We’ve finally arrived in Qatar. After a pushed-back start, a hectic beginning to the 2022/23 season, and many questionable decisions on FIFA’s behalf, the World Cup is now days away. With that in mind, here’s what to look out for in Group A.
Bright Lights for Qatar
Being the host country of any World Cup is a major task, and normally for weaker teams, there’s a wholesome feeling around giving the hosts neutral support to go far and make their country proud as they look on. All these things are magnified even more when taking into account that this will be Qatar’s first-ever World Cup appearance, but there is still a reluctance to show them some support.
Politics aside since this is not that type of article and it has been well-documented anyways, there simply isn’t much to go off of for the hosts. Some friendlies show encouraging signs that the Maroon can display a fun and rapid style that fits the speed of their players but whether it would work against such a tough group as this one remains to be seen. At the very least, Qatari talisman Akram Afif will be worth watching if he’s on his game after an incredible season last year, producing 31 goal contributions in 18 matches in the Qatar Stars League.
Golden Opportunity in Senegal
A popular narrative surrounding some of the teams in this iteration of the World Cup is that many countries are at the peak of their respective “golden ages”. The truth in this varies from squad to squad but in the case of Senegal, this may very well be their last chance at legitimate World Cup glory for a while.
Senegal is coming off of a tense qualification after winning in a penalty shootout against Egypt and also doing the same in the AFCON, giving them a weird status in African football. They’re winning the big games, and they have a strong squad, but nervy endings to those big matches with their strong squad may leave skepticism. The added injury and uncertainty of Sadio Mane’s availability in the group stages make it all an awkward blend for the Lions of Teranga. Nonetheless, this is a golden age for the team, some success should be expected but as mentioned before, Sadio mane is the make or break. Expect some hectic matches otherwise.
Ecuador’s Prove-It Tournament
Is it a bold statement to make for a young, feel-good team that is entering a bright period in football? Yes; but now with the news of Sadio Mane’s fitness looking increasingly negative, this would be an excellent chance to show themselves as a true South American establishment rather than a fun fluke.
The reality is much more serious than it may seem for Ecuador, however. The scandal with Byron Castillo faking nationalities from Colombia to Ecuador while playing a part in knocking Chile out has been quite embarrassing for La Tri. To add to weird mishaps, a rumor coming out about a Qatar bribe in the opening match to several players will leave another stain that they’ll have to wash out with a fun brand of football. The real shame is that once again, another one of the feel-good staples of the World Cup in the underdogs is being overshadowed by controversy. Regardless, this will be a big moment for the country and players such as Moises Caicedo will look to show out after a summer of transfer links to Liverpool and Manchester United.
Brighter Lights for the Netherlands
After a decent Euros following missing the 2016 iteration and the 2018 World Cup, they have finally returned to the big stage with plenty of debutants of all ages. In terms of career profile, the Netherlands are probably the most diverse which gives a nice blend of composed professionalism with the older players and chaotic hunger with the young ones. All players will surely be looking to impress of course but players like Virgil van Dijk, he’ll want to impress after accusations of switching off this season in anticipation of Qatar.
The Oranje seem to be runaway favorites of the group meaning there is pressure to perform, but the other countries seem to be mitigating that with the constant incidents and bad luck they find themselves in. Nonetheless, they must make it out of the group to avoid another four years of teasing after underperforming with a strong squad once again. What they do after the fact seems to be on no one’s mind, but finishing first in the group while hoping England does the same can carve out a somewhat light path to the quarter-finals.