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!

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group G

Group D has been most lauded as the ‘Group Of Death’ not just because of three country’s current prowess but because of their past World Cup legacy. Group G could rightfully be called the ‘Group Of Death’ because there are four teams that rank amongst the world’s best and it can be any two of the four making it to the Round of 16. Here’ s my rundown:

Germany fixed-Germany (2)- Brazil may be the country with the biggest World Cup legacy but Germany is a close second. They have stats and feats of their own to brag about too: competed in all but two World Cups, has made the Top 8 every year since 1954, qualified for the final seven times like Brazil and won the Cup three times. The Mannschaft know how to make a power of themselves and create a legacy but they also have their own glitches too. Like there have been two Euro tournaments this century when they failed to advance past the Group Stage. Even in World Cup play within the past twenty years they have lost to underdogs like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.

The current German team is in good hands with Joachim Low who has managed Germany since the 2006 World Cup. He has guided Germany to the 2008 Euro finals and to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Germany also has their stars too like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Miroslaw Klose who is just one goal short of tying Ronaldo’s World Cup goal record of 15. Germany already shows solid play as they’ve lost only once since Euro 2012, to the U.S. 4-3 and I’ll get to that later. They’ve also had good wins to England, Sweden, France and Chile. However they did have a 1-1 draw against their traditional ‘achilles heel’ Italy. Low and the boys will have a lot of proving to do in Brazil. No doubt they have the talent and skill to do it. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (3)- Before this century, Portugal had only competed in two World Cups: 1966 where they finished third and 1986. Ever since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams in 1998, Portugal has qualified all but once and they’ve shown their talent off in grand style. Their best World Cup performance this century was a fourth-place finish in 2006. Their biggest moment to shine was in Euro 2004 which they co-hosted with Spain and made it to the final.

Even now they show themselves to be a formidable team full of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Helger Postiga. Right after Portugal lost out in the Round of 16 back at the last World Cup, they appointed Paulo Bento who already had a proven record with coaching Sporting CP. Bento has organized the team well and helped guide them to the semis at Euro 2012. Since then, Portugal has had excellent play with key wins against Croatia and Sweden and a big 5-1 win against Cameroon. They’ve only had three losses in that time to Brazil, Ecuador and Russia. Portugal has the consistency and the ability to go at this World Cup. Possibly even make the finals for the first time. Will they deliver? Brazil’s the stage that will decide.

-GhGhanaana (38)- Ghana has proven themselves to be top African team as of late. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010. However while most African teams would consider their quarterfinal performance a feat as Ghana was only the third African team in history to advance that far, it was a disappointment as Ghana almost had a sure semifinal berth in their play against Uruguay. Even though the handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was cheating, Ghana were unable to recover from it. We should remember with the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, African teams had expectations on them unlike previous World Cups and Ghana was the only one of the six African teams to advance past the Round of 16.

Ghana still continues to perform well including fourth-place finishes at the last two African Cups. James Kwasi Appiah is the head coach after being assistant coach during the last World Cup. Gyan is back as captain and AC Milan’s Michael Essien as vice-captain. However Ghana has a lot of proving. They have not won a game against a non-African team in the past two years and their FIFA ranking has dipped a lot in the past four years. It could be either a case of a team in decline or a team that just hasn’t been proven. This World Cup is their proving point.

-UUSA.S.A. (14)- Before this century, the U.S. men’s team was a joke in the football world. When you think the U.S.A., you don’t think football, or ‘soccer’ as they call it. You think baseball, basketball and American football. A last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup sure didn’t help much. This century, the U.S. have really developed a stronger reputation and are seen as a joke way less tan ever. The existence and success of MLS has helped a lot. Making the quarterfinals in 2002 and even finishing #1 in their Group Stage group in 2010 also made the football world see the U.S. men’s football team as an actual contender in world football superiority.

However the last four years has been a yo-yo. For one thing, they had their lowest FIFA ranking (36th) in August 2012. They’ve also endured losses in the lats two years to Brazil, Jamaica, Belgium, Ukraine and Costa Rica. They’ve also had some great wins like 5-1 to Scotland, 2-1 to Mexico, 2-0 to South Korea and 4-3 to Germany (and I’ll get to the juicy bit soon). Part of their recent success has to do with hiring Jurgen Klinsmann who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In addition is the talent and play of players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, rising young gun Julian Green and goalie Tim Howard. 2014 looks like to carve another chapter for the U.S.A. and their quest for soccer supremacy that was once considered a long shot.

Note: Spain vs. Netherlands may be the most eagerly anticipated Group Stage match of this World Cup but the second-most should be Germany vs. U.S. A. Why? First because the U.S.A.’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for Germany when the last won the world Cup back in 1990. Secondly because while Klinsmann was coach of Germany from 2004 up to the 2006 World Cup, Joachim Low was assistant coach and became head coach after Klinsmann’s departure. Already Germany got a taste of the U.S.A. in a friendly a year ago with the Americans winning 4-3. The rematch in Brazil should be full of intrigue.

And now my prediction for the advancers: I believe it will be Germany and Portugal. The U.S.A. looks like the one most likely to upset.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT Now that I’m nearing the end of my World Cup preview, my Stadium Spotlights are now moving towards stadiums that are more like Brazil’s prized jewels. And this is definitely a grand one. A brand-spanking new jewel for Brazil, especially for its capital city.

-BRASILIA : Estadio Nacional (Mane Garrincha)Brasilia

Year Opened: 1974 World Cup Capacity: 70,042

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2), one quarterfinal & third-place match

The stadium already had a big reputation in Brasilia with it being the stage for home games for Brasilia FC. However the stadium had to be demolished to have a newer bigger stadium in its place in time for the World Cup. Changes involved dismantling the lower tier, retaining the upper tier into the new rectangular bowl, adding a roof and pillars and reducing the size of the field into a football-only field. The changes made the stadium second to the new Wembley Stadium as the most expensive in the world. Nevertheless all the changes were ready by the Confederations Cup and for Beyonce’s concert last September. The venue will continue to be important after the World Cup as they will be home to Brasilia FC and will be a football venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

And there you go. Another group review and another stadium spotlight. Last review to come on Sunday.