South Africa in 2010 had been the one World Cup hosts to fail to make it by means of the group stage. Assessing the type of hosts, who haven’t needed to play in qualifiers, is rarely simple however Qatar’s string of heavy defeats by Portugal, Eire and Serbia final autumn, adopted by a draw in opposition to Azerbaijan raises considerations. They did, although, win the Asian Cup underneath their Spanish coach, Félix Sánchez, in 2019.
They’ll start the match in opposition to Ecuador, who reached their fourth World Cup regardless of shedding six of 18 qualifiers.
The very best aspect within the group are in all probability the Netherlands, after they had been dragged from the roiling disaster of the previous seven years by the reappointment of Louis van Gaal, who led them to 3rd in Brazil in 2014.
Aliou Cissé’s well-organised and bodily imposing Senegal are the African champions regardless of at instances struggling to attain the objectives their attacking expertise suggests they may.
Semi-finalists on the final World Cup, finalists on the Euros, can England go a step additional and win a match for the primary time since 1966? Actually they need to have the squad for it and in Gareth Southgate they’ve a clear-sighted, sober chief who has proven how a supportive surroundings might be created; the doubt is whether or not he’s fast sufficient to react tactically when video games start to slide away from his aspect.
The USA could also be one of many much less threatening of the second pot of seeds, however England have did not beat them in two earlier World Cup conferences.
Iran add a component of political intrigue, and beat the USA in 1998. Their Croatian coach, Dragan Skocic, has made them stable fairly than spectacular, 10 video games within the third qualifying part yielding solely 15 objectives for and 4 in opposition to.
Scotland, Wales or Ukraine will make up the group after they conclude their delayed playoff.
The times when Lionel Messi underperformed for his nation whereas successful every part along with his membership are lengthy gone. Since inspiring Argentina to the Copa América final 12 months he has change into a participant far simpler at worldwide degree. Having ended Argentina’s 28-year trophy drought, might he cap an impressive profession with a World Cup? Lionel Scaloni’s aspect may lack the star high quality of some earlier Argentina squads however they give the impression of being significantly better balanced.
Argentina will come up in opposition to a former supervisor in Gerardo Martino, whose skilled Mexico discovered qualification one thing of a slog with solely two factors taken from the 4 video games in opposition to the USA and Canada. Poland’s playoff win over Sweden prompt they’re fairly extra than simply Robert Lewandowski plus 10 others. Saudi Arabia are grimly constant underneath Hervé Renard, the one coach ever to win the Africa Cup of Nations with two totally different international locations. They conceded a single objective of their 10 third-phase group video games.
No nation has something approaching the depth of the world champions. The query with France actually is over the wilful dourness of their coach, Didier Deschamps. It’s simple, after all, for outsiders to attraction for higher leisure and to wonder if a crop of gamers this gifted won’t be producing extra memorable soccer, however the efficiency on the final Euros prompt that Deschamps’s warning could also be counterproductive.
Jalel Kadri changed Mondher Kebaier as Tunisia coach after the Cup of Nations and loads of his squad have expertise of enjoying in France. The larger menace to France will come from Denmark, who gained 9 of their 10 qualifiers and have developed right into a progressive and well-organised aspect with a ferocious workforce spirit cast partially within the aftermath of Christian Eriksen’s collapse of their first sport at Euro 2020.
The group will likely be accomplished by the UAE, Australia or Peru.
There’s no doubting probably the most instantly engaging tie of the group stage: the conflict of the 2010 and 2014 champions as Spain face Germany. After two dismal World Cup performances in a row, there’s a sense that Spain are constructing once more underneath Luis Enrique as he has launched a extra direct fashion.
For Germany, the final World Cup was a serious embarrassment, defeat to South Korea leading to a primary spherical exit for the primary time in 80 years. Joachim Löw, who had struggled to rejuvenate his squad, in all probability ought to have left then, however hung round for a disappointing Euros. Since he has been changed by Hansi Flick, although, Germany have excelled.
Japan, who’ve a wealth of European expertise of their squad, can really feel slightly unlucky at yet one more robust draw of their seventh successive World Cup look.
The group is rounded off by the winner of the Costa Rica v New Zealand playoff.
The golden era is trying fairly previous now, however Belgium nonetheless certified undefeated from their group. The largest doubts are on the again, the place Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld could have a mixed age of 69 by the point the World Cup begins. Morocco are the fourth aspect Vahid Halilhodzic has led to the World Cup finals, however this could be the third time the famously tough coach has misplaced his job earlier than attending to the finals.
Though Morocco had appeared maybe the perfect attacking aspect within the group stage on the Cup of Nations, he’s feuding with Hakim Ziyech and is wildly unpopular.
Croatia benefited from a comparatively easy qualifying group, however the runners-up of 4 years in the past stay harmful as long as Luka Modric defies age. Canada’s solely earlier look got here in 1986, however this squad is a completely totally different degree, led by Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Jonathan David of Lille.
It’s 20 years since Brazil had been the final non-European winner of a World Cup and once more they’re certainly one of maybe two non-European sides who may realistically be thought-about able to success. Passing unbeaten by means of Conmebol qualifying is a outstanding achievement and Tite is a powerful coach, however the final World Cup and the quarter-final exit in opposition to Belgium was a reminder of the risks of relying an excessive amount of on Neymar.
The group is maybe finest described as awkward fairly than intimidating. Switzerland, now underneath Murat Yakin, are stable however over-reliant on Breel Embolo, whereas Dragan Stojkovic’s Serbia have attacking expertise in Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Luka Jovic, however saved only one clear sheet of their eight qualifiers.
Cameroon fairly scrambled by means of, because of the traditional magic meaning they’ll by no means lose to Algeria, and Rigobert Music’s aspect lean closely on the objectives of Vincent Aboubakar.
That is maybe the toughest group to name. It feels as if there are extra questions than solutions about Portugal who, regardless of ending behind Serbia within the group, certified comfortably sufficient, beating Turkey and North Macedonia within the playoffs. However there are doubts over Fernando Santos’s cautious techniques and the perfect permutation of their array of attacking expertise. Uruguay are resurgent, having gained all 4 qualifiers since Diego Alonso changed Óscar Tabárez, whose 15-year reign as coach finally ran out of steam final 12 months.
South Korea certified convincingly underneath the previous Portugal coach Paulo Bento, successful seven and drawing two of 10 third-phase qualifiers. Ghana had been desperately poor on the Cup of Nations and topped their qualifying group thanks solely to a extremely debatable penalty in opposition to South Africa earlier than beating Nigeria of their playoff on away objectives. However the arrival of Otto Addo, initially as interim coach, introduced calmness and resolve even within the cauldron of Abuja.