Group A of the men’s football World Cup 2022 consists of the hosts Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, and Ecuador.
With the Netherlands struggling at recent tournaments and Senegal without their talisman Sadio Mane for the first game at the very least, it’s a group that possibly gives a surprise name an opportunity to qualify.
Despite automatically qualifying for the tournament as the host nation, Qatar should not be underestimated.
Anything this team does achieve will be under a cloud of human rights abuses and the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in their country.
If people will be able to heed the advice of FIFA and focus on the sport, then they will see a team that has been carefully cultivated by their manager Félix Sánchez.
The 2019 Asia Cup champions will be buoyed by the home support and despite a run of six losses against fellow World Cup teams, they play entertaining tiki-taka football inspired by their former Barcelona coach.
Star Player: Almoez Ali – the Sudanese-born striker is Qatar’s leading scorer with 42 goals in 85 games. He is eligible after moving to Qatar as a child and played in the Aspire Academy, founded to develop young athletes in the country.
Entering their fourth World Cup campaign, La Tricolours will be looking to embrace their underdog tag and play the role of spoiler in Group A.
The South American side will hope to replicate their heroics of 2006 in which they reached the knockout stages for the first and only time in their history.
Ecuador’s unexpected but mightily impressive CONMEBOL run saw them capture the final automatic qualification spot in South America, joining Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay as the progressors.
Facing stiff competition in a wide-open Group A, Gustavo Alfaro’s side will look to upset the likes of Senegal and Netherlands by deploying their counter-attacking style of football.
Star player: Moises Caicedo – Brighton’s 22-year-old sensation will be hoping to replicate his rise to stardom in the Premier League on the international stage this winter.
Caicedo is integral to Ecuador’s chances and will be the driving force in both attack and defence from central midfield.
Senegal are one of the most intriguing sides heading into this year’s World Cup.
The Lions of Teranga possess a squad littered with world-class talent and enter the tournament boasting the title of African Champions after winning the Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Many have high expectations of Aliou Cisse’s side as their squad owns a wealth of experience and talent.
However, much of Senegal’s hope for a fairy-tale run hinge on the fitness of Sadio Mane.
The illustrious winger faces a battle to be fit in time and after suffering a leg injury just two weeks ago and he is currently expected to miss Senegal’s opener against the Netherlands.
Star Player: Sadio Mane – Over the last five seasons, Mane has undoubtedly been one of the star wingers in world football and adds an enormous boost to the African champions if fit.
His inclusion in the squad under a significant injury cloud is proof of how central he is to Senegal’s chances.
The Dutch will be determined to prove their worth in their return to World Cup football, having missed out on the 2018 tournament and the 2016 Euros.
Louis van Gaal, who underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer this year, will lead the Netherlands for the final time in tournament football.
The concern will not be the quality or the experience of the squad but rather the fact that they have not won a knockout game in eight years.
They will be expected to breeze through this group but whether they can shed baggage and replicate their run to the World Cup final in 2010 remains to be seen.
Star Player: Virgil van Dijk – The 31-year-old will make his World Cup debut this year and forms a fearsome partnership with Stefan de Vrij in this Dutch side.
After receiving criticism this season as Liverpool have struggled, he will hope to recapture the form that revolutionised Liverpool and catapulted him into the conversation of the greatest Premier League centre-backs of all time.
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