World Cup 2022 Groups A-D preview: analysis and predictions

Ahead of Qatar 2022 kicking off this weekend, The Offside Rule Podcast look at the first four groupsand bring you Lynsey Hooper and Kait Borsay’s tips for the top two teams to progress to the last 16. Spoiler alert: England will top Group B! Read on for more…

Embed from Getty Images

Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

The hosts get the ball rolling with their tournament opener against Ecuador on Sunday night, but it’ll be a tough ask for them to get out of the group. Although they beat Bulgaria and held Slovenia and Chile to draws earlier this year, they lack the big-stage experience that’s required to progress. Four of rivals Ecuador’s last five games have ended in goalless draws, so a lack of firepower will hold them back. However, last year’s Copa America quarter-finalists are the most likely to threaten Senegal for second place after securing impressive 1-1 draws with two tournament favourites, Brazil and Argentina, in qualifying.

Senegal are captained by centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, who leads a talented squad that also features Chelsea team-mate Edouard Mendy and former Liverpool star Sadio Mane. But they’ve been dealt a huge blow after top scorer Mane was ruled out of the World Cup with a leg injury he picked up playing for Bayern Munich last week. Still on a high from winning the African Cup of Nations last year, Senegal can draw on their recent cup win to claim second place and give the Netherlands real competition. Louis van Gaal’s squad will be desperate to make up for failing to qualify for France 2018 and are our tip for top spot. While the three-time runners up hold the dubious record of being the nation that’s reached the most finals without winning, they have never failed to make it out of the groups. Captain Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong et al will make sure they maintain that unblemished record.

Lynsey’s top two: Netherlands and Senegal. Kait’s top two: Netherlands and Senegal.

How will the teams in Group A finish?

Predict how the World Cup will unfold with the Opta Million and win $1 million.

Embed from Getty Images

Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales

England may not have had the best preparation for the World Cup after their poor Nations League showing saw them slump to defeats by Hungary and Italy (before drawing 3-3 with old foes Germany), yet it’s only made them more determined to shine in Qatar. Dubbed by some as the ‘Group of Death’ because it’s the only quartet featuring nations all ranked in Fifa’s top 20, we still don’t foresee problems here — not with in-form Harry Kane spearheading the attack. The pressure is on Gareth Southgate to ensure they reach the business end of the tournament — but when is the heat not on England at major tournaments? As always, how they handle that is key to success, but the Euro 2020 runners up should claim top spot in Group B. With the Lionesses winning the country’s first major trophy since 1966, it’s now over to the men’s team…

They’ll be challenged by home nations rivals Wales, making their big showdown on Tuesday, November 29 the must-see game of the group. England edged it 2-1 the last time the sides faced off at Euro 2016 and we expect it to be another close encounter this time around. The Dragons will, once again, look to talisman Gareth Bale — who was on the scoresheet six years ago — after he declared himself fully fit this week. But now 33 and lacking game time, will he make the same impact as before?

Wales can also expect to compete with a youthful, new-look USA in the race for second place. The Americans arrive in Qatar with a point to prove — none more so than defender Cameron Carter-Vickers who’s earned his stripes at Celtic after failing to make an impact at Spurs. While midfielder Christian Pulisic and winger Timothy Weah have both spoken of their desire for the competition to be a watershed moment for this young squad that has an average age of 25 years and 175 days. They may not be the powerhouse that’s the USA women’s team, but underestimate them at your peril. Another nation that could cause some headaches is Iran, whose eight wins out of 10 saw them top their final qualifying group. Rivals will need to beware their potent goal threat that comes from Bayer Leverkusen ace Sardar Azmoun and Porto’s prolific big-game forward Mehdi Taremi, who won’s Goal of the Season and a nomination for the 2021 Puskas Award for his stunning overhead kick against Chelsea in the Champions League just two seasons ago.

Lynsey’s top two: England and USA. Kait’s top two: England and Wales.

How will the teams in Group B finish?

Predict how the World Cup will unfold with the Opta Million and win $1 million.

Embed from Getty Images

Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Two-time champions Argentina are one of the hot favourites to lift their first World Cup since 1986. With a revitalised, fully-fit Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and young Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez all on the scoresheet in their 5-0 thrashing of the United Arab Emirates in their final warm-up friendly yesterday, the attacking threat is clear. That took their astonishing winning run to 36 games, boosting belief that this close-knit group can make up for their bruising last-16 exit to France four years ago. Football romantics would love to see the little genius Messi finally win the World Cup after coming so close in 2014. At 35, there’s little chance he’ll compete in 2026, so it really is now or never…

Their opening game rivals Saudi Arabia are also looking to make progress from their group exit in 2018, but it’s hard to see who they’ll take points off here. The underdogs can take heart from the fact they beat Japan and Australia on the way to topping their third qualifying group and are tight at the back — and they’ll need to be defensively sound from the off on Tuesday night. But it’s Mexico and Poland that we expect to give Argentina a run for their money.

Mexico are making an eighth straight appearance at the World Cup, although it’s been decades since the high of reaching the quarter-finals in 1986. In more recent years, they have failed to make it out of the groups. Wolves star Raul Jimenez will be hoping to change that, despite only just returning from a three-month injury lay-off, alongside the considerable talents of Napoli forward Hirving Lozano and Sevilla winger Jesus Manuel Corona. Poland, meanwhile, will be looking to their all-time top scorer Robert Lewandowski to help fire them to second place. The Barcelona striker, 34, is another ageing star desperate to make his mark on the big stage and an intriguing battle with legend Messi is in store at the end of the month. Lewandowski’s yet to find the net at a World cup after Poland suffered a shock group-stage exit at France 2018, but we can see La Liga’s current top scorer putting that right here.

Lynsey’s top two: Argentina and Poland. Kait’s top two: Argentina and Mexico.

How will the teams in Group C finish?

Predict how the World Cup will unfold with the Opta Million and win $1 million.

Embed from Getty Images

Group D: France (holders), Australia, Denmark, Tunisia

Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema’s one of six La Liga stars in a France squad that also boasts our tip for the Golden Boot, PSG star Kylian Mbappe. But the injury-hit defending champions will be without RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku — who picked up a leg injury after being tackled by Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga in training this week — N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba. Still, we expect Les Bleus to top Group D with ease and put up a strong defence of their title. Dark horses Denmark can finish second behind France, just like they did in 2018, but go even further than the last-16 shootout defeat to Croatia after reaching the Euro 2020 semi-finals. Fans will also be delighted to see Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen shine on the big stage following his cardiac arrest last year.

Scotland may have failed to reach the World Cup but they’ll no doubt be lending their support to Australia, with a Scottish Premiership contingent of composed Celtic ace Aaron Mooy, Hibs forward Martin Boyle and midfielders Keanu Baccus of St Mirren and Hearts’ Cammy Devlin. Another team determined to change perceptions about football in their country, the Socceroos will be looking to improve their record against familiar foes France and Denmark after finishing bottom of their group when drawn together in 2018. They’ll be in direct competition with Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finalists Tunisia to avoid finishing bottom. The North Africans are in defiant mood after topping their qualifying group and hope Ferencvaros midfielder Aissa Laidouni pulls the strings in their opener against Denmark on Tuesday night.

Lynsey’s top two: France and Denmark. Kait’s top two: France and Denmark.

How will the teams in Group D finish?

Predict how the World Cup will unfold with the Opta Million and win $1 million.

Follow The Offside Rule Podcast on Twitter @OffsideRulePod

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: