World Cup 2022 Preview: Group F

As we move on throughout the groups, just to let you know it’s not easy to make a call on which groups are going to qualify and which aren’t. Even the surest of sure shots aren’t a guarantee.

Some may wonder why I include past games as references for how I feel teams are going to do. Sure, it’s most often a case that they did not play the same teams before in the recent past, like the past year and a half. However past play can tell a lot about a team. It may not tell everything, but it does give a good sense of how the team is doing. I’m also aware that such a viewpoint isn’t all that accurate either. A team could be lackluster in qualifying and in friendlies but suddenly come alive at the World Cup. Plus the COVID pandemic changed a lot. Players were out of training as a team for months, games were cancelled and tournaments were delayed. How each team dealt with the pandemic differed team by team. How some of the bigger-name teams do here in Qatar will tell a lot of how the pandemic affected them. Whether they dealt with it best or whether they were hit hard.

Next group of focus is Group F. Interesting is that two of the teams in this group are teams that both finished in the Top 3 of the last World Cup! It’s all about the luck of the draw how we get these World Cup groups, or sometimes lack thereof.. This is a very interesting mix of nations, as I’ll review henceforth:

-Belgium (2): The run of The Red Devils’s luck actually started with their failure to qualify for Euro 2012. It began as they hired Marc Wilmots who played for three World Cups as coach. Soon the changes were noticed. They qualified for the 2014 World Cup with one game to go and got as far as the quarterfinals during the Cup. Their “Golden Generation” was just being born, but not without bumps. After they only got as far as the quarterfinals in Euro 2016, Wilmots was replaced by Spanish coach Roberto Martinez. Martinez led Belgium to its best-ever World Cup finish in Russia 2018: third. Belgium still ranks as one of the top teams in the world.

Despite only going as far as the quarterfinals in Euro 2020, Martinez is still head coach. Many of the big names from 2018 — Vertonghen, the Hazard brothers, de Bruyne, Alderweireld, Witsel, Lukaku — are back, along with some new faces. The World Cup squad has eight players that rank among Belgium’s ten most capped players ever. Recent wins include Estonia, Poland and Burkina Faso. They drew against Ireland and had a win and a draw against Wales. They also lost both their recent games against the Netherlands. Qatar is the stage for Belgium to continue their greatness and even reach new levels.

-Canada (41): For Canada, the World Cup has been mostly an ethnic affair. In the past, the team only qualified for the 1986 World Cup. Since then, Canadians normally cheer for the team of their ethnic background at the World Cup or just simply pick a favorite. Things really changed leading up to the qualifying rounds. In 2018, they hired John Herdman, who guided Canada’s women’s team to be a top power, to be their coach. The turnaround was amazing. In the first round of CONCACAF qualifying, Canada won all four of their games. In the second round, which consists of a single game, Canada won their match against Haiti thanks to a single goal by Cyle Larin. In the third round which consisted of eight teams and fourteen games, Canada clinched qualification with one game to go! They ended the round with the best results of all CONCACAF teams.

You can be sure the Maple Leafs want to deliver a good show this World Cup. Back in 1986, they lost all three of their group stage games, scored no goals and conceded five. Most of the current squad play for teams of the MLS. Active on the team are Atiba Hutchison, Milan Borlan and Samuel Piette who all rank among Canada’s ten most capped players ever. Also on the team are Cyle Larin and Jonathan David who are Canada’s two biggest goalscorers ever. Not to mention forward Alphonso Davies, who is a rising talent at 22 and considered one of the best full-backs in the world. As for their Group F opponents, Canada has never previously played Croatia, and they’ve never had a win against Belgium or Morocco. Their most recent wins came to Mexico, the US and Japan. They had a recent 2-2 draw to Bahrain. They’ve also had recent losses to Costa Rica, Uruguay and Honduras. Whatever the situation, Qatar is the area for Canada to go better than they ever have before, and maybe even pull a surprise or two.

-Morocco (22): Morocco is a sentimental favorite for many. They are the first African team to qualify for a World Cup, back in 1970. They are the first African team to qualify for a World Cup knockout stage, back in 1986. However they’ve continuously been trying to get their team’s top form back and even trying to take the team to new levels. Their last World Cup had them out in the group stage and their last Africa Cup in 2021 had them out in the quarterfinals.

Managing the Atlas Lions is French-born Moroccan Walid Regagui who played for France’s Ligue 1 team Toulouse and represented Morocco at the 2004 African Cup. Regagui was named Moroccan head coach this August 31st. The current team plays for a wide variety of teams in European leagues and leagues in Arab countries. Recent wins they’ve achieved include Chile, Ghana and South Africa. They’ve had a win and a draw against DR Congo. They’ve also endured recent losses to Egypt and the United States. 2022 is Another chance for Morocco to write another chapter for the team.

-Croatia (12): There’s one World Cup rule that you should never dismiss the “minnows.” That especially holds true for Croatia. They’ve only been in five previous World Cup s since their independence but when Vatreni are on, they go way further than expected. That was especially made true when they made it to the World Cup final in Russia 2018. Their player Luka Modric was also awarded the Golden Ball for being the top player of the Cup and won the Ballon D’or that same year.

The team’s coaching staff is predominantly Croatian with Zlatko Dalic head coach since 2017.Modric is back and is captain of the team. Returning with Modric are other renowned players Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. Most of the team plays for teams in either Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A , or Croatia’s Prva HNL. Recent wins include Bulgaria, Denmark and France (for the first time ever!). Recent draws also include France along with Slovenia. Their only loss came to Austria in UEFA Nations Cup play. Nothing is guaranteed in football. One thing that can be certain is Croatia can go further than you expect it to.

My Prediction: It never fails. Once I’m done reviewing, I have to predict the two that will advance. For this group, I anticipate the advancers to be Belgium and Croatia. Best chances for an upset will be Morocco. With the World Cup being played in a desert climate, they could do it.

And there you go. This is my review of the Group F teams and prediction. Only just six days to go until the start of the big event. Already close to 3 million tickets have been sold. Stay tuned!

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.