World Cup 2022 Preview: Group A

For those wondering with the World Cup happening, will I be doing reviews of the groups as I normally do? Yes, I will. Will I be doing reviews of the stadiums and issues involving Qatar as the host? No I won’t. I mostly want to stick to reviewing the groups. Escpe4cially since that’s what mostly gets attention to my group blogs.

I will only talk a limited amount about Qatar hosting. I know it’s a surprise selection and that a lot of people have opinions about it. Many people are crying foul about it. The most I will say is it is a surprise to see a nation of just over 4,000 square miles (just slightly bigger than the island of Jamaica) and not even 3,000,000 people hosting. I would have figured is there would be one country in the Arabic world that would host the World Cup, it would be either Morocco or Algeria. Plus a nation that small having eight stadiums. I hope most of those stadiums have temporary seating because Qatar can’t afford to have the stadiums as white elephants. Only the future will tell of the after-use.

In the meantime, I will begin my World Cup focus on Group A. Group A is always the group with the host nation and it’s in the hopes that the host nation qualifies to the knockout stage. So far only once — South Africa back in 2010 — has the host nation not advanced past the opening stage of a World Cup. So let’s get to it! Also a reminder that FIFA ranking for October 2022 is in brackets:

GROUP A

-Qatar (50): Isn’t it something that there’s only a single nation making its World Cup debut and it’s the host nation? Qatar is considered to be an underdog by many. However the team called ‘The Maroon’ know with them hosting the World Cup this year, they will want to put on a good show and have the home country proud of them. They hired a Spanish coach named Felix Sanchez to coach the national team starting with the under-20 team in 2013, then the under-23 team in 2017 and then the main national team in 2020. They have delivered surprise results in the last four years like winning the 2019 Asian Cup and finishing third as a guest nation at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Interesting to note that all members of Qatar’s team play for clubs inside Qatar. Qatar has attempted to prove its mettle in the last year and a half against both national teams and renowned clubs. They’ve had victories over Ghana, United Arab Emirates and Italian team Udinese. They’ve had recent draws against Jamaica, Morocco and Chile. They’ve also had notable defeats to Serbia, Canada and Algeria. For their Group A opponents, the only team they ever played against was Ecuador and their record against them is a win, a loss and a draw. This World Cup is the scene for Qatar to prove itself to the world and they might just pull a surprise or two.

-Ecuador(44): This will be Ecuador’s fourth World Cup. Ecuador is a team looking for it’s first major break. At the World Cup, the best they ever did was the Round of 16. At the Copa America, the most they ever got was fourth. Le Tricolor is coach by a full team of Argentinean coaches in hopes of making their dent on the world football field. The Ecuadorean under-20 team finished third in the 2019 U20 World Cup.

The team has players that play in a wide variety of clubs in Europe, the US’s MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. The goalkeepers all play for teams with Ecuador’s Serie A. They’ve had recent noteworthy wins against Mexico, Chile and Nigeria. They’ve had notable draws against Argentina, Japan and Brazil. They’ve also had losses to Venezuela and Paraguay. 2022 is another chance for Ecuador to prove itself on the World Cup stage and anything can happen.

-Senegal (18): The 2018 World Cup was the first World Cup since 1982 that an African team didn’t qualify for the knockout phase. Of the five teams, Senegal appeared to be the team most likely to. However at the end of their group, they had a win, a loss and a draw, just like Japan. They had the same goal differential as Japan, but what made the difference was Japan had less yellow cards than Senegal. That made all the difference between qualifying or not. The Lions of Teranga are back this year with the highest rank of all the African teams.

The national team has players that play in various European clubs; most play for either English or French teams. Coach Allou Cisse is the same coach they had since 2015. The team has had recent notable wins against Bolivia and Egypt, notable draws against Iran and Togo, and only two losses in the last year and a half. Senegal looks to improve as a team in 2022 and the stadiums of Qatar are another chance for them to move forward.

-Netherlands (8): The excitement of the Oranje almost always seems to be a given during a World Cup or a Euro. But after the 2014 World Cup where they finished third, they ran into trouble. They failed to qualify for the 2016 Euro and the 2018 World Cup. Turns out after they dropped Louis van Gaal as head coach just after World Cup 2014, they dealt with seven head coaches since. Van Gaal has returned as head coach after their Round of 16 elimination at Euro 2020.

For the national team for this World Cup, most of the players either play for German leagues or Netherlands’ Eridivisie. The team features a wide variety of veterans and young players. Since Euro 2020, the Netherlands team has not had a single loss. They’ve scored big wins against Belgium, Wales and Denmark. They’ve also had noteworthy draws against Germany and Poland. 2022 looks to be a big year of redemption for the Netherlands and I’m sure they’ll prove a lot here in Qatar.

MY PREDICTION: And now for my thoughts on Group A. It’s hard to predict as some teams have proved a lot while others have more to prove. I predict the two teams to qualify to the knockout phase will be the Netherlands and Senegal.

And there you have it! The first of my reviews of the groups for the 2022 World Cup. As we get closer and closer to the start, you will be seeing more reviews and more predictions.

World Cup 2014: Third-Place Match Prediction

Like it? That's an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.
Like it? That’s an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.

This is the match neither of the two teams wanted to play but really have no other choice. Doesn’t it make you wonder who wins the Third-Place Match at the World Cup? The team that’s the least disheartened? Or the team that most feels they have one last thing to prove? A neat bit of trivia: the third-place match is the one World Cup match that has never come down to a penalty shootout and went into extra time only once in the World Cup’s history. Whatever the situation, the two semifinal losers will duke it out for one last World Cup shot in the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha.

I don’t think very many people make predictions for the third-place match. Maybe they do. Whatever the situation, I thin I’ll make a prediction for Saturday’s game. First a rundown of the two teams. Starting with past head-to-head results.

Past Head-To-Head Results: Netherlands and Brazil have squared off eleven times before: Netherlands won three, Brazil three and five draws and both teams have scored a total of 15 goals against each other. The World Cup has been the stage for four of those previous rivalries. First was in 1974 during second-round group play which the Netherlands won 2-0. Second time was in the 1994 quarterfinals where Brazil was the victor that time 3-2. Third time was the following World Cup in the semifinals where they tied 1-1 only for Brazil to win in a penalty shoot out. Fourth time was at the last World Cup in the quarterfinals where Brazil pretty much gave it away with an own-goal and Oranje won 2-1. So what does the fifth World Cup rivalry look like?

Netherlands FootballNETHERLANDS: Here’s a team that’s struggling to get their first World Cup win. Three times the bridesmaid (1974, 1978 and 2010), never the bride. Here in 2014, they were brilliant in the group stage winning all their games and humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1.  They continued to look good with their 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. However there was a sign they would struggle when they played to a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Hey, don’t underestimate Costa Rica’s defense. Fortunately their replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul was the right choice as he blocked two Costa Rican penalty kicks to help Netherlands advance to the semifinals.

Then their semifinal against Argentina. Netherlands had slightly more ball possession while Argentina had five attempts on target compared to three from the Dutch. Nevertheless it was awfully bleak for a game like that. The two were just tough rivals. So after 120 scoreless minutes, it took penalty kicks to decide. This time head goalkeeper Cillessen was kept in. However  the penalty kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were no match for Argentina’s Sergio Romero. It only took a four in a row from Argentina to take them to the final.

So now that the Dutch are out of contention for the Cup, will they win this match? They have played one third-place match before back in 1998 to Croatia and lost 2-1. They have shown in plays against Argentina and Costa Rica that they can control the ball and they can control their opponents, even when they don’t score. They showed in their 5-1 win against Spain they can really seize the moment and challenge a top rival. However the fact they haven’t scored a goal since the Round of 16 really makes me question if the ‘Orange Magic’ has faded. Also who knows how hungry Brazil is? And I’ll get to them later. If they want to win, they should maintain the same control they had during the field play time they had. Also Cillessen should be on guard. Until the penalty shoot out against Argentina, he has only conceded four goals this World Cup. Natherlands has the ability but do they have the hunger?

Brazil FootballBRAZIL: To be honest, there were actually bigger humiliations at this World Cup than Tuesday’s Mineirazo. Like defending champs Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then 2-0 to Chile to be out of the running. Or how about England failing to win a game for the first time since 1958? Even Italy being ousted in Group Stage for the second World Cup in a row is a pretty big embarrassment. Nevertheless Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany right in front of a home crowd as World Cup host nation really bruised the nation’s football ego. A nation that had the biggest World Cup legacy had their current teams weaknesses exposed by Germany on a home stage and in front of the eyes of the World. And they still have to fight one last time.

No doubt this was a team that was showing signs of struggle. Coach Scolari knew the difficulties he had to deal with and team psychologist Regina Brandao really had to work with the team. The setbacks of Neymar getting his back broken and Thiago Silva being banned from the semifinal match was sure to almost everybody this would set Brazil back, but nobody expected a disaster like this.

Now that the third-place match is ahead, there may be question if Brazil will be ready physically. Neymar of course won’t be there. Thiago Silva can be eligible to play again which should be crucial as he was critical to their defense. Also the question if Fred will be on the roster especially after his bad play during the game. Also there is the big question of whether Brazil will be there for the game mentally. You can bet that between Tuesday and Saturday, Brandao will have to work better than she ever has. Of all current players on Brazil’s team, it’s probably Julio Cesar that would probably be the one most hurt mentally. He’s the one that let those seven goals in.

There have been big-name athletes and teams that would have to perform right after a humiliating performance. Some would be the all-or-nothing type and deliver half-heartedly and then there are some that would deliver for pride and come out shining despite losing it all. That’s what it would come down to with Brazil’s play on Saturday. Brazil has played three third-place matches in past World Cups and won two but this is a different third-place match for the team. We know how hurt they are but how will they deliver on their last shot for glory?

Prediction: Okay, you all know what my pick is. I’ll tell you who I think will win and who I want to win. I think it will be the Netherlands 2-1. I think Brazil might not have recovered from Tuesday’s match psychologically. Though I could be wrong. Actually I hope I’m wrong because I want Brazil to win for pride. In fact I sent the Brazilian team a tweet: “Finish the way a true athlete would and WIN ON SATURDAY!”

Update (11 July): Actually I did some thinking in the past 24 hours and even did some reading. And I didn’t let statistics get in the way, even though World Cup host nations have played the third-place match four times before and won three times. Actually I based my opinion on team attitude. That is a critical factor for the third-place match. And my new prediction is Brazil 2-1. The Netherlands lacks motivation. Coach Louis Van Gaal sees the game as pointless, Wesley Sneijders said the only match that matters is the one for the Cup and Arjen Robben has appeared equally disinterested. However the Brazilians are very motivated for this match. And rightly so. Scolari has encouraged the team to play the match out for pride and the honor of the Brazilian team. I’m sure after the embarrassment on Tuesday, that is the motivation they will need. Even the teammates agree, and Thiago Silva is eligible to play again. Go Brasil!