Friday 01 April 2022, 15:00

Germany, Spain paired, Argentina, Portugal have it tough

  • 2010 champions Spain will meet 2014 kings Germany

  • Argentina and hosts Qatar have been handed difficult groups

  • France and Denmark will clash, while Canada face Belgium

Spain and Germany, the 2010 and 2014 champions respectively, will collide in the game of the group stage at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. Misfortune fell on hosts Qatar, who will face three-time runners-up the Netherlands, one of the strongest African sides to enter a global finals in Senegal, and an Ecuador side who finished above Peru, Colombia and Chile to qualify. Reigning kings France will be tested by Denmark, one of the first nations to reach Qatar, while Argentina must contend with Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia. Canada, meanwhile, will play their first World Cup game in 36 years against no less a power than Belgium.

Group A

Could it have got much worse for Qatar? The hosts and tournament debutants will begin with what appears a must-win match against an exciting Ecuador, before playing Senegal and the Netherlands. All eyes will be on the Netherlands against Senegal. Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane have the Lions of Ternaga supporters believing they can become the first African nation to get past the quarter-finals, while the Oranje will hope Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay can inspire them on their return to the World Cup. Did you know? When African qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002 began, Senegal were 79th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, beneath the likes of Thailand, Cuba and Haiti. The Lions of Terenga went on to reach the last eight of that World Cup.

Group B

A third collision between England and USA is the headliner. The Americans stunned England at Brazil 1950 and drew with them 1-1 at South Africa 2010 en route to topping Group C, which sent the Three Lions into a Round-of-16 clash against Germany, which they lost 4-1. Intriguing subplots this time around will be Giovanni Reyna coming up against his Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jude Bellingham, and Christian Pulisic meeting his Chelsea colleagues Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount. Another reunion awaits a fresh, exhilarating USA side. They lost 2-1 to IR Iran in a much-hyped showdown at France 1998. Team Melli, who boast Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi, finished with the best record in Asian qualifying. One of Scotland Ukraine and Wales will make up the section. Can you imagine a first-ever World Cup clash between the Scots and English? Did you know? When the USA team including a dishwasher, a hearse driver and a postman beat England 1-0 in an extraordinary upset at Brazil 1950, one British newspaper, assuming a misprint in the wires, reported that England had won 10-1.

Group C

It may be Lionel Messi’s last shot at the one trophy that has escaped his grasp, and he’s got a hard route to it. Robert Lewandowski, The Best FIFA Men’s Player for 2020 and 2021, and Poland appear the biggest threat to Argentina, but Mexico have reached the knockout phase at the last seven World Cups and, with Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez in their ranks, will be confident of doing so again. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, qualified ahead of Japan and Australia in Asia. Did you know? Mario Kempes had yet to score in the World Cup in over 11 hours of action heading into a second-stage showdown with Poland at the 1978 finals. Before the game, Cesar Luis Menotti persuaded ‘El Matador’ that shaving off his moustache would end his goal drought. Desperate, Kempes obliged, bagged a brace against the Poles and finished the tournament as its six-goal leading marksman.

Group D

Groups A-D

Denmark are the real deal. They finished with the joint-best points tally in European qualifying alongside Germany, and conceded just three goals in ten outings. Their defensive impregnability will be sternly examined by Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema. Tunisia, who became the first African team to register a World Cup victory in 1978, beat Panama and gave England a tough test in a 2-1 loss at Russia 2018. The Eagles of Carthage will be out to reach the knockout phase for the first time at the sixth attempt. Australia, Peru or United Arab Emirates will complete the pool. Did you know? Hannibal Mejbri, whose father was a footballer in Tunisia, was born in France and represented that country at U-17 level before committing his senior international future to Tunisia. The Manchester United midfielder, 19, dazzled at the recent FIFA Arab Cup.

Group E

You won’t miss this one, will you? Barcelona gems Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres have rejuvenated Spain, while Germany boast the likes of Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Ilkay Gundogan, Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz. The odds aren’t in Japan’s favour, but they have reached the knockout phase at three of the last five World Cups. The winners of Costa Rica-New Zealand will complete the group. The All Whites didn’t lose a game at South Africa 2010, while Los Ticos topped a section also comprising Uruguay, Italy and England at Brazil 2014. Did you know? Carles Puyol was the unlikely match-winner the last time Spain met Germany in the World Cup: a 1-0 victory in the South Africa 2010 semi-finals. Die Mannschaft finished that tournament having scored 2.3 goals per game. La Roja netted only 1.1 per game but went home as champions.

Group F

Canada’s return is thrilling the footballing romantics, but they will do well to book a fourth match in Qatar. For company Alphonso Davies, Cyle Larin, Jonathan David and Co have Belgium and Croatia, who finished third and second respectively at Russia 2018, and Morocco, who were moments away from eliminating Spain in the group stage four years ago. A captivating clash between Kevin De Bruyne and Luka Modric is in store, while Paris Saint-Germain wingback Achraf Hakimi and 20-year-old Barcelona Abde Ezzalzouli are players to watch in an intriguing pool. Did you know? Croatia’s Danijel Subasic became the second goalkeeper in World Cup history to save three penalties in one shooout against Denmark at Russia 2018. Portugal’s Ricardo was the first against England in 2006.

Group G

Déjà vu? Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia were grouped together at Russia 2018, with the Seleção and the Nati going through. The likes of Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha, Antony and Vinicius Junior have dazzled for the record five-time world champions recently, taking the pressure off golden boy Neymar. Yann Sommer, Manuel Akanji and Xherdan Shaqiri will be fundamental to Swiss hopes, while Serbia call on the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Vlahovic. The Indomitable Lions will need Karl Toko Ekambi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at their best to cause a shock. Did you know? Twenty-four years existed between 17-year-old Rigobert Song and Roger Milla, 42, at USA 1994 – the biggest age gap between team-mates in World Cup history. Song, now the Cameroon coach, became the youngest player to ever be sent off in the competition against Brazil.

Group H

Good luck predicting the outcome of Qatar 2022’s most evenly balanced group. Portugal have arguably their best-ever collection of players, headed by Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo. Uruguay fuse veteran forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani with emerging midfielders Federico Valverde and Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Korea Republic boast, in smiling assassin Son Heungmin, a big-game player capable of settling any match single-handedly. And Ghana can count on the steam train that is Thomas Partey and electrifying playmaker Mohammed Kudus. Ronaldo will always be the main attraction, but a rematch between Uruguay and Ghana comes a close second. A Suarez handball infamously denied the Black Stars becoming the first Africans to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2010. Did you know? Ronaldo is out to become the first player to score in five World Cups. If he does he will outrank the likes of Miroslav Klose, Obdulio Varela, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Gunnar Gren and become the second-oldest marksman in World Cup history behind Roger Milla.