
Group E: Germany, Spain, Japan, and Costa Rica
Japan has a reasonably strong squad, but it won’t get much attention since the team would have to beat Spain or Germany. Both Spain and Germany have treble-winning managers leading them. Spain is coached by Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona manager who brought them to the semifinals of Euro 2020. They are renowned for their emphasis on keeping possession of the ball, making them very difficult to beat. However, they also tend to struggle to put the ball into the net. Spain may go far in this tournament but probably does not have enough to go all the way. German head coach Hansi Flick was the assistant coach when Germany won the World Cup in 2014. He is a very attack-oriented coach, and Germany does have the potential to thrash some of its opponents. However, they have struggled under Flick so far and might not be ready to go all the way yet. They’ve been a little inconsistent, although Flick has only lost once as coach for them. That said, if stars like Sané and Musiala are in form, they could beat anybody. Manuel Neuer won the Golden Glove in the 2014 World Cup, and Thomas Müller is the highest scoring active player in World Cup history. It would always be foolish to rule out the Germans.
Group F: Croatia, Belgium, Morocco, Canada
This could be seen as the “group of death.” Belgium is up there with the favorites but has always struggled to make an impact at major tournaments. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku seem to be in perpetually poor form, while Kevin de Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois are in impeccable form. Belgium would struggle to beat Spain or Germany, whom it would face in the Round of 16. Croatia is looking almost as strong as they did when they came in second place four years ago, if not stronger. Luka Modrić still owns the midfield at 37, and in several areas on the pitch, including the midfield, the team looks stronger. However, it faces the same issue as Belgium, having to face Spain or Germany in the Round of 16. However, if it can get past that stage, anything is possible.
Group G: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon
There’s one dominant team in this group, and that is Brazil. The other three sides are certainly strong in their own right and can make underdog runs. Switzerland looks most likely to make a run after shocking France and nearly beating Spain at the last Euros. However, in Brazil, you have the constant favorites for the World Cup. They’ve won the tournament five times and have arguably the best team on paper. Neymar Jr. will feel as though this is his final chance to win a major trophy for his country, where anything short of victory feels like a failure. They are backed by most to take the title, although it certainly won't be easy. After all, they’ve been backed to take the title for the last four World Cups and have failed each time to do so. However, this could certainly be the year the World Cup is back in Brazil. Stars like Vinicius Jr. and Neymar will look to ensure that outcome.
Group H: Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, South Korea
This group contains the major storyline of the tournament. In 2010, Uruguay eliminated Ghana, who had a goal blocked on the line by a handball from Luis Suarez. Ghana missed the ensuing penalty, before losing on penalties. Uruguay looks strong, especially as midfielder Federico Valverde excels for Real Madrid in every aspect of the game. However, they do not seem quite strong enough to have a chance. After winning Euro 2016, a supposedly improving Portuguese squad under Fernando Santos has only performed worse as time has gone on. With starman Cristiano Ronaldo now 37 years old and struggling for form at Manchester United, they don’t look so strong. However, younger stars like Rafael Leão and Joao Cancelo will look to at least make it a memorable tournament for Portugal, though they likely won’t win it.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this World Cup is how difficult it is to see a potential winner. Germany, Brazil, and Argentina look to be the biggest favorites, with the Netherlands as a dark horse, but this tournament remains quite unpredictable.