Some intriguing fixtures were thrown out last night during the draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup which will take place in Qatar in November.
Senegal and Netherlands will kick off the tournament on the 21st of the month at the Al Thumama Stadium and the African Cup of Nations champions will be hoping to cause another upset just like they did 20 years ago at the 2002 World Cup when they beat holders France on the first day.
It isn’t the only match to be played on day one - there will be four in total in this condensed tournament. England will be in action in the second match and interestingly it will be the first time they have played on the opening day of a World Cup since 1966, and they won it that year. Is that an omen?
They came painfully close last summer to winning their first major tournament since ‘66 but were beaten on penalties in the Euro 2020 final by Italy at Wembley. They will take on Iran and also have the US and one of either Wales, Scotland and the Ukraine in Group B and coach Gareth Southgate could not have asked for a better group.
England are favourites to finish top however their likely path to World Cup glory involves horror ties against France, Argentina and Brazil after the easy start. Providing Southgate’s side top Group B, they will face the country that finishes in second spot in Group A and that consists of tournament hosts Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador. The Dutch are the favourites to finish first and so that could mean a potential last-16 clash against the reigning African champs.
If England win that, then they could battle winners of Group D in the quarters - and that is likely to be World Cup holders France. Didier Deschamps’ men play Denmark, Tunisia and one of either UAE, Australia and Peru. If the Three Lions make it to the semis they will compete against the remaining country from the top half of the draw – and that could be a clash against Argentina. There have already been several famous encounters in 1986, 1998 and 2002 and another clash would have the potential to be another World Cup classic. And if Kane and co were to navigate their way to the final they could meet another South American giant – Brazil.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Uruguay will meet in Group H in what is likely to be a grudge match. In the 2010 tournament the African team were seconds away from booking their spots in the semis but Uruguay striker Luis Suarez blocked a goal-bound shot on the line with his hand at the end of extra time. He was shown a red card and Ghana were awarded a penalty however Asamoah Gyan missed and Uruguay won on spot-kicks. Ghana will be seeking revenge and will to set the record straight when the teams meet.
Oddly, there is no ‘group of death’ this time around while the biggest game of the group stage will be Spain v Germany on 27 November. In the last World Cup Spain were knocked out in the last 16 while the Germans did not even make it out of their group. The 2010 and 2014 winners will both be looking to do better this time around.
Last but not least, this could very well be the final World Cup involving Argentina’s Lionel Messi, 34, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, 34 and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, 33 and all three attackers will be doing their best to go out in a blaze of glory when the action begins.