World Cup draw: France look good for Russia repeat but hosts Qatar among big losers

By Sports Desk April 01, 2022

Italy may have been absent from Friday's 2022 World Cup draw, but they can at least provide recent examples of the pitfalls of forecasting the finals this far in advance.

At South Africa 2010, as defending champions, the Azzurri would have expected to top an apparently kind group, drawn alongside New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. Remarkably, Marcello Lippi's side finished bottom.

Four years later, at Brazil 2014, Italy entered the 'group of death' and fared little better, coming in third ahead of fellow big-name failures England – but predicted Group D whipping boys Costa Rica sensationally topped the standings.

It is surely too early then to form firm opinions, but where is the fun in taking such a measured approach on draw day, rather than plotting potential paths to the Lusail final?

France fans will likely be doing the latter this weekend, with Les Bleus having been handed perhaps the pick of the groups, starting against one of the United Arab Emirates, Australia or Peru before facing Denmark and then Tunisia.

Of course, France are the defending champions and four of the past five holders have bowed out at the group stage, including the most recent three in a row, while Brazil in 1962 were the last team to win consecutive tournaments.

But France's title-winning campaign in 2018 saw them grouped with Australia, Peru and Denmark, giving Didier Deschamps' men some confidence they can negotiate this task, too. In the last 16, they would then face a team from Argentina's group – Lionel Messi and Co. having provided France's second-round opponents in Russia.

Brazil might also be suffering from deja vu, again meeting Serbia and Switzerland in the group stage, with Cameroon taking Costa Rica's place this time around. Like France, the Selecao topped their pool four years ago – as every eventual champion since 1986 has.

Crucially for both, in coming up against Denmark and Switzerland, they avoided Germany – surely the biggest threat in pot two. Rejuvenated under Hansi Flick, the 2014 champions provide a complication for both Spain and Belgium.

Germany followed Spain into Group E, where Japan might pose enough problems to ensure a top-two finish is no guarantee. Or perhaps Costa Rica could spring another surprise, as they will be the fourth team in the pool should they get past New Zealand in their inter-confederation play-off.

Bookmakers downgraded Germany's hopes in the minutes after the draw, but they were always likely to face elite opposition given their place in pot two. Spain were not.

And Belgium's kind group – Canada, Morocco and Croatia are their opponents – matters little given they will likely face either Spain or Germany in the second round.

England, on the face of it, have a simpler path to the quarter-finals. The Three Lions should be able to advance through a group that also includes Iran, the United States and Scotland, Ukraine or Wales – although those make for some tasty fixtures.

In the last 16, following a good period of rest, England would face opponents from Qatar's group, which was surely the result every pot one team hoped for.

Gareth Southgate would likely welcome a meeting with Qatar, but the host nation – the only debutants in 2022 – will do well to make it that far, with Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands each surely fancying their chances in a very even group.

South Africa in 2010 are the only hosts not to have progressed from the first round in World Cup history, but they could soon have company.

 

WINNERS

France – The defending champions face familiar opponents in the group and potentially in the second round, too, while they are in the same quarter of the draw as Qatar's pool and will avoid Spain, Germany, Belgium and Brazil early on.

Brazil – The tournament favourites should have no problems in the group so can settle into their campaign nicely while possible heavyweight opponents face titanic early tests.

England – The Euro 2020 finalists have been given thorough examinations by the USA, Scotland and Wales in past tournaments, but Southgate's side should advance and will back themselves again in the knockout stage.

LOSERS

Spain – La Roja have not won their World Cup opener since 2006 but simply cannot afford a slow start this time, with Germany and perhaps Belgium to play after that. From pot one, Spain's draw could not have been much worse.

Belgium – The odds for Roberto Martinez's men to go all the way drifted on Friday, as initial optimism around their group-stage draw was followed by greater inspection of a daunting path to the final.

Qatar – The hosts may be the Asian champions, but only Germany were perhaps feared more than the Netherlands from pot two, while Senegal in pot three are the African champions and have a world class operator in the form of Sadio Mane.

Related items

  • Scudetto must be a starting point for Milan, says Pioli Scudetto must be a starting point for Milan, says Pioli

    Stefano Pioli insists the Scudetto triumph must be a "starting point" for Milan after the Rossoneri lifted their first Serie A title in 11 years.

    Pioli's side dethroned city rivals Inter by beating Sassuolo on the final day of the 2021-22 campaign, securing their first trophy since lifting the Italian Super Cup in 2016.

    The Rossoneri won their final five matches and went 15 without defeat, with their final tally of 88 points their second best in the three-points-per-win era.

    Inter will be hungry to reclaim the Serie A title in the 2022-23 campaign, with Simone Inzaghi looking set to bring in Romelu Lukaku on loan and Paulo Dybala on a free transfer.

    Pioli, speaking after receiving honorary citizenship at Noceto on Monday, expressed his delight over Milan's success but acknowledged the champions will face stern competition in defending their title.

    "I am very happy and proud to be here this morning. I am very attached to this city, I know the place well," Pioli said, as quoted by TuttoMercatoWeb. 

    "The compliments make me happy, they are deserved for a club, a team, which has always believed and has always given our best.

    "We have been able to hold on in difficult moments and that has produced great satisfaction.

    "We know we have done something special, but it must be a starting point. We know the difficulties given the competitiveness that will be in Italy and in Europe.

    "The guys have great enthusiasm and a lot of passion, every day they try to improve to be a team that knows how to accept defeats but which also knows how to enhance the strengths of their team-mates."

  • England white-ball captain Morgan set to retire from international cricket England white-ball captain Morgan set to retire from international cricket

    England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan is set to retire from international cricket.

    Morgan is expected to announce his retirement during a press conference at Lord's on Tuesday, with vice-captain Jos Buttler poised to replace him.

    The 35-year-old batter has transformed the white-ball fortunes of England since his appointment in 2014, leading his side to World Cup glory with a dramatic win over New Zealand at Lord's in 2019.

    Morgan also guided England to the T20 World Cup final in 2016, before reaching the semi-finals of the same competition five years later.

    While England have become a huge force in limited-overs cricket during Morgan's tenure, the left-hander has struggled with the bat in recent times.

    England completed an ODI series sweep over Netherlands last week – extending their winning run to eight matches in the 50-over format – but Morgan failed to score in two matches before missing the final clash due to injury.

    The Dublin-born Morgan has passed 50 just once in his past eight ODI innings since scoring 106 against Ireland in February 2020, and had vowed to step down when he felt he could no longer contribute.

    England face India in a three-match T20I series starting on July 7 and are set to do so without their all-time leading run scorer in T20I and ODI cricket.

    Morgan has scored 7,701 ODI runs and 2,458 runs in the shortest format at international level. His 248 ODIs and 115 T20s are also England records for appearances.

    A brilliant leader and destructive batter, Morgan made his international debut for Ireland back in 2006 before committing to play for England. He played 16 Tests between 2010 and 2012.

    Matthew Mott will expect England to continue playing the aggressive brand of cricket that Morgan instilled as his side go in search of T20 World Cup glory in Australia later this year.

    They will then head to India next year attempting to defend their world title in the 50-over format.

  • The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag

    Erik ten Hag is the latest boss Manchester United have turned to in their pursuit of success in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

    David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have failed to meet expectations since Ferguson's retirement in 2013, leaving Ten Hag with a difficult challenge on his hands.

    Aside from getting results right on the pitch and challenging for honours, Ten Hag also has the task of bleeding young talent into the first-team fold on a regular basis – something his predecessors have all continued to do despite their eventual failings.

    The likes of Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have capitalised on opportunities in the past decade after rising through the club's youth ranks – and United have no shortage of players who can follow suit.

    Three players in particular are ones that Ten Hag should be keeping close tabs on, and they could become integral.

    Facundo Pellistri

    The highly rated winger has spent the past 18 months on loan in Spain with Deportivo Alaves, accumulating plenty of first-team opportunities with a total of 33 appearances across all competitions in that period, but just 11 have been as a starter.

    United may feel they can provide those limited opportunities off the bench themselves and, if utilised, can expect plenty of link-up play down the right side from Pellistri – with the majority of his final-third passes during his spell with Alaves coming in that area.

    No team in the top six of the Premier League last season scored fewer goals than United last term (57), with seventh-placed West Ham (60) and eighth-placed Leicester City (62) also bettering that tally.

    The attacking third is an area where Ten Hag needs to find more threat and Pellistri may provide that option, albeit he failed to register a goal or an assist during his spell in Spain. He created seven chances in 753 first-team minutes last season, but none of those were converted.

    With more creativity in the squad at United and better support, Pellistri should be able to improve on his direct return to register more influential moments in matches.

    James Garner

    Garner has helped turn Nottingham Forest from second-tier middlemen to a Premier League outfit – with a play-off victory against Huddersfield Town bringing an end to a 23-year wait for top-flight football.

    In Forest's promotion-winning campaign, loanee Garner was a regular fixture in the side with 41 appearances, 36 of which were as a starter, resulting in four goals and eight assists – with only Brennan Johnson, Lewis Grabban and Philip Zinckernagel being involved in more direct goal contributions.

    Seven of Garner's assists came from set-pieces, with United's overall total in 2021-22 being 10 in that regard – so Garner could play an integral part in improving that return with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks, if Bruno Fernandes can occasionally be shuffled off such duties.

    Crucially for a club like United, Garner has shown he can perform under pressure given his display in the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield – where his accuracy of 88 per cent from 48 attempted passes included completions across the field.

    Forest, understandably, are reportedly interested in bringing Garner back to the City Ground again next season in their bid to remain in the Premier League, but United will assess the 21-year-old in pre-season before making a final decision.

    Alejandro Garnacho

    Earning his senior debut for United in the Premier League clash against Chelsea in April, Garnacho's introduction to the Premier League was merely a cameo at the end of that clash.

    On the final day of the season, in a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, Garnacho again came off the bench for an 11-minute appearance and was once more limited with his opportunity to make an impression – though that has already been done in the youth ranks.

    He scored in UEFA Youth League matches against Atalanta and Young Boys. However, it was in the FA Youth Cup where Garnacho made perhaps his biggest impact, scoring in every round bar the fourth as United lifted the trophy – with a seven-goal haul in the competition including a double in the 3-1 victory against Nottingham Forest in the final.

    With Jadon Sancho struggling for consistency down the left for United since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, Garnacho could return to the first-team fold during the 2022-23 season.

    Opportunities could well come in the cup competitions, including the Europa League, in what will be a frantic season due to the disruption caused by the World Cup in Qatar.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.