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 2018 Preview: Group F

I just bought the official guide to the World Cup. It gives a lot of fact and figures and trivia. Some World Cup trivia facts are worth knowing, like who scored the most goals or who achieved the fastest red card. Others, not really. Anyways enough of that. Let’s get back to reviewing the World Cup. Today it’s Group F:

Germany fixed

-Germany (1)- Germany appear to be the clear favorites after their World Cup win in 2014. There doesn’t seem to be anything that appears to hinder them. However the defending champion teams have had a history of bad luck at the World Cup. The last time a team successfully defended their World Cup was back in 1962. The last time the defending champion made it to the final was in 1998. Also let’s keep in mind that three of the last four defending champion teams were ousted in the group stage. Germany looks like one team that won’t let it happen. The last time Germany finished outside the Top 8 was all the way back in 1938. However don’t rely on statistics.

Anyways the Mannschaft have been playing very well since their win in 2014. Upon the retirement of many vets after the Cup, coach Joachim Loew has had to train some new talent. They won the Confederations Cup for the first time ever last year. They also got as far as the semifinals at Euro 2016. However they did expose a weakness in their quarterfinal win against Italy when three of the players missed penalty shots: uncharacteristic for a team with a near-perfect record. Germany has delivered a lot of impressive wins like 6-0 over Norway, 4-1 over Mexico and 2-1 over Chile. However Germany ‘s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia is its first win since World Cup qualification. They even lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 over Austria. Chances are they could just come alive again at the World Cup. They’ve always been together at every World Cup and I’m sure Russia 2018 will be no exception.

Mexico

-Mexico (15)- Mexico is frequently seen as a sleeping giant in football. They’re a team loaded with talent waiting for their big breakthrough. Sure, they’ve qualified for the knockout stage in every World Cup they’ve played in since 1986, but 1986 was the first and only time Mexico won a knockout game. You can bet Mexico’s hoping to finally get their breakthrough.

El Tricolor have had ups and downs these past four years. They won the 2015 CONCACAF Championship but finished third in 2017. They also finished fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. However at the last two Copa Americas, the best they could do was the quarterfinals. Their track records this past year has been good. They’ve had good wins like 3-0 against Iceland, 1-0 against Poland and 3-1 against Ireland. They even delivered a strong 3-3 draw against Belgium. However they’ve had some noteworthy losses such as 1-0 against Croatia and 4-1 against Germany. Anything is possible in 2018 and Mexico could rise to the occasion.

Sweden Fixed

-Sweden (23)- If there’s one team that can cause an upset, it’s Sweden. During World Cup qualifying, the Top 2 teams from UEFA’s Group A were expected to be France and the Netherlands. France did come out of top, but Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands on goal differentials. Sweden was drawn to play against Italy for the playoff berth. I’m sure everyone expected Italy to win it. However a goal from Jakob Johansson in the 61st minute of the first game and a scoreless second game meant Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Never underestimate the Swedes.

You can bet the Blagult will be ready. The big shock is that Jakob Johansson who delivered the berth-winning goal will not be in Russia. Neither will its superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he retired from the national team after Euro 2016. Now the most capped man on the Swedish team is Hull City’s Sebastian Larsson. Since 2017, Sweden has delivered notable wins such as 3-2 against Portugal, 2-1 against France, and of course their 1-0 surprise over Italy. However they’ve had some notable losses like 2-0 against the Netherlands, 2-1 over Chile and 1-0 against Romania. However never rule Sweden out. If they can upset the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, they could create an upset in Russia 2018.

Korea

-Korea Republic (South Korea) (61)- There’s no doubt that South Korea is the top team in Asia. It has a record of consistency with qualifying for every World Cup since 1986. They come to Russia hoping to make a good impression, but most experts don’t have too high of expectations for them. Which is surprise since they were finalists at the last Asian Cup and even won last year’s East Asian Cup. I think they get the ranking because they didn’t win a game at the last World Cup. Actually no AFC team won a single game at the last World Cup.

Most of the lineup plays for Korea’s K League 1. Only four play for European teams. Since 2017, the team has had some remarkable wins like 2-1 over Colombia and 4-1 over Japan. However the team has had some noteworthy losses like 3-1 to Bosnia, 4-2 to Russia and 3-2 to Poland. Chances are South Korea could rise to the occasion again. They just have to prove it in Russia.

And those are my thoughts on Group F. As for predicting which two will move onto the knockout round, I think it will be Germany and Mexico. Those are my best hunches.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Just four more stadiums to go. As we get closer, the stadiums will get bigger. Interesting how the World Cup will show us big cities in Russia we never knew about. In fact I never knew about this city until I learned of the stadium.

Rostov-On-Don: Rostov Arena

Rostov at night

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 45,000

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

The most interesting thing about the stadium is that soon after ground broke, five shells from World War II were found in June 2013 and they were in near-perfect condition! The stadium is noteworthy for its irregular shape of roofing and stands. Its lighting at night is definitely a spectacle to watch. The stadium is part of major city development of Rostov-on-Don. This is the first project built on the southern bank of the Don River. Built close to shopping and dining areas, the stadium will serve as a focal point for investments and new developments. After the Cup, the seating will be reduced to 42,000 and will serve as the home venue for FC Rostov.

And there’s my summary of Group F. Only six more days to go. And two more groups and three more stadiums for me to review.