by Hayden Krzyzanowski
With another World Cup just around the corner, many international players are preparing for one of the toughest tournaments of their lives. The Qatari-ran World Cup runs from November 20th to December 18th, which is smack-dab in the middle of the season for the majority of players. All the top leagues have adjusted their season schedules to prepare for this, but the repercussions on these players are immense. Some players that could play for their countries have the potential of playing upwards of 78 games this season. The groups have been drawn and matches set. It’s all going down as there are many thoughts as to how each side will set up and what we could see happen come November and December time.
Starting with Group A, we see the Africa Cup of Nations winners Senegal with hosts Qatar alongside Ecuador and Netherlands. Realistically, I don’t see Qatar or Ecuador making it out of the group even if it would be cool to. Both teams aren’t exactly up to par with the others in their group, so if they do end up moving on, it’ll be a fairytale story. The Dutch Power with Frenkie De Jong, Cody Gakpo, and Denzel Dumfries look strong coming out of the UEFA Nations League, and making it through shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Senegal’s team has a solid chance of making a deeper run in this tournament, regardless of the stronger teams ahead of them. Coached by Senegal legend Aliou Cisse, this team has defied the majority of expectations and that will continue as long as Ismaila Sarr, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Edouard Mendy can stay healthy until the World Cup.
Group A Predicted Standings (1-4): Senegal, Netherlands, Ecuador, Qatar
Group B takes an interesting twist. England, USA, Iran, and Wales all face off with one another as the headliner of England vs. the USA will take place on Black Friday. England will snag that top spot pretty comfortably as long as they don’t do what they did in the Nations League from the most recent international break, which was awful, to say the least. Gareth Southgate’s job will come down to his performance in this tournament and if the results don’t pan out, expect a change in coach (Go get Graham Potter!!). The USA and Wales will fight it out for that second spot. The US, facing a similar problem to England in the coaching ability, will struggle if Greg Berhalter can’t get anything going offensively. Christian Pulisic and his cohort will have the task of purely just making sure things click and potentially rescuing themselves something and making it to the knockouts. Wales on the other hand will come in with nothing to lose after struggling in the 2018 World Cup Playoffs and just barely making it out of the group stages in the 2020/2021 Euros. Gareth Bale and company have a job on their hands to get something moving and hopefully will see the knockout stages at the end of it.
Group B Predicted Standings (1-4): England, USA, Wales, Iran
Group C is where we will see Messi start his final World Cup adventure as he confirmed this will be his last over social media and in press conferences in early October. Argentina takes on Poland, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia in Group C where the Saudis are expected to crash out, but that second spot in this group is all up for grabs. Poland and Mexico are going to see their match most likely be the decider on who makes it through to the knockouts. Both are aging sides with some decent youth talent coming through that could make the difference as long as both coaches take them to Qatar. I don’t personally see either team having an issue making that second spot, but Poland is purely the more versatile and interchangeable with who they play each game. Argentina has an aging attack with Messi, Di Maria, and Dybala. But youth talents such as Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez will drive them to that next level again, even when Messi leaves soccer for good. Overall, this group is expected to give potential upset and make a lot of people unhappy with the potential outcome.
Group C Predicted Standings (1-4): Argentina, Poland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia
Group D sees the 2018 World Cup champions France take on Australia, Denmark, and Tunisia. This group is going to be one of the few to keep your eyes on. The expectation is that France will crash out. Now, I say this because of past World Cups. Most winners crash out in the group stages due to a superstition that was set years ago and it hasn’t been broken since. France is still an incredibly strong side with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema leading the line for the Frenchmen, but I don’t see them going through and the Australians upsetting big time. They weren’t supposed to make it into the group stages, but with a little bit of luck from an aging goalkeeper, they made it here and I have a gut feeling they will come out firing on all cylinders. Denmark has been a consistently strong team, featuring the likes of Christian Eriksen, Mikkel Damsgaard, and Simon Kjaer. They will have little to prove as I see them fighting for the top spot in the group.
Group D Predicted Standings (1-4): Denmark, Australia, France, Tunisia
The next 4 groups are incredibly unpredictable as injuries have hampered all of their movement coming into this tournament. But Group E sees Spain, Germany, Japan, and Costa Rica fighting it all out for the two spots in the knockouts. Realistically, Spain and Germany will fire themselves into the knockouts purely due to their young talent coming through and how well they are linking together. Japan and Costa Rica are fighting on the back foot to see where they can make a dent in either Spain’s or Germany’s run to the knockouts. Japan has a really unique way of playing that heavily relies on tiki-taka play and quick, agile movements from their forwards. Costa Rica has many experienced talents that will be on full showcase here as they look to just cause the other three sides some damage. Talents such as Yeremi Pino (Spain) and Jamal Musiala (Germany) are going to be highlighted players through the tournament to see which will make a bigger impact on their country. Simply put, this group will have action, drama, and entertainment value across the group stages in early November.
Group E Predicted Standings (1-4): Germany, Spain, Japan, Costa Rica
Group F contains Belgium, Morocco, Croatia, and Canada, which is arguably one of the hardest groups from this selection. Belgium has slowly taken steps back from their dominance in 2018 when it was going to be difficult to beat them as they were the #1 team in the world. They now sit just behind Brazil in 2nd. Croatia hasn’t gotten any younger since their World Cup run last time around, making it to the finals and unfortunately losing 4-2 to France. Luka Modric is now 36 and hitting that age where his legs purely don’t work as they used to before, but he can still ping a pass from anywhere on the field. Their attack and goalkeeping are depleted due to injury at this current moment, however, I don’t see it being too much of a problem as long as they can keep Canada quiet. Morocco and Canada have slightly younger teams that are just vying to make a ripple effect in this group. Canada is the more likely of the two purely because this is the first World Cup they have participated in since 1986. I expect this to be a close group points-wise purely to how desperate all of them are to prove a point in this World Cup.
Group F Predicted Standings (1-4): Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Morocco
Group G is another one of those groups fighting it out for that second spot. The expectation is that Brazil takes the top spot while Serbia, Switzerland, and Cameroon do what they can to put off Brazil and put themselves in a better position. Brazil has their young talents and current talents fighting it out for spots on the roster which is giving head coach Tite a headache. Expect Neymar, Vinicius Jr, and co. to have a little too much fun in this group as they look to find old foes Germany in some revenge for their devastating 7-1 loss to them in 2014. Serbia and Switzerland have strong rosters that will most likely make them the ones to fight for the second spot. Serbia’s Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will be in for a long one as Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Denis Zakaria attempt to maintain their dominance within world competitions.
Group G Predicted Standings (1-4): Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon
Group H has the final four teams Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana. Portugal and Uruguay will be fighting it out for the top 2 spots. As much as I want to give credit to South Korea and Ghana for making it here, their quality isn’t as good as the other two. Portugal has been on the rise with their youth talents coming through within the Portuguese league and showing out on the European Club level. Uruguay has some interesting talents coming through their ranks as well, but Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani will be seeing their last world cup as both of them are 35+ years old and frankly will be replaced by 2026. South Korea has Heung-Min Son and Kim Min-Jae as their standout players and Ghana is slowly getting talent in like Inaki Williams of Athletic Bilbao and Thomas Partey of Arsenal. Going to be a fun group to watch due to the large talent pool, but don’t expect anything too crazy.
Group H Predicted Standings (1-4): Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, South Korea
Finalizing all this, the knockout stages will be something special to watch as we will see many older players take their last steps in a FIFA World Cup and many younger talents take their first into a new world of international football. I have been rather reserved about who I believe is going to take the prized Jules Rimet Trophy, which has been simply named the World Cup trophy. But, my prediction is that Brazil will take it home purely due to its quality, talent, and flexibility across all positions. The coverage for this tournament will be crazy and expect so many upsets that will shock the world come November 20th.