The World Cup begins this November, and after the official draw for groups earlier this year, most of the matchups in the group stage were determined. Now that playoff games to make the World Cup are officially completed, the full group stage picture has become clear.
With the opening match nearing and international teams already preparing for the tournament, it is worth looking at which groups could be the toughest at the tournament.
Canda, Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco make up Group F at this year’s World Cup. The group should be one of the most talented and exciting groups of the tournament, with each team within it having a chance to advance to the knockout rounds.
For only the second time in history, Canada qualified for the World Cup. Canda has not participated in the tournament since 1986. Not only did Canada qualify, but they also finished first in CONCACAF qualifying and won matches against the United States and Mexico.
Belgium will enter the World Cup as a potential favorite. The country has had incredible talent develop over the last decade, and players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku will make them incredibly tough to beat. The 2nd ranked team in the FIFA World Men’s Ranking, Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup.
Croatia, despite only being ranked 16th in the World Ranking, is a team with incredible World Cup experience. The country finished 2nd to France at the last World Cup, losing 4-2 in the final. They will certainly be a team expected to reach the knockout stage, and if they do they will be a difficult team to beat.
The final member of the group, Morocco, is, like Canda, a talented young team. They finished their World Cup qualifying process without being beaten, and now rank 24th in the World Ranking. The team will hope to make its’ second Round of 16 appearances in its’ history in 2022.
While Croatia and Belgium will be the two clear favorites to reach the knockout rounds, they face two tough teams in Morocco and Canada. Both teams were dominant in qualifying and could be a tough challenge for the European teams expected to finish at the top of the group.
After the World Cup draw, Group E was almost immediately the focus of discussion. Germany and Spain headline the group, and are joined by Costa Rica, who recently defeated New Zealand to secure their place in the tournament, and Japan.
Japan, the 2nd highest-ranked team in the AFC, and 23rd overall in the World Ranking, finished second in their group during World Cup qualifying. They have made the Round of 16 two out of the last three World Cups. In Russia in 2018, Japan took a 2-0 lead over Belgium, before three second-half goals eliminated them from the tournament, and they will hope to improve on that performance even further this year.
Costa Rica got off to a bad start to CONCACAF qualifying and didn’t win a match in the final round of qualifying until the fifth matchday. Four straight wins at the end of qualifying, and six wins in their last seven games, boosted them into a tie on points with the United States, but they were forced to play in a World Cup playoff due to goal difference. A 1-0 win over New Zealand secured their spot in the field, and despite their difficult qualifying path they will be a difficult opponent in the group stage.
In 2018, Germany had one of the worst World Cup performances in their history, failing to reach the knockout stages. Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup was a return to form for the team, which finished first in its group with 27 points and allowed just four goals. Heading into the fall, Germany will be one of the favorites to win the tournament. Although in their most recent set of Nations League matches they won only one game.
Spain, like Germany, will be one of the favorites at the World Cup. They won the 2010 edition of the tournament, and have reached the Round of 16 in three of the last four World Cups. Spain finished first in their UEFA World Cup qualifying group and is currently first in their group in the UEFA Nations League.
With two perennial World Cup contenders headlining the group, Group E may be one of the most exciting groups at the World Cup. As with Group F, the two European teams will be the favorites to advance, but Costa Rica and Japan will be difficult teams to face, and no team within this group will be able to afford any mistakes.
This group features Argentina, Mexico, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. Two of the best players in the world, Lionel Messi, and Robert Lewandowski will lead their teams as they try to advance to the knockout rounds.
Saudi Arabia is considered the 49th best team in the world according to the FIFA World Ranking, however, they finished first in their AFC qualifying group ahead of Japan. A 1-0 defeat of Japan during qualifying set the stage for the country to reach its’ second straight World Cup.
Robert Lewandowski and Poland finished second to England in their group in UEFA World Cup qualifying and advanced to the playoff stages of qualifying. A 2-0 win against Sweden, in which Lewandowski scored a penalty, advanced the country to its’ second straight World Cup. Poland ranks 26th in the FIFA World Ranking, but Lewandowski, one of the best players in the world, will make them a difficult opponent this fall.
Mexico enter the World Cup ranked within the Top 10 of the World Ranking and finished second in CONCACAF qualifying. Mexico finished qualifying on a seven-game unbeaten streak, and followed that up with a win and a draw in CONCACAF Nations League play, which began earlier in June. Mexico continues to be consistent in both CONCACAF play and at the World Cup, where they have reached the Round of 16 every year since 1994.
For Argentina, this tournament will represent possibly, and probably, the last opportunity they will have to win the World Cup with Lionel Messi. In three of the last four World Cups, the team has advanced to the knockout stages, and finished second in 2014 in Brazil. Argentina finished second to Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifying, 11 points ahead of third-place Uruguay, and will be one of the favorites at the tournament.
Every group at this year’s World Cup will be exciting, but these three groups present some of the toughest challenges in this edition of the tournament. There are clear favorites in each group, but all of those teams will have difficulty advancing without playing at their best throughout the group stage of the tournament.
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