World Cup 2022 Preview: Group D

Group D is one of three groups in World Cup 2022 that has all four teams that were present in the previous World Cup. Twenty-four nations that competed at the World Cup 2018 are making a return appearance here in Qatar. Surprisingly, three of the teams in Group D were part of Group C in Russia 2018! In Group D, we have the defending champion from 2018, one who made it to the Round of 16, and two group stagers!

Some may guess that the two advancers from Group D will end up being the two European teams, especially since they’re both in FIFA’s Top 10 right now, but don’t be so fast to dismiss. Here’s my rundown of Group D:

-France (4): At the last World Cup, France did it! They won their second World Cup just 20 years after their first. And with a coach that was a player for the 1998 team! However France hasn’t been completely on top since. Back at Euro 2020, they only made it to the Round of 16. Also as I’ve pointed out before, being defending World Cup champion has put them in a spot of bad luck that has happened to defending champions this century.

Didier Deschamps has been their coach since 2012. Although the World Cup team has not been declared yet, half of the team that played in the 2018 World Cup have played for the national team in recent matches. The team plays in various leagues throughout Europe with most playing for France’s Ligue 1. They’ve recently acquired wins against Austria, South Africa and the Ivory Coast. They’ve had notable draws against Croatia and Austria, and they’ve endured notable losses to Denmark and Croatia in Nations Cup play. 2022 gives an opportunity for France to prove that the bad luck of being defending champion may just all be a myth.

-Australia (38): It seems like the magic of the Socceroos we witnessed back in 2006 was a memory. They’ve been able to qualify for every World Cup since after switching from the OFC to the AFC, but it appears to have worked against them. They may have qualified for each World Cup since, but they’ve ended in the group stage each time with their last win being in 2010. Even after switching to the AFC, they’ve won the Asian Cup in 2015, but lost in the quarterfinals in 2019.

Since the 2018 World Cup, they’ve adopted a predominantly Australian coaching staff with Graham Arnold leading. The team consists of six A-League players and the rest playing mainly for European clubs; most in Scotland. Their recent wins have all been against Asian teams. They’ve had draws against China and Peru, as well as a win and a loss to Saudi Arabia and Japan. They come with low expectations in Qatar, but football is a domain where even the least-favored can excel if the seize the moment.

-Denmark (10): De Rød-Hvide have often seen as a team who have their greatest moment waiting for them. However their greatest World Cup moment still seems to be a bit of a wait. They’ve made the semifinals of four Euros and won in 1992. However they’ve only qualified for five previous World Cups and their best finish is the quarterfinals in 1998.

The team has a predominantly Danish coaching staff with Kasper Hjulmand as head coach. Despite the cardiac arrest during their first Euro 2020, Christian Eriksen is still playing pro-football as part of Manchester United and he’s on the Danish team. The most capped player is Simon Kjaer who plays for AC Milan. In recent play, they’ve had wins against Austria, France and Serbia, but they’ve had recent losses to the Netherlands and Croatia. The Danish team could just arrive in Qatar as their best team yet. They’ll just have this coming month’s time to prove it.

-Tunisia (30): Tunisia is one of many African teams waiting for their big moment at the World Cup. They’ve played in five previous World Cups and always gone home after the group stage. Recently the team accomplished making it to the final of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, hosted in Qatar. They also won the Kirin Cup this year.

The team’s coaching staff is completely Tunisian with Jalel Kadri becoming head coach this year. The team’s players play for a mix of clubs in Europe and Arabic nations. In recent play, they’ve had notable wins against Chile and Japan, draws against Mali and Botswana, and notable losses to Brazil and Algeria. Whatever you do, don’t rule out Tunisia for 2022. Plus they could have an advantage since they are familiar with playing in desert climate.

My Prediction: It’s always the case. After a group review, predictions for the qualifiers are expected. I am going to join more of the common predictions and say France and Denmark. However I think Tunisia is the team that can most pull a surprise.

And there you go! That’s my prediction for World Cup Group D. Hard to believe I’m half-done! Hard to believe the World Cup starts in ten days! Better start doing my pub-planning fast!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group G

One neat thing about FIFA’s World Cup section is that it not only lists the game times in your time zone, but it also lists the networks that will broadcast the games in your country. I was surprised to see all the Canadian channels listed by the game times! Definitely makes things convenient! Crazy thing for all of us living in cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles is that most of the games start at 05:00, 08:00 and 11:00 our time. I’m sure a morning beer won’t hurt.

Now on to my next group to review:

Belgium-Belgium (3)- The Red Devils sure have been ranking very high these past few years. You can attribute that to brilliant play within UEFA matches and world Cup qualifying. However they’re hoping to make a big impression on the world stage. Before the last World Cup, they had a high ranking back then but got as far as the quarterfinals. That’s actually a respectable achievement since it’s their best finish since their fourth place in 1986. However Belgium feels they have more to prove.

Belgium has a strong team. Leading the Belgian team are defenders Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and strikers Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Interestingly, almost half of Belgium’s team plays for the Premier League. Belgium again delivered in World Cup qualifying with nine wins and a draw. Their last defeat came in a friendly against Spain in September 2016. Looks like Belgian fire could pay off over in Russia.

Panama-Panama (55)- So you may wonder how did a team with an outside shot like Panama qualify for the World Cup? Simple. With just the final game in World Cup qualifying, the US needed to simply tie Trinidad and Tobago to join Mexico and Costa Rica in qualifying. Instead the US lost 2-1 while Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1. That’s sport. What’s rightfully yours will go to someone else if you’re not there. And Los Canaleros are the ones laughing!

It’s their first World Cup. Interestingly many of the players on the team play for MLS. Only five play for European teams. Interestingly, two for Belgian teams. So far this year they scored a win against Trinidad and Tobago, but lost to Switzerland and Denmark. Whatever the situation, Russia 2018 will be a great experience for Panama.

Tunisia flag-Tunisia (21)- One thing about Les Aigles de Carthage is that they keep on trying. Tunisia has participated in four World Cups but have not yet made it past the group stage. Their only World Cup win was in their debut year of 1978. Tunisia is hoping this is the year in which they finally progress to the knockout stage.

Most of the player play for Tunisian clubs or French clubs. A good percentage of the team’s players are 25 and under. Their coach Nabil Maâloul has coached many club team and national teams in the Middle East. Tunisia’s play has been very impressive in this past year. They won against Iran and Costa Rica and even drew against Portugal.

England fixed-England (12)- England has had a reputation of being a top team that excels in underachieving. However it was the last World Cup where they took it to a new low by failing to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. A Round-of-16 elimination at Euro 2016 did not help much either. After Euro 2016, they have been coached by Gareth Southgate who played at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. His experience is expected to help the team do much better this time, if not win.

No doubt England has an easier group this time. Not like last World Cup where they were in the ‘group of death.’ If you ask me, I think they were just underconfident. This year’s team is led by rising newcomer Harry Kane who is already the captain at just 24! England’s last defeat came via France 3-2 and that was exactly a year ago. Since then, they won against the Netherlands 1-0 and Nigeria 2-1 and drew against teams like Italy, Brazil and Germany. Chances are they can finally deliver on their greatness.

And that’s my summary of Group E. Now my prediction for which two I think will progress. Drum roll, please! My predictions are for Belgium and England.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

As we’re getting closer to the last group, I’ll be reviewing the two biggest stadiums for the Cup. Meanwhile this will be the last stadium spotlight where I focus on a stadium that seats less than 50,000.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Nizhny Stadium

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 44,899

World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, F, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 and a Quarterfinal

This new stadium cost $290 million to build. The stadium is inspired by two key elements of the region: water and wind. It adds a new vibe in an area with a lot of classic buildings without compromising the area’s classic feel. The biggest features the stadium has to offer are extra spaces for people with disabilities as well as accessible elevators and special navigation. The stadium also features top safety features like alarm and public alert systems, metal detectors and indicators of hazardous liquids or explosives. The arena is designed for multifunctional use.  It will serve sports events and entertainment events and even exhibitions and expos. The arena grounds will include a park, futsal fields and tennis courts. The stadium will also be the home venue for FC Olympiec Nizhny Novgorod.

BONUS FEATURE: 2018 Mascot – Zabikava

Zabivaka

Yes, what’s a review of the World Cup without a focus on the mascot? Most sports events which Russia hosts has a bear as the mascot. The World Cup decided to go with something different: a wolf. Actually it was online voting that decided what the mascot would be. The tiger and the cat were the other two rivals.

Zabivaka was introduced on December 4, 2016. Zabivaka is Russian for ‘the one who scores.’ He was designed by a University Student who was inspired by Disney images to create the wolf mascot. There has been some disapproval. The disapproval of some being how Zabikava appears to wear ski goggles. They’re actually supposed to be ‘sports goggles’ to ‘protect his eyes as he runs really fast.’ He not only has his own page at the FIFA site but also his own Facebook page as well.

And there you go. My review of Group G along with another stadium review and a look at the mascot. One last group to go.