By guest writer Mario Parody
The 2022 World Cup is fast approaching and ready to fill the airtime on TV, so it’s time to start filling out your wall charts, ordering those Panini stickers to complete your book, predicting who will make it all the way to the final and which big names might fall short.
The host nation Qatar is getting set to kick off the latest edition on Sunday, November 20th, and granted, it’s not the most glamourous of openers, as they will be battling Ecuador. There’s still the controversy surrounding the validity of the tournament due to corruption allegations that lingers ever since the host announcement in 2010.
However, the first game represents the end of a four-year wait of the world’s most popular sporting event, as well as this being the first World Cup hosted by a country in the Middle East.
From mid-November to mid-December, 32 countries will compete in a tournament full of unpredictability. Soccer is to its core an unpredictable sport, but also because this World Cup is particularly difficult to figure out.
It is outside of its usual June-to-July timeframe, which means little to no rest for those making the trip to represent their countries, which may mean a wealth of injuries are incoming (or already have). This unfamiliarity makes picking 2022 World Cup group stage results incredibly difficult. But millions of fans will try over the coming month.
Before I dive in and go group-by-group to focus on the top headlines and predict the outcomes, let’s start off with a bit of a FAQ regarding the World Cup, as well as our U.S. Men’s National Team, and where things stand with our group of 22 individuals flying out to Qatar:
Why is the World Cup being played this year in November rather than June?
After the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010 it was quickly decided that it would be too hot to host the tournament during its normal window in the summer months of June and July. Therefore, the first-ever winter World Cup would take place. Domestic leagues around the world, and particularly in Europe, have had to postpone their seasons to accommodate this winter World Cup. Most will restart in late December and early January.
What are the dates for the 2022 World Cup?
The World Cup starts on November 20, 2022, and the final is on December 18, 2022.
What time do games start?
Kick off times will be either at 5am, 8am, 11am, or 2pm (all EST).
Where and how does one want to watch the World Cup?
In the USA you can watch on TV in English on Fox and in Spanish on Telemundo and NBC Universo, as well as Spanish commentary on the Peacock streaming service.
Speaking of the USA, when and where can I watch the boys in Red, White & Blue?
The U.S. plays its three Group B games in a span of nine days, and all on Fox and Telemundo starting at 2 p.m. ET:
Monday, Nov. 21 vs. Wales
Friday, Nov. 25 vs. England
Tuesday, Nov. 29 vs. Iran
Cool! Do you think they have a chance of getting out of their group and advancing?
I’ll talk more about it later in the article when I get to Group B, but in short, the roster is younger and more talented than years past, however all but one player doesn’t have World Cup experience, are inconsistent in their style of play, and may be brutally exposed that could prove costly in Qatar. Should be quite the ride.
So, who is in each group, and what are your predictions?
Here is an outlook for each group in the tournament:
Group A (Qatar – Ecuador – Senegal – Netherlands)
1st – Netherlands
2nd – Ecuador
3rd – Senegal
4th – Qatar
Top spot in this group should be decided on matchday one as the Netherlands defeat Senegal. The boys in orange simply have too much talent throughout the pitch to not come first. Starting with their defense led by Virgil Van Dijk, to their midfield led by Frenkie de Jong, all the way to Memphis Depay leading the forward line. Their World Cup qualifying group was a cake walk, scoring 33 goals in their 10 matches, losing only once. They should top this group with little to no issue.
Host nation Qatar, in its first World Cup appearance, may have the home fanbase on their side, but talent wise they will be unable to keep up with their group rivals, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they lost all three of their matches. They did put up a good showing as a guest in the most recent CONCACAF Gold Cup as a semifinalist, but no such luck this time around.
Ecuador at first was a team that would have its work cut out for them in dealing with Senegal, however since it was announced that star forward Sadio Mane will be included in the Senegal squad despite picking up a recent injury, the African nation may not have the firepower it desperately needs to keep up in the group. I think it will be close, but the South American squad’s talent will ultimately be too much.
To come out of CONMEBOL that has the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, it’s certainly not the same as finishing first in a group involving Congo, Togo, and Namibia. With that extra bonus of having matches played against elite talent, expect Enner Valencia and company to have the advantage.
Group B (England – Iran – USA – Wales)
1st – England
2nd – USA
3rd – Wales
4th – Iran
England looked to struggle at times in 2022 but when comparing who is in their group, they are still a class above, and it will show as they breeze to the top spot in Group B, and potentially make back-to-back World Cup semifinal appearances.
They’re loaded with talent in multiple areas, including Declan Rice, Phil Foden, and Mason Mount anchoring the midfield, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling ready to produce multiple goals, and a back line of Kyle Walker and John Stones that only allowed three goals throughout World Cup qualifying.
In terms of who finishes second, it’s quite the toss-up. Despite Iran finishing in their qualifying group in the top spot, they’re looked at as the weakest compared to the U.S. and Wales. Apart from rising star Mehdi Taremi of Portugal’s FC Porto, they don’t have enough players who compete on the biggest of stages to potentially make an impact.
This will really come down to a battle between the United States and Wales. The USA are making their return to the World Cup after missing out on qualifying in 2018, while Wales are back on the biggest stage since their debut in 1958.
America might have the better team in terms of depth and talent, but they don’t have a game changer that can flip the script on a dime like Gareth Bale. The United States have elite talent in players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah, however their qualifying record left a lot to be desired, plus if they finished with one less point, they would’ve needed to win an inter-confederation play-off to get in.
It’s hard to be sold that the U.S. squad is ready to compete with the big boys, as they have yet to prove their worth, however the match between the Americans and Wales will be the determining factor as to who qualifies with England out of this group. A positive outcome, and we will be seeing them once again in the Round of 16.
Group C (Argentina – Saudi Arabia – Mexico – Poland)
1st – Argentina
2nd – Poland
3rd – Mexico
4th – Saudi Arabia
It’s potentially Lionel Messi’s last attempt at World Cup glory, and he has quite the supporting cast to capture that trophy: Lautaro Martinez, Nicolas Otamendi, Paulo Dybala, Emiliano Martinez, Angel Di Maria, Julian Alvarez. They’re one of the top contenders to win it all this year.
They went undefeated in CONMEBAL qualifying with only six draws, and finally delivered on silverware as they defeated Brazil in the Copa America final last summer, their first trophy since 1993. Argentina should breeze their way to the last 16 whilst Poland and Mexico battle for a second-round berth.
Mexico is having a bit of an identity crisis regarding the changing of the old guard. They’ve been unable to replace their aging core of players adequately with sufficient quality, and that resulted in going winless in their four qualifying matches against Canada and the USA.
But maybe it isn’t a bad thing having many seasoned veterans on the squad that have been at a World Cup. Andres Guardado, Hirving Lozano, Hector Moreno, just to name a few. Plus, if you like heroes, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will be one to keep an eye on to produce stunning saves once again.
On the flip side, Poland have one of the world’s top strikers in Robert Lewandowski alone, not to mention goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and forward Arkadiusz Milik. They are more in-tune to that of Mexico, and look to have just enough more talent to claim second place easily, but keep in mind Mexico have moved on from the group stage in each of their last eight World Cup appearances and want to finally break the dreaded streak of never making a quarterfinal appearance since 1986.
Saudi Arabia simply are the weaklings of the group as they don’t have the talent to compete with the others, although taking a point or two from Mexico or Poland shouldn’t be out of the question.
Group D (France – Australia – Denmark – Tunisia)
1st – France
2nd – Denmark
3rd – Australia
4th – Tunisia
Despite having some gremlins in their play during 2022, France is another serious title contender and the reigning champions. The 1998 and 2018 winners are back once again with a squad oozing star status and talent.
They won’t have their midfield lynchpins in N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba due to injury, but with a roster featuring Hugo Lloris, Antoine Griezmann, Kingsley Coman, William Saliba, Kylian Mbappe, and the recent Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, it’s just too one-sided.
Denmark is one of my two dark horse teams to make noise and go far in the tournament, along with Portugal. They were minutes away from potentially making the Euro 2020 final last year, and arguably could’ve beaten Italy for the trophy. The Danes were also on fire in World Cup qualifying, only conceding three goals, and losing one game.
Their roster may not be as elite compared to the French, but it’s their teamwork and pride that far outpace most of the countries. Not sure if France and Denmark are tired of seeing each other on the pitch, but they were put in the same group in Russia back in 2018, and Denmark won both matches against France in UEFA Nations League games this year.
Australia seems to always make opponents nervous, but along with Tunisia, they do not have the depth and talent to produce an upset this time around.
Group E (Spain – Costa Rica – Germany – Japan)
1st – Germany
2nd – Spain
3rd – Japan
4th – Costa Rica
Germany is out for redemption after crashing out of the group stage in the 2018 World Cup after becoming champions in the previous edition. In their 10 qualifying matches, they were victorious in nine with only one defeat, conceding only four goals. They still have one of the best squads at the tournament, and with a lineup including Serge Gnabry, Thomas Muller, and Manuel Neuer, a trip back to at least the quarterfinals shouldn’t be far-fetched.
Spain haven’t been the dominating force that it once was between 2008-2012. From winning the 2008 and 2012 Euros and lifting their first World Cup in 2010, to being eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup only reaching the Round of 16 the following tournament and the 2016 European Championship.
They’re slowly recapturing that same level of dominance, evidenced by reaching the 2020 Euro semifinals. A mix of young and old litter the roster, with Sergio Busquets being one of the more well-known vets, with Gavi and Pedri being the next rising stars. They’re certainly good enough to finish in the top half of this group, perhaps even taking the top spot, however a second World Cup may be out of reach.
Costa Rica or Japan is interesting to watch because they can certainly cause fits. Will Costa Rica bring the same magic they did in 2014 when they were a penalty shootout away from the semifinals? Can Japan go a step further from the World Cup and reach the quarterfinals? They certainly have the talent and creativity, however in this group it will be hard to give the Europeans much trouble.
Group F (Belgium – Canada – Morocco – Croatia)
1st – Belgium
2nd – Croatia
3rd – Canada
4th – Morocco
For those that love action and drama, this group may be the one to keep track of. Predicting the order of how each team will finish is not easy, however the country with the best chance at first place would be Belgium, simply because of their talent compared to the rest.
2018 was arguably a better squad, but most from that team are on the plane to Qatar, so players like Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois will be the focal points of a Belgium squad that aren’t quite cup-contenders but can certainly go far, perhaps make it back-to-back semifinal berths.
Choosing who finishes second is extremely tough. Croatia is the majority choice, as they were finalists in 2018 and have the talent to possibly make another long run. Veteran leaders Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic will be key to their success. And while Morocco will not be a cakewalk, they may not keep up with their opponents, but will certainly steal points.
Our neighbors to the north in Canada are no scrubs either. Their first World Cup appearance since 1986, they will be relying on the speed of fullback Alphonso Davies, the scoring of Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, and the grizzled leadership of Atiba Hutchinson. They didn’t finish CONCACAF qualifying in first on a fluke. They could legit advance to the next round, so this group should be fun to watch.
Group G (Brazil – Serbia – Switzerland – Cameroon)
1st – Brazil
2nd – Switzerland
3rd – Serbia
4th – Cameroon
Like their South American rivals Argentina, Brazil are the favorites in both their group and in the tournament. Winners of five World Cup titles, they are coming in as one of the hottest teams, only dropping points in qualifying on three occasions, and only losing once in the last few years (which happened to be against Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final). Elite is an understatement when it comes to describing the squad talent.
Everywhere you look, style and finesse are in abundance. Having to choose between Alisson and Ederson for who should start in goal is a good issue to have. defenders like Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, midfielders such as Fabinho, Casemiro, and Fred, and attackers (and boy are there a lot of them) like Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Antony, and Vinicius Junior.
There was a lot to be desired by Brazil in recent World Cup’s, however you can never count them out, and this is as good a chance as ever to capture their unprecedented sixth World Cup trophy.
In terms of second, it will go down between the two European nations of Serbia and Switzerland. Dusan Tadic and Dusan Vlahovic have become the face of this Serbian side and will look to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. However, despite being evenly matched on paper, Switzerland are given a slight edge due to having history on its side.
Not only do they have more experienced players in Granit Xhaka and Xherdian Shaqiri, but are also more accomplished, having advanced through the group stage in the 2018 World Cup and to the quarterfinal in the 2020 Euro, while Serbia have struggled in recent additions of both tournaments.
Despite qualifying out of Africa defeating arguably better sides in Ivory Coast and Algeria, Cameroon is the odd man out here, and will hope to at least score points.
Group H (Portugal – Ghana – Uruguay – Korea Republic)
1st – Uruguay
2nd – Portugal
3rd – Korea Republic
4th – Ghana
Like Group F, this group can go a different number of ways. With the recent announcement that Heung-min Son will be playing in Qatar despite questions regarding his recent injury, South Korea are now back with a chance to advance. They famously upset Germany in 2018 by defeating them in their group, which resulted in the Germans going home early, so can lightning strike twice and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal become victims?
Trying to predict outcome with the other three teams gets interesting. Ghana is not looked at as a contender in the group but playing spoilers will cause a lot of tense action. Couple of good players in the squad in Thomas Partey and Jordan Ayew, but not enough talent in other areas to overcome Portugal and Uruguay but may be able to stick around and make it interesting.
Team to Watch:
Portugal is in interesting team to watch, as they can either crash and burn in the group stage or become one of the dark horses to make it to the final. Just because of a certain player named Cristiano Ronaldo, or like Messi may also be attending his last World Cup and isn’t quite the player he was in previous years, he is still quite effective and still among the best players in the world. Talent is spread out amongst the squad, with Joao Cancelo anchoring the back line, plus Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva in the middle controlling the tempo. They should in theory be a quarterfinal team, but it’s a coin toss as to how effective they will be.
Uruguay has the talent and mental toughness to keep Portugal on the edge of their pants. Being one of the most physical in the tournament, they also have the veteran leadership of defender Diego Godin, plus Lucas Torreira and Rodrigo Betancur as midfielders. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are no longer youngsters, however one player in Darwin Nunez will happily take the mantle of being the next big striker, but with all three they can be deadly in front of goal.
Expect a gritty, face-in-the-mud style of play. The Portuguese will have a score to settle with their South American foes, as they were eliminated in the Round of 16 back in 2018, however Uruguay will edge out the Portuguese in the group for first place to keep the status quo.
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)