After four long years and then some, or eight if your a United States fan, the FIFA World Cup is back.
Group A play begins with the host country Qatar kicking off the tournament against Ecuador today while the Netherlands and Senegal play on Monday. We talked about the host country specifically in a separate post yesterday, and will focus on the Qatari national team here.
The Netherlands are the clear favorite but both Senegal and Ecuador are capable of making it out of the group. The Qatari team is also not untalented and could end up with a result or two as the debutantes are one of two teams in the field who have never won a World Cup game.
All eight group primers should go up several hours prior the groups first game. Why a primer and not a preview? Because I am not an expert at 32 international soccer teams and this is, as always, more a collection of helpful information for everyone to reference throughout the group stages.
Below are the TV schedules and group previews with as much up to date information as possible. All rosters are not final until the day before a teams first game and might reflect an initial roster without injury replacements.
TV SCHEDULE (all times US Eastern)
Sun, Nov. 20, Qatar vs. Ecuador 11 a.m., Al Bayt Stadium - FOX, Telemundo
Mon, Nov. 21, Senegal vs. Netherlands 11 a.m., Al Thumama Stadium - FOX, Telemundo
Fri, Nov. 25, Qatar vs. Senegal 8 a.m., Al Thumama Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Fri, Nov. 25, Netherlands vs. Ecuador 11 a.m., Khalifa Int’l Stadium - FOX, Telemundo
Tues, Nov. 29, Netherlands vs. Qatar 10 a.m., Al Bayt Stadium - FOX, Universo
Tues, Nov. 29, Ecuador vs. Senegal 10 a.m., Khalifa Int’l Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
ECUADOR [ECU/A2-Pot 4]
Head Coach: Gustavo Alfaro (ARG)
Nickname: La Tricolor
Rankings: FIFA 44 / ELO 18
Qualification: CONEMBOL 4th Place
Appearance: 4th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Ecuador’s official 26-man squad for World Cup 2022! pic.twitter.com/YRht7ll9pR— Warriors of Ecuador (@EcuadorHeroes) November 14, 2022
Recent Results: 0-0 vs Saudi Arabia; 0-0 vs Japan; 0-0 vs Iraq
Player You Should Know: FW Enner Valencia, Fenerbahce (TUR), 74 caps/35 goals
Player You Should Watch: MF Jose Cifuentes, Los Angeles FC (MLS), 10 caps/0 goals
Ecuador claimed fourth place in South American qualifying and probably could have finished in third above Uruguay but only claimed three points from three draws in their last four matches though two of those were home draws with Brazil and Argentina. This is a team that can get a result against good opposition but they’re going to need wins to make it out of the group and more importantly goals. They got out of the group in Copa America in 2021 with three draws before a 3-0 loss to Argentina in the quarters.
Valencia tallied four in qualifying but Michael Estrada led the team with six, but I’m most excited to see Cifuentes in action after his play helping MLS Cup winners LAFC. This team has a decent chance at the knockouts but I don’t think are as threatening in that stage as Senegal would be, but they will be a tough out in the group.
NETHERLANDS [NED/A4-Pot 2]
Head Coach: Louis van Gaal (NED)
Nickname: Oranje / Flying Dutchmen
Rankings: FIFA 8 / ELO 4
Qualification: UEFA Group G Winners
Appearance: 11th / Best Finish: Runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010)
Netherlands reveal their 2️⃣6️⃣-man squad for the FIFA Qatar World Cup 2022!— Sportskeeda Football (@skworldfootball) November 11, 2022
Can this nation win its first World Cup? #Netherlands #QatarWorldCup2022 #FIFAWorldCup #Qatar2022 pic.twitter.com/ABzUDdjU4u
Recent Results: UEFA Nations League, W at Poland 2-0; W vs Belgium 1-0
Players You Should Know: DEF Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool), MF Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), FW Memphis Depay (Barcelona)
Player You Should Watch: GK Remko Paseer, Ajax (NED), 2 Int’l Caps/2 Shutouts
Okay, yes the Netherlands are one of the better teams in the world and certainly one of the best Pot 2 teams that become the automatic favorite over the host country in the first group. We know the star power that the team has as I listed above but it’s 39-year-old keeper Remko Pasveer who has come out of nowhere to claim the #1 shirt for the Oranje. Beginning the year as Ajax’s third keeper, Pasveer made his international debut at the last window, posting shutout wins against Poland and Belgium to put the Netherlands into the semifinals of the UEFA Nations League. If the Netherlands continue in form as one of the best teams from Europe, you have to consider them a semifinalist contender especially if they avoid England out of Group B in the knockouts.
QATAR [QAT/A1*-Pot 1 as hosts]
Head Coach: Felix Sanchez (ESP)
Nickname: The Maroon
Rankings: FIFA 50 / ELO 48
Appearance: Debut / Best Finish: N/A
Recent Results: W 2-1 vs Panama; W 1-0 vs Albania
Player You Should Know/Watch: FWD Almoez Ali, Al-Duhail (QAT), 85 Int’l Caps/42 goals
Everything else surrounding this tournament aside, this is a Qatari team a lot of North American fans are familiar with after their semi-final run into the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year. This team is not unworthy of a World Cup spot as reigning Asian champions and Almoez Ali is a legitimate goal scoring threat and scored in both of those warmup games above. However, it’s one thing to hang with CONCACAF B+ teams and quite another to hang with some of the best in the world. This team can play spoiler in Group A for sure and perhaps get their best chance at a win in the opener against Ecuador but it’s hard to see a path into the knockouts without at least one upset victory.
SENEGAL [SEN/A3 - Pot 3]
Head Coach: Aliou Cisse (SEN)
Nickname: Lions of Teranga
Rankings: FIFA 18 / ELO 43
Qualification: CAF 2nd Rd Group H Winners, Won Aggregate Playoff vs Egypt on PKs
Appearance: 3rd / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
Aliou Cisse announced final 26-man squad for the Qatar 2022 mundial.— Nana Yaw Asare (@Drnayas) November 9, 2022
The Terenga Lion of Senegal are paired with the host Qatar, Ecuador and Netherlands in group A and they will play their opening against the Dutch!
Recent Results: W vs Bolivia 2-1; D vs Iran 1-1; Nov 15th Match vs Kazakhstan
Players You Should Know/Watch:
FWDs Sadio Mane ( Bayern Munich ) and Ismaila Sarr (Watford)
Regardless of the controversy of Senegal’s green laser aided penalty shootout against Egypt, this is one of the best teams in Africa and with good reason. Even without Mane, Ismaila Sarr is a world class talent and the team is back stopped by Edouard Mendy, one of the best keepers in the world. Under team legend Aliou Cisse this team has qualified for consecutive World Cups and are reigning African Cup of Nations champions. They still might be able to frustrate the Netherlands the most out of any team in this group, but their chances of a deep run without Sane are significantly lessened which is a shame because I think at full strength this is a quarterfinal capable team.
Mane’s injury really changes the dynamic of this group and perhaps the path for the Group B winner as well. Ecuador has to be considered the front runner to finish behind the Netherlands even though Senegal are still dangerous. But Ecuador might be better suited for the rigors of group play than a one-off knockout where Senegal’s star power could carry them in a single ninety minute affair. Before Mane’s injury I would have been bullish on both Netherlands and Senegal to make the quarterfinals and eliminate both Group B teams regardless of who staggers out of the top of that group. We’ll have to see how Senegal adjust without their star man and if Ecuador can take advantage and make a rare knockout appearance for La Tri.
Netherlands - Ecuador - Senegal - Qatar