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 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.

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group E

With the World Cup getting ever so closer, it’s time for another group review, along with another stadium review. Also this blog will give you an added bonus feature. Anyways lots to anticipate. Lots to focus on here.

Brazil-Brazil (2)- I’m not going to bring up the humiliation Brazil went through during the 2014 World Cup. I will say it has been an interesting four years since. The first two years were the hardest, but also very hopeful. Dunga had assumed the role as head coach and things looked promising, until the 2015 Copa America. There, they were ousted in the quarterfinals. For the next year, they struggled in international play and were even ranked low in World Cup qualifying. Then at the 2016 Copa America, another early ouster: in group play. With the Olympics coming soon, they changed to coach Tita, who was most experience in play and coaching with Brazil’s Campeopnato Brasiliero league. The change has worked to success. Brazil won gold at the 2016 Olympics and won every World Cup qualifying game since. Brazil would become the first team to qualify for this World Cup.

The  Seleção’s success continues. It has not lost a game since the 2016 Copa America and even won a friendly against Germany 1-0. Brazil is one team coming to Russia not simply for victory, but redemption as well.

Switzerland-Switzerland (6)- Switzerland is one team that’s been waiting long and hard for their big breakthrough. They have a lot to prove, but have often come up short. The last time they won a knockout game was back in 1938. Their best ever result is the quarterfinals which was last achieved in 1954 which they hosted. They’ve grown in talent and prowess in recent years. At the last World Cup, Xherdan Shaqiri delivered a hat trick en route to qualifying to the Round Of 16, but their trip to the Cup was ended by Argentina.

The Swiss team has had its strongest years in this past while. This is the fourth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for. The team features defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, midfielders Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and striker Haris Seferovic. The team is coached by Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic. The Swiss team come to Russia with a good track record in this past year with wins against Hungary and Greece and a 1-1 draw against Spain. However they also had to endure a 2-0 loss to Portugal. Switzerland comes to Russia with a lot to prove.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (25)- Costa Rica is a team that will surprise you when you least expect it. At the last World Cup, the team wound up in Group D where they would have to play Italy, Uruguay and England. Just about everybody, including myself, thought Coast Rica would be the team least likely to qualify. Instead they topped the Group with wins against Italy and Uruguay and drew against England. A win against Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 took them to the quarterfinals for the first-time ever. Despite losing to the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica defied all expectations and set a new standard for the team.

This year’s team features a new coach in Oscar Ramirez. Their star striker Bryan Ruiz from Sporting CP is back. Many of the team’s top players play for MLS. In the past year, Costa Rica has had good wins against Northern Ireland, Scotland and the US. However it’s had to endure losses to Hungary, Spain (5-0) and Tunisia. Who knows? 2018 could be another Cinderella story like 2014.

Serbia-Serbia (35)- Serbia is a national team that’s rather young: only 12 years old. Its national team may not have the experience as most of the teams present in Russia. However they’re a team of surprises. If you remember the 2010 World Cup, they won against Germany 1-0. The team of the former Yugoslavia has had way better success in the past; even going as far as fourth. Serbia hopes one day to emulate the past success. The team does show promise as they won the under-20 World Cup in 2015.

Possibly as a result of their win in 2015, seven players of the Serbian team were born in 1995 or later. The team also features top veterans like defenseman Branislav Ivanovic and goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. In the past year, they’ve acquired notable wins against China, Ireland and Nigeria. However they’ve had notable losses to Morocco and Chile. Don’t rule Serbia out for 2018.

And there’s my rundown of the teams from Group E. As for who will qualify for the Round of 16, I believe it will be Brazil and Switzerland.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Moscow: Spartak Stadium (Okritie Arena)Otkritie

Year Opened: 2014

Capacity: 45,360

World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, G, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

Spartak Stadium is one of two venues in Moscow that will be hosting matches for this World Cup. Its current name is Okritie Arena after the Russian Okritie Bank, but will be known as Spartak Stadium during the World Cup.

The stadium cost $430 million to build. Actually the second Moscow stadium that was planned for the World Cup was VTB Arena, which was to combine a soccer stadium and ice hockey rink all in one. Instead Spartak Stadium was build first and won the right to be an official venue. It was even one of the four venues that played host to last year’s Confederations Cup. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team.

BONUS FEATURE

Stadiums aren’t the only thing I will be focusing on in this World Cup. I will also focus on other things unique to the World Cup. For this first bonus, I will be focusing on the official World Cup Ball.

Official Match Ball: Telstar 18Telstar 18

It’s a given that with each world Cup, Adidas delivers a match ball that is designed to take football technology to a new level. Some like 2014’s Brazuca are welcomed well. Some like 2010’s Jabulani hit a sour note with the players. For 2018, Adidas launches Telstar 18.

The ball was unveiled by Adidas on at its official presentation in Moscow on November 9, 2017 and it was Lionel Messi that announced the name. Telstar 18 plays tribute to the original Telstar ball (from 1970) which was Adidas’ first ever official World Cup ball. This Telstar ball features six textured panels that aren’t sewn together, but seamlessly glued together. The ball has an embedded near-field communication chip which allows the consumer to access information personalized from the ball and including interactivity themed on the upcoming World Cup.

And there you have it. That’s my review of the Group E teams. Only three more groups to go! Time sure does pass fast! Stay tuned!