This group is effectively the going away party for Lionel Messi and on paper is a good enough group to test Argentina but I don’t think overwhelm them at any point either.
After rolling through South American qualifying in second place, Argentina has their sights on the grand prize, something that eluded Messi and company in 2014 when they lost the final in extra time to Germany. This feels like a much more balanced team for Argentina who lost in the first knockout round to eventual champions France in the last tournament.
Poland and Mexico are both knockout level teams but not much more threat than that, with El Tri boasting an impressive streak of Round of 16 losses at the World Cup. Their 11AM matchup today is by far the most important match in the group as it’s expected that Argentina should grab all nine points. Barring any slip ups against Saudi Arabia, it’s those two teams fighting for second place.
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 SCHEDLUE (all times US Eastern)
Tues, Nov. 22, Argentina vs. S. Arabia 5 a.m., Lusail Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Tues, Nov. 22, Mexico vs. Poland 11 a.m., Stadium 974 - FOX, Telemundo
Sat, Nov. 26, Poland vs. Saudi Arabia 8 a.m., Education City Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Sat, Nov. 26, Argentina vs. Mexico 2 p.m., Lusail Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Wed, Nov. 30, Poland vs. Argentina 2 p.m., Stadium 974 - FOX, Universo
Wed, Nov. 30, Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico 2 p.m., Lusail Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
ARGENTINA [ARG/C1-Pot 1]
Head Coach: Lionel Scaloni (ARG)
Nickname: La Albiceleste
Rankings: FIFA 3 / ELO 2
Qualification: CONEMBOL 2nd Place
Appearance: 18th / Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies - W at UAE 5-0; W vs Jamaica 3-0; W vs Honduras 3-0
Players You Should Know: FWD Lionel Messi (PSG), FWD Angel Di Maria (Juventus); DEF Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica)
Players You Should Watch: FWD Lautaro Martinez (Inter), MID Thiago Almada (Atlanta United)
Everyone knows that this might be the last ride for the old guard at the World Cup level, and after a runner up finish in 2014 they ran into the buzzsaw that was eventual champions France at the last tournament. What’s key about this year’s squad to me is that Lionel Messi doesn’t have to carry the scoring load, as Lautaro Martinez scored seven goals in South American qualifying – the same number as Messi had during the campaign. That balance is something this squad hasn’t always had, instead relying on Messi to carry them. They got their trophy breakthrough last year winning Copa America, and it would be a fitting end to a great career if Messi could walk off a World Champion. Shoutout to late call in Thiago Almada who was tremendous in MLS this year as an injury replacement with Nicolas Gonzalez and Joaquin Correa ruled out off the initial roster.
MEXICO [MEX/C3-Pot 2]
Head Coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino (ARG)
Nickname: El Tri
Rankings: FIFA 13 / ELO 22
Qualification: CONCACAF Third Round Runners-up
Appearance: 17th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – L vs Sweden 1-2; W vs Iraq 4-0
Players You Should Know: GK Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa (Club America), MID Andres Guardado (Real Betis), FWD Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey)
Player You Should Watch: FWD Alexis Vega, Guadalajara (MEX), 22 Int’l Caps / 6 goals
It’s an interesting old guard for Mexico, who have one of the older teams in this tournament skewed in no part by bringing three keepers over the age of 35. We know the attacking potential this team has in Raul Jimenez and Chucky Lozano but the production has been intermittent at times. This team struggled out of the gate in qualifying thanks to a brutal draw and getting road games at the USA and Canada in the same windo and lost both. They finished strong however, being level on points with Canada in the end. Vega has scored in El Tri’s last three friendlies and it will be interesting to see how many minutes the youngster gets in a crowded striker group.
Mexico has a rather infamous World Cup streak of seven straight appearances and eliminations in the World Cup Round of 16. I think that streak might be in jeopardy without a win against Poland in the opener, but I don’t think they would be favored in the Round of 16 against France or Denmark if they do get out of the group again. An interesting subplot to watch for sure.
POLAND [POL/C4 - Pot 3]
Head Coach: Czeslaw Michniewicz (POL)
Nickname: Biało-czerwoni (The White and Red), Orły (The Eagles)
Rankings: FIFA 26 / ELO 21
Qualification: UEFA Group I Second Place; UEFA Playoff Path B Winners – Walkover vs Russia; W 2-0 vs Sweden
Appearance: 9th / Best Finish: Third Place (1974, 1982)
Numery, numery, numery... pic.twitter.com/88PT7SwvjR— Łączy nas piłka (@LaczyNasPilka) November 15, 2022
Recent Results: Int’l Friendly – W 1-0 vs Chile; UEFA Nations League A Flight/Group 4 – W at Wales 1-0, L vs Netherlands 0-2
Player You Should Know: FWD Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona (ESP), 134 Int’l Caps / 76 goals
Player You Should Watch: FWD Karol Swiderski, Charlotte FC (USA/MLS), 18 Int’l Caps / 8 goals
Poland has been a regular on the global stage during the Lewandowski era and this might be his last go round and just his second World Cup after Poland finished last in their group in 2018. Despite making the last four Euros and three of the last five World Cups, Poland has just one appearance in the knockouts which was Euro 2016. They made it past Switzerland on penalties before losing to eventual champs Portugal also on PKs.
Like Argentina, this is a squad that has been overly reliant on Lewandowski for goals but this cycle got help from two familiar faces to US and MLS fans – Charlotte FC winger Swiderski and former New England Revolution striker Adam Buksa. Sadly Buksa, now with French side Lens, will miss out on the tournament due to injury but Swiderski scored the only goal in that Nations League win over Wales and should help carry the load. With Buksa here I would absolutely have them as favorites for second place.
SAUDI ARABIA [KSA/C2 - Pot 4]
Head Coach: Herve Renard (FRA)
Nickname: The Green Falcons
Rankings: FIFA 51 / ELO 55
Qualification: AFC Third Round Group B Winners
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – L vs Croatia 0-1; D vs Panama 1-1; W vs Iceland 1-0
Players You Should Know/Watch: Al-Hilal FWD Saleh Al-Shehri and F/M Salem Al-Dawsari
It is incredibly difficult to judge a full domestic roster like Saudi Arabia normally, but we saw this team frustrate the USA in a 0-0 draw two months ago. Almost every game they play is a low scoring affair and you have to go back over a year to an October 2021 qualifier against China for the last time Saudi Arabia notched multiple goals in a game. Still, they topped a qualifying group containing Japan and Australia which is not insignificant even if they vaulted over Japan on the final day with qualifications already decided.
I don’t think this is a team that will threaten the top half of the group, but they can absolutely keep Poland or Mexico from making the Round of 16. They did notch a win at the last World Cup against Egypt though both teams were already eliminated on the final matchday. Al-Shehri and Al-Dawsari are the only players with double digit international goals in the squad and combined for six of the twelve total goals Saudi Arabia scored in the final Asian group stage. Getting Argentina in the opener is a rough draw though.
Most of this group will be decided on the first day with the Mexico-Poland fixture. In years past I think Mexico would absolutley have the edge but they have really struggled against quality teams the last year or so especially in friendlies outside of CONCACAF. Mexico recovered nicely in qualifying after those back to back losses to the USA and Canada, but there’s been a lot of drama
Poland might not be elite but they are good and I am not sure El Tri can handle Lewandowski up top if he’s in form and Swiderski has also been playing well. Poland defensively has been overwhelmed like in a 6-1 loss to Belgium but when they win, they do so in low scoring games. Mexico has just enough offense firepower I think to get through but only just as their Ro16 streak remains intact after they get pasted by Denmark.
Argentina - Mexico - Poland - Saudi Arabia