World Cup 2022 Groups E-H preview: analysis and predictions

The Offside Rule Podcast run the rule over the second half of the groups — plus founders Lynsey Hooper and Kait Borsay are back with their tips for the top two teams to progress to the knockouts.

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Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan

For us, this fearsome quartet is the real ‘Group of Death’. Luis Enrique’s glittering Spain side will face stiff competition from four-time champions Germany, but then there’s tricky Japan and 2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica to contend with. Group E is ripe for an early shock. Resurgent Spain, who won the trophy in 2010, were knocked out of the last 16 after a dramatic shootout defeat by Russia four years ago. With an array of Barcelona stars such as Pedri and stalwart Sergio Busquets among their ranks, they have a good blend of youth and experience. Spain will be keen to avoid an early exit here, which makes their showdown with Germany on Sunday, November 27 a mouthwatering prospect.

Tournament mainstays Japan could edge their way into the last 16 for the first time in their history. They have talented players — so talented, in fact, that Celtic’s Reo Hatate and Kyogo Furuhashi were shock omissions from their final 26-man squad — who’re also industrious. Hoops team-mate Daizen Maeda did earn a place, and the Samurai Blue will look to utilise his rapid speed and intense workrate to combine with Real Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo to devastating effect in attack. Costa Rica showed what they’re made of eight years ago, when they just missed out on a place in the semis after losing on penalties to the Netherlands. Sadly, we don’t think there will be any repeat of that dream run here but look out for Sunderland’s teen sensation Jewison Bennette, 18, announcing his arrival on the big stage.

Lynsey’s top two: Spain and Germany. Kait’s top two: Germany and Japan.

How will the teams in Group E finish?

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Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

We can’t foresee Belgium, who’re second in the Fifa rankings, having any trouble progressing to the last 16. Roberto Martinez’s men have been making steady progress since reaching the quarter-finals in 2014 and then the semis four years ago. With one of the best players in the world, the irrepressible Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City, in the ranks they’ll be in the mix. They should get stronger as the competition goes on as Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku is set to return from injury for the knockouts. We suggest you mark Croatia v Belgium on Thursday, December 1 in your diary.

This is likely to be midfield maestro Luka Modric’s last hurrah but, then, maybe not if his club form for Real Madrid is anything to go by. Still pulling the strings in La Liga and the Champions League, leaving much younger men in his wake, the seemingly unstoppable 37-year-old will be as influential as ever here. Expect Celtic right-back Josip Juranovic, who has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Parkhead, to put himself in the shop window as Croatia look to go one better than their 2018 runners up finish.

Canada have only made one previous World Cup appearance in the 1980s but were impressive in qualifying after finishing top ahead of the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica in the North American section. They also beat Japan 2-1 in their final warm-up match before next Wednesday’s opener with Belgium, so they’re not to be taken lightly. While we don’t reckon they’ll progress from this tough group, we’re looking forward to seeing Bayern Munich starlet Alphonso Davies in action. Not to be outdone, Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech also caught the eye with his wonder goal from inside his own half in the 3-0 victory over Georgia in their final warm-up game. Well, he is nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ for a reason… Unfortunately, the Chelsea man won’t be able to work his magic in the last 16 as we expect the Atlas Lions to exit at the group stage for a second tournament in a row.

Lynsey’s top two: Belgium and Croatia. Kait’s top two: Belgium and Croatia.

How will the teams in Group F finish?

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Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Five-time winners Brazil may not have been in final since they last won the cup 20 years ago — but we’re tipping the bookies’ favourites to lift the gold trophy this year. As fate would have it, the top-ranked side are once again matched up with Switzerland and Serbia, recording a draw and win respectively to progress to the knockouts in 2018. But disappointment was to follow as they were dumped out of the quarter-finals 2-1 by Belgium. Now, Samba stars including PSG’s Neymar and Real Madrid’s lethal duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr will dance their way to the glittering showpiece in Doha on Sunday, December 18.

Familiar foes Serbia and Switzerland will be left to battle it out for second place in Group G. The former pipped Portugal to top spot in qualifying, thanks to Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic’s crucial eight goals, and he’s also been scoring for fun in the Nations League. He could be key against a Switzerland side that’s well placed to progress to the knockouts having done so in the previous two tournaments. RB Salzburg rising star Noah Okafor, who caught the attention of Premier League clubs after netting against Milan and Chelsea in the Champions League, will aim to make his mark on the international scene.

Cameroon may be 2021 African Cup of Nations semi-finalists, but there’s nothing in recent performances to suggest they can reach the last 16 at the expense of Serbia and Switzerland. Forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s still rattling in the goals for Bayern Munich at 33, however he’s part of an ageing national strike force with 30-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, so we expect them to quickly exit stage left.

Lynsey’s top two: Brazil and Switzerland. Kait’s top two: Brazil and Serbia.

How will the teams in Group G finish?

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Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

If Ronaldo thought he could leave the Manchester United drama behind while in Qatar, then team-mate Bruno Fernandes had other ideas after that interview. The Portugal legend was given a rather frosty reception by the playmaker this week — and the last thing manager Fernando Santos needs is tension spilling over into his squad as he aims to pip Uruguay to top spot. Avenging their narrow last-16 defeat by La Celeste in 2018 would certainly lift the mood and Portugal will get their chance in the big rematch between the sides on Monday, November 28. But two-time champions Uruguay — the first ever winners of the inaugural World Cup in 1930 — should ease into the knockouts again. Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez, 23, will prove a handful for rival defenders, along with former Reds hero Luis Suarez in attack.

Competition regulars South Korea can’t replicate their qualifying form, having only made it out of the groups on two previous occasions. They have been boosted by the news that Tottenham star Son Heung-min has recovered sufficiently from a fractured eye socket to feature in Qatar, however the masked forward’s unlikely to be able to save his team from an early exit here. Ghana’s recent form has been patchy and we can’t see them causing the kind of upset they did when they beat Serbia and the USA on their way to reaching the quarter-finals in 2010. Still, Ajax wonderkid Mohammed Kudus, 22, is one to watch as he looks to repeat his Champions League goalscoring exploits.

Lynsey’s top two: Portugal and Uruguay. Kait’s top two: Portugal and Uruguay.

How will the teams in Group H finish?

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Follow The Offside Rule Podcast on Twitter @OffsideRulePod

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