My Thoughts on the World Cup Draw

The draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar happened over two weeks ago, but I guess I’m so much of a nerd that I’m still thinking about it. It’s finals week, so instead of studying (it’s overrated anyway) I decided to write up some thoughts about each of the World Cup groups. Without further adieu (shoutout to the American Pelé), here it is. Feel free to disagree.

Group A: Qatar, the Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador

This group looks chaotic and I love it. The Netherlands are a strong team, no doubt, but they’re gonna need more from frontman Memphis Depay if they want to make noise outside of the group stage. They have an absolute luxury of central defenders, though, (Van Dijk, Timber, de Ligt, etc…) and they should cement their place in the final 16. 

The hosts, meanwhile, have all but been written off in this group, which is understandable. The miniscule Qataris have likely the least talented roster in the tournament, but here’s the twist (and there is a twist): their national team basically operates like a club team. Most of the Qatar players play for the same team, Al Sadd SC, which you may have heard of because it is the club that the great Xavi joined in 2015, and later managed up until his appointment as Barcelona manager last year. Now, the Maroon won’t be playing anything close to the glorious tiki-taka of the famed Catalan club, but they shouldn’t be overlooked either.

 Senegal is a great team, and I expect them to go through. Critics tend to lean into disgusting and quite frankly racist assumptions about African teams, and in the case of Senegal, they are completely inaccurate. The Lions of Teranga might have one of the most balanced rosters outside of the top pot, and they play a really attractive brand of football (soccer?) to match. 

Ecuador is another team that I really like, and I think they have an interesting crop of young talent in the wings. They had some impressive wins in qualifying, including a 6-1 beatdown of Colombia and a 4-2 thrashing of Uruguay. That being said, they’re young, and I think they may be outmatched by the collective experience of the other three squads in the group.

Group B: US of A, England, Iran, Wales/Scotland/Ukraine

It’s coming home to the greatest nation in the goddamn galaxy, baby. USA! USA! USA! Jokes aside, I’m lowkey concerned that the Yanks won’t make it out of the group. Sure, they made it out of the “Group of Death” in 2014 with considerably less talent than they have now, but this is a tough draw, even with the LeBron James of soccer on your side. In qualifying, the U.S. struggled mightily against the compact low-block that Canada sent out, and they’re gonna have to learn how to break down a parked bus if they want to advance. Likewise, they’ll likely send out the youngest roster by an average age (23.7 years) almost two full years younger than Ecuador, the next closest squad. With Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna (God willing, please stay healthy), Weston McKennie and Co., the ceiling is the roof, though I’d temper my hype for this group until 2026.

England will be England; they’re the favorites in the group for a reason, and it’ll take more than an Aaron Ramsdale howler for the Yanks to snag a favorable result. They might be the strongest squad on paper in the tournament, spearheaded by veterans Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling and some exciting prospects in Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden. Knowing The Three Lions, though, they’ll find a way to fumble the trophy on its way home.

Now, Iran. I can’t really say I’ve seen them play, but they dominated Asian qualifying and played tough against Spain and Portugal in the last World Cup. All indicators point to them being a really hard team to break down, so the U.S. better hope that the Iranians have something to play for (and, as a result, play a less defensive style) coming into the last matchday of the group stage.

I can’t predict who the winner of the UEFA play-off will be, but I think any of these teams could give the US fits. I tend to think of Scotland, Wales, and Ukraine as being very physical teams that are hard to play through. Again, the US will need to learn how to break teams down in the final third. From a US perspective, I think Ukraine is the hardest potential opponent of the three, then Scotland, and finally Wales. If Ukraine makes it through to the World Cup, they could certainly challenge the USMNT for second place in the group.

Group C: Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Poland

Mexico fans, click away for this one. El Tri have been eliminated in the Round of 16 for seven straight World Cups, which is an impressive feat given that they’ve made it out of some tough groups along the way. Unfortunately, I’m not certain that they’ll even make it to the knock outs this run, and this group looks fairly easy to be honest.

Messi and Argentina look to be primed for a run in what could be the GOAT’s final World Cup appearance. He alone could carry La Albiceleste to the quarterfinals. The rest of the team, though, is kind of…meh? Argentina and playing defense have never gone well together, though they do have some supporting talent in the attack with the likes of Lautaro Martinez and Angel di Maria. They’ll certainly beat Mexico/Saudi Arabia, and I suspect they’ll be one of the betting favorites heading into the tournament, but I’d be shocked if it ends with Messi finally hoisting the trophy.

I really don’t have much to say about Saudi Arabia. Sorry. Their jerseys are pretty cool, though.

Ok, so Poland. They have Robert Lewandowski, that’s good. They’ll need him to be on fire this tournament if they want to make noise. After that…Pietr Zielinski? Matty Cash? Adam Buksa of my home state Revs? (Just kidding…though I’d be very happy if Buksa torched his way through this tournament into a massive transfer fee). I don’t think they’re a super strong team, but wins against Saudi Arabia and Mexico look plausible and would be enough to advance.

Back to Mexico. All these years of watching El Tri whoop us Yanks (up until 2021, at least) have made me quite bitter, so take this with a grain of salt. On paper, Mexico is usually a squad with a lot of potential, but they’re really old now. Hector Herrera, Andrés Guardado and Hector Moreno are all past their primes but played key roles in Mexico’s qualifying campaign. They do have some decent young players in the midfield and backline, but they didn’t give them enough time to grow during this cycle, which showed. Dropping all but two of the available points against Canada and the U.S. stings, but they didn’t impress much at all during “the Octagonal,” and needed late winners twice to put away an inexperienced Jamaica side. Their attack, headed by Chucky Lozano, Raul Jimenez, and Tecatito Corona, is pretty talented, but they can be wasteful at times, and I don’t expect their midfield will be capable enough of creating chances for them. Simply put, this team does not play with the same swagger or intensity that the El Tri of old exhibited. Streak = broken.

Group D: France, Denmark, Tunisia, Peru/Australia

Boring. I don’t think France will fall victim to the World Cup winner’s curse. As a whole, this group just isn’t very exciting. Tunisia and the CONMEBOL-AFC play-off winner don’t look very threatening. Denmark, on the other hand, are talented (excited to see Christian Eriksen back on the biggest stage), but I don’t see them stealing points from Les Bleus.


Group E: Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica/New Zealand

Buckle up, this one could be fun. Spain and Germany are the obvious contenders. Germany are a squad in flux, and they’ve never really seemed to find their rhythm since their World Cup win in 2014, but they’re still loaded with talent. They stomped their way through a pretty weak qualifying group, but had a really weird Euro, including a mess of a win against Portugal. I really don’t know what to make of this team, but they’ll advance. Either way, their matchups against Spain and Japan will be delightful to watch.

Speaking of Spain, they’re kind of in a similar situation as Die Mannschaft, except they’re in an even more pronounced rebuild than the Germans. Building a team around the likes of Pedri, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres etc… is smart in the long run, but they lack collective experience as a unit. It doesn’t help that they only have four members of the old guard left (Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Alvaro Morata, Thiago), and there’s no guarantee that all of those guys will be on the flight to Qatar next fall. 

Moving on…Celtic FC! Nevermind, it’s Japan. It seems like half of their national team plays for the Scottish giants these days, though, so I sometimes get them mixed up. Real talk, though, this team is sneaky good, combining veteran experience with some exciting talents like Takefusa Kubo, Takumi Minamino and Takehiro Tomiyasu. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stole points from either Spain or Germany.

As for Costa Rica/New Zealand, I don’t think either of these teams are valid, but prove me wrong.

Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium’s Golden Generation gets one final opportunity at glory. The core of Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard (though he’ll probably tear his hamstring standing up from the Real Madrid bench) and Thibaut Courtois is as good as any others *on paper.* Club form has been an issue for Lukaku and Hazard, though, but Belgium have some decent supporting players with the likes of Thorgan Hazard, Yannick Carrasco and Youri Tielemans. My concern with them is their defense. They’ve relied on a trio of center backs with extremely Belgian names (Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld) for years, and that won’t do, as Vermaelen recently retired and Alderweireld is off playing his club football in Qatar. The Red Devils will make a run, no doubt, but I’m interested to see how the rest of this group plays out.

I hate Canada. Just their soccer team, really. Am I salty that they were better than the U.S. in qualifying? Yeah. But the way that they did it was disgusting. Playing bunker-ball, route 1 football against the likes of Honduras and El Salvador is laughable, but it worked! They’re not gonna mesmerize you with long strings of possession and fancy footwork (though I’ll bet Alphonso Davies is gonna pull off an insane run at some point), but they’re a really organized and well-drilled team, and that gets results. From a defensive standpoint, they match up decently to counterattack against the likes of Belgium and Croatia. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll advance.

Croatia, of course, was the Cinderella story of the last World Cup, but lighting usually doesn’t strike the same place twice. They’re returning most of their cast from 2018, which includes aging maestro Luka Modric and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic. It wouldn’t be the World Cup without a few early upsets, so against my better judgment, I’m gonna say that they’ll be on a flight home from Doha after the group stage.

Morocco has one of the best fullbacks in the world in Achraf Hakimi, but other than him they’re lacking talent, and they might struggle to pick up many points in this group. Especially if Hakim Ziyech stays in national team retirement (which is due to some beef he has with the coach, but I don’t really understand it), I don’t expect much from this team.

Group G: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon

If you’re feeling a bit of dejá vu from this group, I understand. Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia were paired together last time around too! Anyway, I think this is Brazil’s tournament to lose. The Selecao are the hottest team in international soccer, tossing aside their CONMEBOL foes enroute to a 14-win qualifying campaign. They have an embarrassment of riches at nearly every position (I’m not kidding when I say that this might be Brazil’s strongest side since 2006), and aside from the fullback roles (39 year old Dani Alves? Really?), this team has no weaknesses. There’s a good blend of youth and experience and individual talent and cohesion on this roster, so they’re my pick to collect the trophy this fall.

Switzerland and Serbia are two organized and savvy units. In all honesty, the Serbs should’ve been a pot two team, especially after they finished above Portugal in qualifying, but I digress. The 1-2 striker tandem of Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic (who leads the English Championship with 38 goals this season) is gonna be terrifying to watch. Switzerland, on the other hand, were one of my favorite teams to watch at the Euros last summer (that comeback win against France was insane), and were a few missed penalties away from making the semifinals. I like either Switzerland or Serbia as a dark horse contender, but for now I’ll have the Eagles advancing.

Cameroon are likely the odd ones out in this group, but they’re no slouches. Andre Onana is a fantastic goalkeeper, plus they have decent options in the midfield and attack with the likes of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

Group H: Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, South Korea

This group looks like a toss-up, and I’m running low on time, so I’m gonna predict that Uruguay and South Korea advance. Hit me up if you care for an explanation.