Today, all 32 teams in the 2022 World Cup have played their opening games and insights are peaking through the pre-tournament fog. Though surprises have often ruled the day, and some referees’ lack of calls have conspired to be spoilers, the cup is off to a fun start, if not as exciting as 2018’s, particularly in the dearth of great goals—save a handful. But the next round of games promises more fun.
In World Cup 2022 Group A, Qatar are as we expected, a weak team in search of an identity. Ecuador are a young team searching for their place in global soccer and standing on the shoulders of their elders to find it. Senegal are a decent team without Sadio Mane but not good enough to progress far in this tourney. The Netherlands are an opportunistic team that will need to become more consistent soon or they too will be leaving Qatar early.
In World Cup 2022 Group B, England feel good about themselves as the USA bemoans its lost opportunity and braces for the toughest game of their cup. If the USA can’t get a point from their England match, they will go home early. Wales are where they hoped and know their destiny is in their hands now. Iran are hurting badly and know only a miracle will bring them back, but that is what will make them the hardest foe in the group going forward—they have nothing to lose.
In World Cup 2022 Group C, Argentina are brittle and how they play Mexico will determine their cup’s future, while Mexico’s opposition in that same match will determine theirs. Saudi Arabia need only tie twice to progress, not out of the question given their current high, while Poland cannot look beyond the Arabs if they are to have any hope for a future in Qatar.
In World Cup 2022 Group D, France is so strong, despite missing so many key players, that even though they lost another starter in their very first game they should still be considered a contender. Yet, it will be their game against Denmark which will answer all questions. Meanwhile, Australia has one foot out of the tourney save a miracle or two. Tunisia and Denmark have it all to play for in their next game, the outcomes deciding their group futures.
In World Cup 2022 Group E, we see a Spain who believe beating a weakened Costa Rica is an accomplishment soon to be pitted against a wounded Germany eager to get over their years-long fog. This is already shaping up to be one of the biggest games of the cup. Meanwhile, Japan knows that if they beat Costa Rica they will progress. This leaves it up to that single match to determine which European contender goes home early and which joins Japan in progressing.
In World Cup 2022 Group F, Belgium showed they are wily and experienced and that is a formidable combination to bank on when their motor is not firing on all pistons, but will it ignite on demand? Kevin de Bruyne has yet to fully appear at the cup. Canada has a potentially bright future, but at their current rate of performance, their Qatari experience will be short-lived as their opponents are all more experienced and at or above their level. If Canada do not want to play the embarrassed host in 2026, they need to engage higher-level coaching soon.
Croatia had its one allowed down-game for the cup and must now produce two big performances if they are to progress. Luka Modric was a shell of his wondrous self against Morocco and needs to be at his best from here on in. Meanwhile, Morocco are where they dreamt they might be but now they too must kick it up a notch to ensure progression.
In World Cup 2022 Group G, Brazil showed they are the real deal against a tough Serbia, but it took time for the Selecao to get in gear. Neymar was ok, but not yet up to his standards and one can only hope he recovers from his new foul-induced injury to showcase his wares as the tourney progresses. When they did, Richarlison scored the goal of the cup so far. Switzerland are the same tough team as in the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, but with a little less attacking flair and efficiency, and thus they may not be up to Serbia’s level. Cameroon played well and should be taken seriously by Serbia when they meet.
In World Cup 2022 Group H, Portugal played such an up-and-down game against Ghana it was hard to peg their performance, but one thing is sure the team could play well without CR7 who missed two golden open play scoring opportunities he would have easily converted just a year or so ago. Joao Felix and Rafael Leao are ready for prime time and should be starters. Ghana will give Uruguay and South Korea a run for their money. Uruguay are still one of the toughest teams to play at a World Cup, though the four stars over their crests devalue everyone else’s stars. South Korea have a chance to progress and Son was not the only player who looked good against Uruguay.
In short, in World Cup 2022 the Dutch have still to prove they are for real. The English will show their true colors against the USA and Wales, and the outcome of those games will go a long way to determining their future in the entire cup. Argentina need two emphatic wins or Messi will leave Qatar in tears. France have not had to sweat yet, and now they are down to a starting line-up plus a couple-a-guys. If they don’t find their mojo against Denmark and Tunisia, they will have a shorter stay than anticipated. Germany is as brittle as we anticipated and if they do not have the game of their new-look lives against Spain, they will be out at the group stage again. If Spain win, they automatically become a big cup contender.
Belgium need a big game against a tough opponent to feel whole and only Croatia will give them that at the group stage. The problem is the Red Devils do not need to win while the Croatians do—their match-up will be the litmus test both teams dearly need. Portugal have some tightening up to do and Santos needs to know Leao and not Otavio is the third striker. Also, Bernardo Silva is no winger, he needs to be in his natural central position for The Navigators to prosper.
Son needs help up front and Cho Gue-sung is his best strike partner. Brazil need to play Fred and Casemiro together in midfield and should try someone other than Raphinha if the winger can’t pick up his game. If Neymar’s swollen rolled ankle heals in time to help the team out the Canarinha are still the tournament’s overall favorites, even if he needs to miss a Group game or two.
Photo: Heung-min Son, Shutterstock ID: 1258085326, by Jose Breton Pics Action.
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