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Meet the 32 nations vying for Fifa World Cup glory in Qatar

Meet the 32 nations vying for Fifa World Cup glory in Qatar
Construction workers at Al-Janoub Stadium during a media tour in Doha, Qatar, 16 December 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ALI HAIDER)

It’s nearly time for kick-off in the biggest showpiece in world sport, with 64 pulsating matches whittling down the global line-up to a sole winner of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

Since 1998, the Fifa World Cup has averaged three billion people watching parts of each tournament. An estimated four billion are expected to tune in to the Qatar 2022 edition.

More than 180 territories have bought the live-action TV rights, generating over $4.6-billion for Fifa. Close to $800-million will be dished out in prize money.

To say Qatar 2022 will be a huge event is an understatement.

However, where it really matters for the players is on the patches of green grass in the newly built stadiums, with 32 countries fighting for the biggest trophy in soccer.

Here is a brief look at the 32 teams participating:

Group A

Qatar

When Qatar plays Ecuador in the showpiece opener on 20 November, an 18-year, multi-billion-dollar national project to build a respectable – and possibly competitive – football team will be put to the test.

Qatar played a string of friendlies in September, losing to Canada and Croatia’s Under-23s and drawing with Chile. In recent weeks, they have won friendlies against Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.

The mixed results suggest that the Gulf Arab state are no heavyweights and might not stand much chance against their other Group A opponents, Senegal and the Netherlands.

Ecuador

Ecuador may be big outsiders at the World Cup but their young team cannot wait for the world’s eyes to be on them when they face hosts Qatar in the first match.

“La Tri” are making an impressive fourth World Cup appearance from the last six.

They will be confident of beating even more unfancied Qatar and inflicting a first defeat on hosts in a World Cup opener.

Netherlands

The Netherlands hope to turn their status as World Cup “nearly” men into champions as they take a 15-match unbeaten run to Qatar.

The Dutch have been runners-up three times and, though they missed out on the last tournament in Russia four years ago, are one of the form teams in 2022.

Senegal

African champions Senegal carry the continent’s best prospect of breaking barriers.

Senegal are one of three African nations to have reached the World Cup quarterfinals.

The team is boosted by a contingent of French-born players, including goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, defender Abdou Diallo and midfielders Pape Gueye and Nampalys Mendy.

But stalwarts such as captain Kalildou Koulibaly, Sadio Mané and Idrissa Gana Gueye will provide the driving force.

The departure terminal at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, 10 November 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / NOUSHAD THEKKAYIL)

Group B

Wales

Wales have qualified for three of the past four major tournaments, and though expectations have increased, they head to Qatar unfazed and unburdened.

For Gareth Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, wearing the dragon on his chest and the captain’s armband around his bicep at a World Cup marks the final box to tick on his footballing bucket list.

Wales are set to line up with a three-man defence, allowing wing-backs Connor Roberts and Neco Williams to flood forward and Bale to operate on his favoured right flank. 

US

Gregg Berhalter has installed a dynamic pressing style that retains the US’s hallmark spirit and energy but is more sophisticated and possession-oriented than the direct approach of previous generations.

Much will rest on captain Christian Pulisic’s shoulders.

It is hard to predict whether the US will rise to the occasion, succumb, or perform more or less in line with their talent level – which would mean that with a good start against Wales they could qualify from the group, then be outclassed by the first major nation they face in the knockout round. 

Iran

Defensive solidity and scoring goals on counter attacks have been the main characteristics of Team Melli for some time and helped Carlos Queiroz shape his unprecedented popularity during his first stint in charge between 2011 and 2019.

They are likely to play in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The main question is who plays up front. Sardar Azmoun would be favourite but he has been injured. If he is not fit, Mehdi Taremi is likely to step in. If Azmoun can play, Taremi is likely to start as a left winger.

England

It is hard not to conclude that it is now or never for Gareth Southgate’s England. They have come agonisingly close under the 52-year-old, reaching the semifinals of the last World Cup and losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

England’s creative options are enviable and Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham are two of the finest young midfielders around. Harry Kane is one of the best strikers.

Group C

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia were Asia’s success story in the third qualifying round – topping a tough pool.

The prospect of facing Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and perennial dark horses Mexico has not tempered the belief of the Green Falcons’ head coach Hervé Renard.

“Even though we are in a tough group, you have to be ambitious,” he told Fifa.com. “Going to the World Cup without ambition is pointless. We have to believe we have a chance and push ourselves to the limit.”


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Argentina

Argentina’s greatest strength is the team’s collectiveness, with players working hard for each other. This is a well-oiled machine.

Coach Lionel Scaloni’s cohesive unit goes into the Cup undefeated in 35 games.

The team has a mix of experience and youth and, of course, Lionel Messi. There are many in Argentina who feel football owes Messi a World Cup.

Mexico

In theory, Mexico’s tactics make for attractive football; they are a high-pressing team with aggressive forward play on the flanks.

Gerardo Martino likes to control the game by dominating the ball with quick passing exchanges. Wingers such as Alexis Vega, Hirving Lozano, Uriel Antuna and Roberto Alvarado are crucial for implementation of the coach’s ideas. The main problem is their inability to play well for a whole game.

Martino is also fretting about the fitness of influential striker Raúl Jiménez.

Poland

Coach Czeslaw Michniewicz was optimistic when speaking ahead of the announcement of his provisional World Cup squad.

“The main goal at the World Cup?” he asked. “We joked that it would be appropriate to spend Barborka (Miners’ Day, 4 December) and Saint Nicholas Day (6 December) in Qatar. That is our goal because it would mean that we got out of the group.”

That is something Poland has not done since Mexico in 1986.

As always, much rests on striker Robert Lewandowski and this time he is surrounded by players in form. Maybe qualifying for the knockout stage is a wish that can finally come true.

Group D

Australia

Australia’s path was not straightforward and they played more qualifying matches than other nations.

A fifth consecutive appearance at a World Cup is a major feat for a nation where football remains a fringe sport in a competitive domestic market.

Australia may lack a standout star of the calibre of Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka or Harry Kewell but Ajdin Hrustic can lay claim to being the Socceroos’ top dog in 2022. The creative midfielder was an integral part of the qualification campaign. 

Tunisia

Tunisia will rely on familiar stadiums and passionate fans in Qatar to achieve what has eluded them in more than 40 years – reaching the second round for the first time.

Qatar hosted the Arab Cup in December at the World Cup stadiums, with Tunisia reaching the final before losing to Algeria.

On paper, Tunisia’s realistic chance of grabbing only their third World Cup victory could come against Australia.

Denmark

Since taking the reins in 2020, Kasper Hjulmand has the Danish national team playing a breathtaking style of attacking football that blends individual brilliance with a rock-solid organisation.

The teak-tough quartet of centre backs Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen and midfielders Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg protects a world-class keeper in Kasper Schmeichel.

France

France head to the World Cup with more questions than answers after their build-up to the tournament was marred by injuries and poor results.

Key midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba have been ruled out due to injuries.

Star forwards Kylian Mbappé and 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema have the potential to form the most formidable attacking line-up in the game but their partnership has been taking time to gel.

Group E

Germany

Germany are almost always among the title favourites at international tournaments.

The Germans suffered a shock first-round exit as defending champions in 2018 in Russia – their earliest in 80 years.

Before that, the Germans reached at least the semifinals in every World Cup or European Championship from 2006 to 2016.

The team is unsettled with a number of positions yet unclaimed.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, the last team to qualify, will be hoping to avoid making a swift exit like they did in Russia four years ago.

Playing in their sixth World Cup, Costa Rica are no longer minnows and Luis Fernando Suárez’s squad will be expected to do more than make up the numbers.

Spain

Twelve years after Spain’s golden generation won their nation’s first World Cup – but failed dismally in their next two tournaments – Luis Enrique’s side have re-established themselves as title contenders.

Enrique’s biggest bet was to go all-in with Barcelona’s teenagers Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi. The young stars are supported by the experienced Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Dani Carvajal and Álvaro Morata. 

Japan

Japan will remember with anguish a World Cup qualifier 28 years ago, in Qatar, when they were within seconds of reaching their first finals only to concede a stoppage-time equaliser to Iraq, which sent arch-rivals South Korea through instead.

They have been a permanent fixture at the World Cup since debuting in 1998 but have never got past the last 16.

Japan will turn to players from Europe’s big leagues, including Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu and VfB Stuttgart’s captain and defensive midfielder Wataru Endo.

Group F

Belgium

For many of Belgium’s Golden Generation, Qatar represents a last shot at glory for a side with no trophies to show for outstanding talent.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is among the best in the world, while the defensive pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen is vastly experienced.

In midfield, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and the mercurial Kevin de Bruyne will be paired with the energy of Leandro Trossard and Youri Tielemans.

All the tools are there, but can Roberto Martinez craft something meaningful with them? 

Morocco

Morocco face a daunting task as they bid to replicate their 1986 feat when they became the first African nation to reach the second round.

Morocco have not made it past the group stage since, and they are in a tough group that includes Belgium, Croatia and fast-improving Canada.

They are hoping to defy expectations and clinch at least a point from each of their first two games before facing Canada in a match that may represent their best chance of recording their first victory at the finals since 1998.

Croatia

Croatia head to the Qatar World Cup in the unusual position of looking like one of the stronger teams – after many years of thriving on a reputation as outsiders.

Coach Zlatko Dalić can count on a backbone of experienced campaigners, including Luka Modrić – the Real Madrid wizard who at 37 has one last shot at glory.

Ivan Perišić (33) will also pose a goal-scoring threat against any side in Qatar, having confirmed his attacking credentials this season in England for Tottenham Hotspur. 

Canada

Canada has a seemingly small task in Qatar: to improve on their last appearance at the World Cup and score.

Their only appearance at the finals was in 1986, when they failed to score.

The Canadians are led by Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich. But despite their recent improvement, a knockout stage appearance in Qatar seems out of reach.

Group G

Cameroon

Cameroon’s image as World Cup gatecrashers – since their exploits in Italy in 1992 – has faded away after two decades of failure at the finals.

The Italian job remains their high point as they became the first Africans to reach the last eight.

The Indomitable Lions have been to five World Cup tournaments since 1990 but have won only one of 15 games.

Indeed, Cameroon are Africa’s most frequent visitors to the World Cup, with seven previous tournament appearances, but this looks likely to be another exercise in frustration.

Serbia

Serbia have high hopes of reaching the knockout stages.

Serbia’s main problem at the World Cup in recent years has been a lack of goals, and they have failed to get past the group stage since 1998.

Last time out in Russia they scored twice, as in 2006 and 2010, having failed to qualify for the tournament in 2014.

But with in-form Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrović often partnered by Dušan Vlahović of Juventus, Serbia have the goal-scoring prowess to trouble their opponents.

Switzerland

Switzerland have dealt blows to heavyweight opponents in the recent past and proven a match for anybody on their day.

They will be eyeing a place in the round of 16 for the fourth time in five tournaments.

Experienced midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka have 214 international caps between them, while up front Breel Embolo can be a real handful with his power, pace and aerial dominance.

Brazil

Brazil will arrive in Qatar as the favourites to lift a record sixth World Cup and appear to be peaking at the perfect moment ahead of the tournament.

The new generation of talent available for coach Tite includes the likes of La Liga stars Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, Raphinha and Arsenal striking duo Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli.

They are all 25 or under and already playing at a near world-class level, which will ease the pressure on forward Neymar (30) who has carried the hopes of a nation almost on his own throughout his international career. 

Group H

Uruguay

Twice world champions, Uruguay were once a dominant force in world football, and though their star does not shine as brightly as it once did, they can still make plenty of noise in Qatar.

“La Celeste” may still rely heavily on ageing stalwarts Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godín but they have emerging talents in Darwin Núñez, Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur.

If coach Diego Alonso can solve the selection dilemmas that flummoxed his predecessor, Uruguay could be well placed to advance to the knockouts with another deep run a possibility in Qatar.

Ghana

There are few similarities between the class of 2010 – which made the final eight of the tournament in South Africa – and the current generation.

Ghana have made a concerted effort to strengthen the squad by persuading players with Ghanaian heritage to join the team, such as former Spain international Inaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey, the England under-21 fullback from Brighton.

There are still hopes of adding the likes of Bayer Leverkusen forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, on loan from Chelsea, before their Group H opener with Portugal in Doha on 24 November.

Portugal

One of Portugal’s best generations of players, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, will arrive at the World Cup with the pressure of proving they are not underachievers. Portugal has evolved into one of the world’s best talent machines.

The latest crop – including the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Rafael Leão, João Felix, João Cancelo, Rúben Neves, Bernardo Silva and Vitinha – are the elite but have not been able to shine in the national team due to the insistence on moulding and adapting their games to accommodate Ronaldo.

South Korea

South Korea will extend their record run of consecutive World Cup appearances in Qatar, but questions remain over whether coach Paulo Bento can deliver with a side who lack creativity despite the attacking talent of Son Heung-min.

It has been 12 years since the South Koreans advanced to the knockout rounds.

Korea’s issue lies between defence and attack, with a lack of creativity and depth within the squad threatening to undermine their hopes against Uruguay, Portugal and Ghana in their group. Reuters/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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