World Cup 2022 Preview: Group C

It’s crazy that this World Cup will be taking place in November. This is the first World Cup ever to take place in the months of November and December. Why so late in the year? Well, the COVID pandemic delaying a lot of athletic events could have a lot to do with it. But I feel it has more to do about the weather. With the average maximum temperatures in June, July and August being above 40 Celsius, it’s no wonder this desert climate would have the World Cup put on hold until November with an average maximum just being under 30 Celsius and a December maximum average just under 25. Which makes pure sense.

Now my next group of focus is Group C. With two of the teams being in FIFA’s Top 15, many think the two qualifiers to the knockout stage are the most obvious, but anything is possible in football. Favorites can be surprised in the end and team you thought we long shots actually get in. So here’s my run-down:

-Argentina (3): Even though Argentina has a lot of top calibre players over the years, all the attention seems to be focused on Lionel Messi. It’s always been about how a major championship has always stood in his way. He missed the World Cup by that much. He missed the Copa America by that much. When will he win one? He and his Argentinean teammates finally won a Copa America last year! As well as a CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions back in June.

Joining Messi in his fifth pursuit of a World Cup is star midfielder Angel Di Maria and defender Nicolas Otamendi who also rank in Argentina’s ten most capped players ever. The Albiceleste has a lot of seasoned veterans and has included some new young blood as part of their lineup for Qatar. Argentina has a history of firing coaches after the World Cup. Since World Cup 2018, the team has been coached by Lionel Scaloni who actually played on the very first World Cup team for Argentina that Messi played for: 2006! Since the Copa America, Argentina have not had a loss. They’ve had notable wins against Brazil, Chile and Italy, and draws against Ecuador and Paraguay. They come to Qatar as the team most expected to win and Messi’s last chance for a World Cup. Their moment is theirs to prove.

-Saudi Arabia (51): This is Saudi Arabia’s sixth World Cup appearance. Their best-ever result is a Round-of-Sixteen finish in the 1994 World Cup. Most recently in 2019, they were runners-up in the Arabian Gulf Cup. Expectations are not high for Saudi Arabia, but one advantage they have over most other teams is that they’re best conditioned in playing in desert climates. That’s an advantage that could pay off unexpectedly.

The Green Falcons are an interesting lineup. The Saudi team will often be coached by a foreign coach while the players won’t be allowed to play for foreign teams. The coach is currently Frenchman Herve Renard. The team has racked up recent wins against North Macedonia and Iceland, draws against United States, Ecuador and Australia, and losses against Colombia and Japan. Qatar is another chance to prove that they have what it takes.

-Mexico (13): Mexico is commonly seen as a sleeping giant. They’re a team capable of going far, but waiting for their World Cup moment. Only once did they ever win a knockout round game at the World Cup and that was back in 1986 when they hosted! They’ve all lost out in the Round-of-Sixteen these past seven World Cups. Since Russia 2018, they’ve won the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup and were runners-up to the US in 2021. They look forward to being co-hosts with the United hosting in 2026. However they come looking for glory here in Qatar.

The current Mexican team play in a mix of clubs in Mexico, Europe and the United States. Their coach is an Argentinean: Gerardo Martino. This should be interesting when El Tri play Argentina. Recently they acquired wins against Peru, Nigeria and Jamaica. They’ve also drawn against Ecuador, Costa Rica and the United States. They’ve also endured losses this year to Uruguay and Colombia. 2022 could be the year Mexico takes their team in a new direction.

-Poland (26): This century, Poland has been known as a team to blow a lot of their chances. At the 2002 World Cup, they were expected to go far, but lost out in the group stage. They made it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 and expectations were big for them at World Cup 2018, but again they were ousted in the group stage. Bad luck continued as they wer out in the group stage of Euro 2020.

Robert Lewandowski is the captain of the team. Already he holds the team records for most caps and most goals. Joining him will be star defender Kamil Glik and top midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak. Since their Euro 2020 disappointment, they’ve been coached by Czeslaw Michniewicz. Since Euro 2020, they’ve had notable wins against Wales and Sweden, draws against the Netherlands and Scotland, and notable losses against Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary. 2022 is a chance to go beyond expectations.

MY PREDICTION: And now that moment where I will have to do the eventual. And that’s make two predictions for the teams that will advance to the knockout stage. I believe it to be Argentina and Mexico.

And there you have it. My review and predictions for Group C. Hard to believe it will all start in 12 days. The excitement never dies, does it?

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group A

It’s a given. Whenever there’s a Euro or a World Cup, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Those of you who remember I did it for the 2014 World Cup, I’m back. As I did for 2014, I will again do a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. Once again, I will give a preview of the twelve stadiums that will be the stages for this event and save the stadium for the Grand Final for last. Now let’s start with Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2018. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (66)- Russia had its glory days on the World Cup scene back during the days of the USSR. Since the USSR dissolved in 1992, Russia has qualified for three World Cups but always ended its trip in the group stage. It’s been a frustration. They went through two top ranked Dutch coaches Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and Italian coach Fabio Capello, but would always come up short. Just before Euro 2016, they went back to a Russian coach, Leonid Slutsky, but again fell out in the group stage. Since Euro 2016, they’ve stuck to having a Russian coach. This time it’s Stanislav Cherchesov whose managed Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw in the past.

The Russian team still remain an enigma. Only three of the team’s players play for teams outside Russia. Their recent game results also come into question. They’ve played six games since the Confederations Cup, but only won one: against South Korea 4-2. They’ve since had to deal with losses to big-name teams like Argentina, Brazil and France. The world Cup draw is made so that the host nation doesn’t have that hard of a time to make it past the group stage. Russia’s chances look comfortable as Uruguay appears to be its only tough rival. How far Russia goes is up for the world to see.

Saudi flag-Saudi Arabia (67)- The Saudi team looked like it was heading to better times after they made it past the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. However the big reluctance to export players to the bigger European clubs has always proved to be the biggest obstacle. The Saudi team would face an exit at the Group Stage during the next three World Cups.

Russia 2018 marks the first World Cup since 2006 with the presence of the Saudi team. All but three of their team members play for Saudi teams. The other three play for La Liga teams from Spain. As for play, Saudi Arabia does not have a very consistent record for the past year. Their biggest win this past year came through Greece. However they’ve also had to endure losses to Belgium, Iraq and Portugal. However anything’s possible in football and the Saudi’s could surprise in Russia.

Egypt-Egypt (46)- This is only the second time Egypt has been to the World Cup. The only other time is in 1990. However Egypt is ready to play well. They’ve hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper to coach the team. The team’s players play for various team in Egypt, Europe and the US. However many consider the heart and soul of the team to be led by 26 year-old Mohamed Salah who as a striker for Liverpool won 2017 CAF footballer of the year. Many see Salah as an emerging great and could boost team Egypt in the future.

Their record leading up to World Cup 2018 is very much in question. Their only wins this past year have come against African teams. Their last win against a team from outside Africa was Bosnia-Hercegovina back in 2014. This year they’ve faced losses to Portugal and Greece. Russia is another proving point for ‘The Pharoahs.’ They may be out in the group stage or they may surprise everyone.

Uruguay-Uruguay (17)- This is the team from Group A that has the most clout. For a long time, Uruguay was seen as a team that was a blast from the past. Their biggest glory days came with World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 and Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. However a resurgence of Uruguay on the world scene starting with World Cup 2010 has catapulted the team back to the top of the world elite. It started with Diego Forlan and has now transferred to Luis Suarez. Uruguay’s stint at the 2014 ended in disgrace after Suarez was banned from nine games following a biting incident on an Italian player. And to think Chewy Louie was the player that infamously blocked a potential goal from Ghana at 2010.

Since the incident, Suarez has kept his promise of not ever biting another opponent. He has matured a lot as a player since and serves as Uruguay’s top star. However Uruguay is not just Suarez. The team also boasts another top striker in Edinson Cavani, midfielder Cristian Rodriguez and top defencemen Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira. Uruguay can prove themselves to be a top force to be reckoned with here in Russia.

So there’s my review of the first World Cup group. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Russia and Uruguay.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Once again, I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Russia will have has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup including two in Moscow. Only three are older than ten years old. All are situated in the European cluster of Russia. Just like Brazil in 2014, Russia all twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Also just like in Brazil 2014, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will again be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. Once again, a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams in a huge cluster of a country. One of which, they will have to cross the border of Lithuania to play in.

It’s confusing, but no less confusing than Brazil 2014. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight of 2018. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:

-YEKATERINBURG: Central Stadiumyekaterinburg-world-cup-stadium-1024x576

Year Opened: 1957

World Cup Capacity: 35,696

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, F, H

Central Stadium is one of only two stadiums at this World Cup that was built in the 20th Century. Though there’s no doubt they’ve had to undergo extensive renovations over the years including preparations for this year’s World Cup. Actually the arena was a stadium for speed skating. The shift to football and other sports have been the focus since the downfall of the USSR.

The stadium will have 12,000 temporary seats for the World Cup. After the World Cup, it will be the host venue for team FC Ural Yekaterinburg. In addition, there are plans to add a fitness centre and a Valeological centre.

-SAMARA: Cosmos ArenaCosmos Samara

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 42,374

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2) & a quarter-final

Cosmos is one of many stadiums built fresh for this World Cup. It came at a cost of $320 million. The building of the stadium was first meant to be built on an island close to the city, but the intended construction of a bridge, and the public’s uproar over its total expense, led it to be built in the north area of the city.

After the World Cup, it will be the host venue of team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.

And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2018 starts. Stay tuned for more.