World Cup 2022 Preview: Group H

With this being the last World Cup group to talk about, I want to talk a bit about the next World Cup. World Cup 2026 will be unique because of two things. First, it will be the first World Cup that will have the hosting participation of three nations. The United States, Canada and Mexico all came together for a “United” bid for this World Cup. Secondly, because it will consist of a total of 48 teams! The point of the 48-team World Cup is to give better chances for teams from Africa, Asia, the CONCACAF and Oceania. There are many people who feel a 48-team tournament is too big. Many fear the inclusion of a three-team group stage. The most recent word from FIFA is an unofficial word of there being twelve groups of four.

So it is very possible this will be the last World Cup where Group H is the last group. Whether it is or not, here’s my review of the Group H of the 2022 World Cup:

-Portugal (9): It’s safe to assume this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s fifth and last World Cup. He’s 37. Nevertheless, the whole team of Portugal has proven itself to be one of the best football teams of this century. They’ve participated in all six World Cups this century, had a fourth-place finish, was a finalist for Euro 2004 and won Euro 2016. Recent play has shown Portugal to be in a struggle. They were ousted in the Round of 16 of Euro 2020 and they qualified for the World Cup, but under the playoff system rather than top of their group.

The Navigators are coached by Fernando Santos who started coaching the team shortly after the 2014 World Cup. Most of their World Cup team plays for teams in the Premier League. Besides Ronaldo, Portugal has many other lauded players like Pepe, Rui Patricio and Bernardo Silva. Recent play has them with wins against Czechia, North Macedonia and Turkey. They had a recent draw against Ireland. In Nations League play, they’ve had a win and a loss to Switzerland and a draw and a loss to Spain. Qatar is the stage for Portugal to chase the World Cup one more time.

-Ghana (61): Interesting that all three African teams that once made it to a World Cup quarterfinal will all be here in Qatar. Ghana was the team with all the magic a decade ago, but it seems like their magic that the world witnessed at the 2010 World Cup has eluded them in recent years. They failed to qualify for Russia 2018. They were also out in the Round of 16 in the 2019 African Cup and in the group stage of the 2021 Cup.

The Black Stars are currently coached by German-born Otto Addo who played for Ghana in their first World Cup appearance in 2006. The team plays for a wide variety of clubs in leagues around the world. The most lauded players on the team are the Ayew brothers: Jordan and Andre. Recent play shows a mixed bag of results. They’ve won to Nicaragua and Madagascar, draws against Chile and Nigeria, and losses to Japan, Brazil and Qatar. Qatar is the scene for Ghana to prove itself. They could go better than most people expect.

-Uruguay (14): This decade has been very good for Uruguay. The first World Cup winners have done a good job in proving they’re also a present force to be reckoned with. In fact five of their ten most capped players are part of the present national team as well as their two top goalscorers ever. The last three World Cups have shown impressive results where they’ve made it to the knockout round each time and even got as far as fourth in 2010. However in the two most recent Copa Americas, they’ve bowed out in the quarterfinals.

Although much of the team’s rebuilding in the past 15 years can be attributed to coach Oscar Tabarez, the coaching of the team was handed to Uruguayan Diego Alonso, coach of the Inter Miami CF of the MLS, less than a year ago. Luis Suarez is back, but he’s not the team captain. Defender Diego Godin is. Also part of the squad is goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, defender Martin Caceres and striker Edinson Cavani. Recent wins include Canada, Mexico and Chile. They’ve also endured a draw against the United States and losses to Bolivia, Argentina and Iran. The stage is set in Qatar for La Celeste to prove they’re as much about now as they’re about their past legacy.

-South Korea (28): South Korea has proven itself to be the best Asian team. This is the tenth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for, and they did it in convincing fashion winning twelve of their sixteen games. Recently, they’ve had struggles in intercontinental play. They’ve bowed out in the group stage of the last two World Cups and they finished in the quarterfinals of the most recent AFC Asian Cup.

The current squad of the Taegeuk warriors are coached by a predominantly Portuguese coaching staff with Paulo Bento, who played in the 2002 World Cup, as head coach. This should make their December 2nd match against Portugal very interesting! The World Cup squad has some players who play for European clubs, including captain Son Heung-min who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, but most of the squad play for clubs in Korea’s K-League 1. Recent play includes wins against Egypt, Iran and Cameroon. They’ve endured recent draws against Paraguay and Costa Rica, and had recent losses to Brazil, japan and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar 2022 is an opportunity for Korea Republic to prove they are Asia’s top threat.

My Prediction: And this is it. My last prediction for the two qualifiers of the last World Cup group of 2022. I will have to say it will be Portugal and Uruguay. Best chance for an upset looks to be South Korea.

And there you go. That’s it for my reviews of the eight groups of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. I’m planning one last blog, and that’s of extra tidbits and social media hashtags for your favorite teams. Stay toond!

2018 World Cup Group Stage: Draw Time

World Cup Draw

It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.

Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.

The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!

Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.

Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.

Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).

FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:

POT 1:

  • Russia – UEFA (65)
  • Germany – UEFA (1)
  • Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
  • Portugal – UEFA (3)
  • Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
  • Belgium – UEFA (5)
  • Poland – UEFA (6)
  • France – UEFA (7)

POT 2:

  • Spain – UEFA (8)
  • Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
  • Switzerland – UEFA (11)
  • England – UEFA (12)
  • Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
  • Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
  • Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
  • Croatia – UEFA (18)

POT 3:

  • Denmark – UEFA (19)
  • Iceland – UEFA (21)
  • Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
  • Sweden – UEFA (25)
  • Tunisia – CAF (28)
  • Egypt – CAF (30)
  • Senegal – CAF (32)
  • Iran – AFC (34)

POT 4:

  • Serbia – UEFA (38)
  • Nigeria – CAF (41)
  • Australia – AFC (43)
  • Japan – AFC (44)
  • Morocco – CAF (48)
  • Panama – CONCACAF (49)
  • South Korea – AFC (62)
  • Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)

As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:

GROUP A:

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

GROUP B:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

GROUP C:

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

GROUP D:

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

GROUP E:

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

GROUP F:

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

GROUP G:

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

GROUP H:

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.

And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.

2014 World Cup Group Stage: Luck Of The Draw

The stage was set Friday to decide the eight First Round groups for next year's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
The stage was set Friday to decide the eight First Round groups for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

You could say it took a lot to determine the 32 countries that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 204 countries or teams, 820 matches, and a total of 2303 goals to decide the 31 berths up for grabs. Finally on November 20th, all thirty-one berths up for contention were all decided. However deciding the eight groups of four for the Group Stage was also another tricky matter. Yeah, just when you thought it would get easier.

Yesterday, the eight First Round groups were decided at the Costa de Sauipe resort in Bahia. It was broadcast live around the world. I myself saw the live telecast at 9am my time. The draw to form the eight groups for each World Cup involves a process with a lot of thought: four countries per group with continental separation. That would mean each continent other than Europe would have only one of their countries in a First Round group. Europe by means of fielding thirteen berths this World Cup would have a maximum of two countries per group. That’s always been the case since the World Cup expanded to 32 countries back in 1998.

The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. Seeded teams which I will talk about later are in italics:

  • Host Nation: Brazil
  • South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
  • Europe: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland
  • Africa: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria
  • The CONCACAF (North and Central America, Caribbean): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, U.S.A.
  • Asia: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea

That list of qualifiers does provide for some interesting notes. Australia has played for the Asian confederation (AFC) since 2006 because of its superiority in Oceania’s confederation (OFC). Also Spain, the defending World Cup nation, still had to play qualifying matches as the defending World Cup team no longer qualifies its own automatic berth: a FIFA rule in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup.

Dividing the groups into four teams of appropriate continental separation would include something else involved: a seeded pot. Host Brazil was already allocated to Group A: a FIFA regulation in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup. Each of the other seven groups would have to have one of the teams amongst the Top 7 of FIFA’s World rankings from October 2013. In order from 1st to 7th, they were:

  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Colombia
  • Belgium
  • Uruguay
  • Switzerland

There always was a seeded pot for drawing groups for the World Cup that would involve a complicated system involving a multitude of ranks, previous World Cup places and other factors. This time around the seeding was just on that one FIFA ranking list. Sure, it was odd to see countries normally not amongst the top seeds like Belgium and Switzerland in the mix but finally creating a seeded pot was that simple.

The pots meant for continental separation amongst the groups were not that easy. One easy element was that Pot 3 consisted of teams from Asia and the CONCACAF: continents that both fielded four berths. As you could tell, the seeded pot consisted of three South American teams and four European teams. That’s where complications and confusions would arise as Pot 2 would consist of Africa and South America. Pot 2 ended up with seven countries since three of South America’s five berths were seeded teams. Pot 4 consisted of the nine non-seeded European teams. So how do you solve this problem of those pots with the continental maximums?

Yeah, explaining continental limits and parities is easy. Making it happen in the groups this year is the hard part. So FIFA under Sepp Blatter decided to make the following procedures to even it up:

  • Draw one European team from Pot 4 and place into Pot 2 for four even pots of eight with the teams assuming the first position of their group.
  • Draw from Pot 1 to decide the first teams for Groups B to H.
  • Draw amongst the four seeded South American teams and place the drawn out team in auxiliary pot  ‘Pot X’ for the sake of continental separation.
  • Place the European team drawn out of Pot 3 with the South American team from Pot X.
  • Draw from the remaining pots to determine the other qualifying teams.
  • After the Pot 1 teams were drawn, draw the positions of the teams of the other three groups as the draw goes group by group.

Yes, it’s hard to make sense. It’s hard to explain. And it’s hard to make it all work out. It’s not like the last World Cup where there were five seeded European teams and you’d easily have a European pot of eight. Nevertheless it was accomplished. The European team from Pot 3 that was drawn out first was Italy. The seeded South American team that was put into Pot X was Uruguay which was already drawn to Group D. That would mean Uruguay and Italy would both be in the same group. The remaining teams would also be drawn out evenly.

So after all that confusion and fretting, all the First Round groups were drawn out. The parity and continental separations took place as FIFA wanted it: maximum two European teams and maximum one team from the other continents in each group. So here are the eight First Round groups for the 2014 FIFA World Cup:

Group A

  • Brazil
  • Croatia
  • Mexico
  • Cameroon

Group B

  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Chile
  • Australia

Group C

  • Colombia
  • Greece
  • Ivory Coast
  • Japan

Group D

  • Uruguay
  • Costa Rica
  • England
  • Italy

Group E

  • Switzerland
  • Ecuador
  • France
  • Honduras

Group F

  • Argentina
  • Bosnia-Hercegovina
  • Iran
  • Nigeria

Group G

  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Portugal
  • U.S.A.

Group H

  • Belgium
  • Algeria
  • Russia
  • South Korea

The group set-ups sure have gotten a lot of people talking. Some people have noticed that some groups are so tightly put together, it’s hard to declare the one group to call the ‘Group Of Death.’ Some are stating it’s Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. Some are saying it’s Group G with all four of its teams being top contenders. Some are even saying it’s Group B with their very first match—Spain vs. Netherlands—a re-contest of the 2010 World Cup finalists.

Whatever the situation, all 32 teams have to be ready to face their Group Stage opponents and put their best foot forward if they want to advance and be the last team standing that wins the 2014 World Cup. The world will be watching from June 12th to July 13th. I myself will be doing group-by-group reviews on my blog in the weeks leading up to the start. Stay tuned for more action.