The World Cup groups have been drawn, and the results promise an exciting display of competition in Qatar later this year. Outside of a few playoffs that will determine a few team spots in the group stage, the eight groups of the 2022 World Cup were drawn as qualifying for the tournament concluded.
The U.S. men’s national team qualified for the 2022 World Cup after failing to do so in 2018. While they are not viewed as a top contender to win the tournament, there is a lot of optimism surrounding this team. The U.S. was placed in Group B along with England, Iran, and the winner of a playoff between Scotland, Wales or Ukraine. England is easily the favorite to win the group, but it is certainly not out of the question that the U.S. could play England tough and have a chance at winning the group. Iran should not be too much of a challenge for the U.S, but the winner of the European playoff could be a tall task for the U.S. if they hope to advance.
The U.S. men's team has a very different look from the squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. The team has a lot of young talent in stars such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie, who all play for prominent European club teams and make significant contributions to their respective squads. This World Cup serves as a first look to see how this core of young talent can stack up against the best teams the world has to offer. The U.S. should be projected to get out of the group, but probably as the second place team behind England.
Taking a deeper look at the other groups, there appear to be several that will be very competitive and could see a top team knocked out of the tournament early. No group immediately jumps out as the “group of death,” the dreaded group that consists of at least three top national teams that won’t all get through to the next round, but one that could be very interesting is Group C. The group features two top ranked teams in Argentina and Mexico, along with Poland and Saudi Arabia, which both have the potential to knock Argentina or Mexico out of the tournament. In what appears to be Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, Argentina was not handed an easy slate of group stage matches, and could find themselves facing an early exit if they don’t play well early in the group stage matches. This year, the Argentinian national team appears to be more complete and not as dependent on Messi to play big. Argentina is also coming off of the momentum of winning the Copa America last summer. Mexico has always been able to make solid runs in the World Cup, and could be a team that emerges out of the group stage at the top of their group over Argentina.
Another group that does not appear to have an easy pick to win it is Group H, which consists of Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. Portugal and Uruguay are two of the top teams in the world, and are probably the two teams most experts would predict to get out of this group. However, it’s still hard to make this pick with certainty, given the other two teams. Ghana has had solid success in the group stage over the last few World Cups, and could knock Uruguay or Portugal out. South Korea could also play spoiler as they have some talented players playing on prominent European club teams. In what will probably be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup, the path to a potential World Cup trophy will begin with a tough slate of group stage matches.
The World Cup will once again be played without Italy, who failed to qualify for the second straight time, and only the third time in the history of the World Cup. The defending European Champions, who won that tournament not even a year ago, were eliminated from World Cup contention after losing in a World Cup qualifying match to North Macedonia, who also failed to qualify. Italy had kept mainly the same team that won the European Championship intact, yet still failed to make the World Cup.
Italy's blunder serves as a reminder of how chaotic international tournaments can be. It’s hard to predict these World Cup group stage matches as circumstances come about that throw off the frontrunners and help the underdogs. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day in these major championships, which should serve as a good way to view this upcoming World Cup. There are obviously favorites to win it all such as France, Brazil, Belgium and England, but any one of these teams can find themselves going home without the hardware.