While it may be a bit unusual to have soccer’s marquee event taking place during the (Northern hemisphere) winter, the 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us. For roughly a month, all eyes will be on Qatar and the global spectacle that is international football. Whether you’re a diehard fan or just someone who’s looking forward to the chance to slack off and watch sports in the office, we’ll be in the same boat.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Group A. You’ve probably heard of the countries involved, at least from a geographical perspective, and you might know a thing or two about their footballing heritage, but how will things shake out on the ground?
We’ve got you covered.
World Cup Group A Logistics: Who’s in the group, and when are the matches?
As is tradition, the host nation occupies the first spot in Group A. That means Qatar will be matched up with Ecuador, the Netherlands, and Senegal. The group’s matches will unfold as follows:
- Qatar vs. Ecuador, November 20
- Senegal vs. Netherlands, November 21
- Qatar vs. Senegal, November 25
- Netherlands vs. Ecuador, November 25
- Ecuador vs. Senegal, November 29
- Netherlands vs. Qatar, November 29
As usual, the top two teams out of the group will advance to the knockout rounds.
Now that we’ve got those logistics out of the way, let’s get into the teams.
Qatar is probably better than you think, but don’t expect too many miracles
If you were asked to rank the world’s great soccer powers, Qatar (with all due respect) wouldn’t even enter the conversation. This World Cup, however, is a chance for them to prove how they stack up against some big-time opponents.
While international fans probably won’t know anyone on the squad — they all play domestically within Qatar — the Maroon do have some recent success. They won the 2019 Asian Cup, upsetting South Korea and Japan en route to the title.
With that being said, though, don’t expect too much of a Cinderella story here. Qatar shouldn’t be completely embarrassed and might even secure a surprise result during pool play, but we’re not going to see the hosts make a run like South Korea did in 2002 when they reached the semifinals on their own turf.
Ecuador will have some names Premier League fans will know, but they’re lacking top-end talent
Next, we hit Ecuador. They’re a step above Qatar, both in terms of talent and name recognition, but, again, they shouldn’t be causing too many big-picture problems in Group A.
While some of La Tri’s talent plays domestically, most of their names ply their trade in Europe. Premier League fans will know Pervis Estupiñán, Moisés Caicedo, and Jeremy Sarmiento from Brighton. Enner Valencia, who spent some time with West Ham and Everton, captains the squad and will likely start most matches as their striker.
On that note, Caicedo is really the man to watch. Brighton, like Ecuador, might not be the flashiest team around, but the central midfielder has shone with the Seagulls. He’s been linked to moves to bigger clubs, and if he shines in Qatar, his price tag will only climb.
Caicedo, however, also highlights Ecuador’s biggest issue: They simply lack top-end talent. While they’ve got some nice players and pulled off some impressive results in CONMEBOL qualifying, there isn’t enough star power to move the needle. A 20-year-old midfielder with nine goals during his professional career simply can’t be a team’s main man. Similarly, Valencia, for all his work in the Turkish league, isn’t exactly going to terrify at age 33.
Expect some scrappy games but limited results here.
Senegal possesses both top-end talent and tournament experience
In a tournament like the World Cup, there isn’t much margin for error. That places emphasis on either top-end talent or big-game experience. Luckily for Senegal, they have both.
In regards to the former part of the equation, the Lions of Teranga have big names in each part of the pitch. Edouard Mendy may have lost the starting job at Chelsea, but he should keep the gloves for his national team behind club teammate Kalidou Koulibaly. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyaté will anchor the midfield, and Sadio Mane leads the attack. There are also some promising younger names like Ismaïla Sarr and Pape Matar Sarr on the bench.
And on the experience front, Senegal are also looking good. The nation appeared in the 2018 World Cup and has since put in two strong showings in the African Cup of Nations, finishing second in 2019 and winning the tournament in 2021. When the chips are down, being able to say “been there, done that” can only help.
That all combines to make the Lions of Teranga a legitimate presence in Group A. While it remains to be seen how they’ll fare against the Netherlands, they have a good shot of making it to the knockout rounds.
The Netherlands are back at the World Cup and prepared to prove a point
With their historical track record — few nations have been as influential on global football as the Netherlands — it was unthinkable for the Oranje to miss the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup.
In 2022 the story is different.
When things kick off in Qatar, the Netherlands will be present and boast an incredibly talented squad. Virgil van Dijk has struggled a bit recently, but he’s still one of the best defenders in the world; he should only look better alongside Matthijs de Ligt (or Nathan Ake, Jurriën Timber, or whoever else fits into a probable back-three). Frenkie de Jong is an elite midfielder — provided you can find the proper role for him — and some talented young players like Ryan Gravenberch, Cody Gakpo, and Xavi Simons could make the squad.
With that being said, though, some questions are looming over the Oranje. For all their collective talent, there isn’t an elite striker to hang your metaphorical hat on. Memphis Depay will probably start in that role, and someone like Wout Weghorst or Luuk de Jong can provide a change of pace off the bench, but things can get tight in pool play. Failing to take a single opportunity can be the difference between an easy road to the title and a tougher path as the second-place team.
It’s also worth considering how manager Louis van Gaal will handle this tournament. He’s managed the international team before and has posted a good record since assuming the post, but he’s also a control freak who wants his teams to play in a very specific way. Can he make that happen in Qatar? Or, perhaps more crucially, can he handle it when things inevitably go off-script?
2022 World Cup Group A prediction: The Netherlands and Senegal Advance
In complete fairness, I’m not really going out on a limb here. The Dutch and Senegalese squads are both superior to Ecuador and Qatar. Is there always the possibility of an upset? Yes, but when we’re only talking about three matches in a tournament setting, talent ultimately does matter.
It will be worth watching, however, how those top two teams grapple for first place in the pool. Their one head-to-head meeting will obviously play a massive role, but, as I mentioned, Qatar and Ecuador aren’t complete slouches. A dropped point in one of those “easier” matches can make all the difference.
Based on that reality, I give Senegal the slight edge in this group. They may lack the top-tier talent of the Netherlands, but I like their big-game experience to save the day. The Dutch won’t exactly limp to the finish line, but I have a tiny bit less trust in them.
That leaves us with the following Group A standings:
- The Netherlands
Now, let’s see what happens when they actually hit the pitch.
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