World Cup Preview - Group A

20.11.2022 15:00:09 Bradley Lobo

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The Lowdown

The controversial host nation will be hoping to make football the focus in their maiden appearance at the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. 

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Félix Sánchez Bas - a Catalan who managed Barcelona at youth level for 10 years. Unsurprisingly he likes to play an expansive possession-based style of football, but doesn’t quite have the quality of player to execute it often enough. Worked in Qatar since 2006 so is fully immersed in the culture and has had time to impose his philosophy on the team.

 

The Captain

Hassan Al-Haydos – Qatar’s most capped player in history with 146 appearances for his country. An attacking midfielder capable of popping up with a goal.

 

The Key Man

Almoez Ali – Qatar's all-time leading goalscorer. Ali struck a record 9 goals to fire Qatar to their only ever international trophy at the 2019 AFC Asia Cup.

 

The One to Watch

Akram Afif – Qatar's main creative influence. 30 assists in 76 caps for his country. A record 10 assists in their 2019 AFC Asia Cup triumph. The first ever Qatar-born player to sign for a LaLiga club when he had brief spells at Villarreal and Sporting Gijon.

 

The Verdict

3rd/4th - Host nations tend to do well in front of their home support but the difference in class may well be too much to bridge against the likes of Netherlands and Senegal in this Group.

 

Ecuador

The Lowdown

Finished 4th in South American qualifying behind only multiple-time World Cup winners Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Participation was thrown into doubt over the eligibility of Byron Castillo who it was later revealed to have falsified birth documents. The Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually ruled in favour of Ecuador remaining in the competition and Castillo ultimately wasn't selected for the final squad anyway!

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Gustavo Alfaro – managed several teams in his native Argentina (including Boca Juniors) before taking his first national team job with Ecuador in 2020. Miserly tactics: 6 consecutive clean sheets in their friendlies leading up to the World Cup but only scored twice (W2 D4). Favours a direct style and strong on set-pieces.

 

The Captain

Enner Valencia – Ecuador's all-time leading goalscorer with 35 goals in 74 caps. Arrives at his second World Cup finals in good form as the current top scorer in the Turkish Super Lig with 13 goals for Fenerbahçe this season.

 

The Key Man

Moises Caicedo – Familiar to Premier League fans for becoming a regular in Brighton’s first team. A versatile player who can adopt several roles in midfield or even defence. A mixture of physical power and technical quality.

 

The One to Watch

Pervis Estupiñan - Another player from Brighton who has impressed in his first season in the Premier League. A dynamic full-back who will provide a constant attacking outlet.

 

The Verdict

3rd/4th - Could frustrate many teams but unlikely to have enough attacking quality to advance.

 

Senegal 

The Lowdown

The current African Champions qualified their third World Cup finals by defeating Egypt on penalties, the same way they won the African Cup of Nations. Preparation has since been majorly disrupted by the late withdrawal of talismanic star player Sadio Mané due to injury. 

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Aliou Cissé - captained Senegal at their first ever World Cup appearance in 2002. Managed the national team since 2015 and has guided them to two consecutive WC qualifications. The absence of Mané will likely force him into more defensive tactics but Senegal don’t tend to concede many goals anyway.

 

The Captain/Key Man

Kalidou Koulibaly – The experienced defender will have to step up to both roles in the absence of Mané. A reliable and rock-solid centre-back who has played at the top level in Europe for many years.

 

The One to Watch

Ismaila Sarr – The Watford winger will be tasked with trying to take on the brunt of the attacking burden without Mané. Can be a special talent when on form but has often been inconsistent. Will hope to thrive with the extra responsibility.

 

The Verdict

2ndShould get out of the group but lofty ambitions of being the first African side to win a World Cup are slim without their star player.

 

Netherlands

The Lowdown

Arguably the greatest nation never to win a World Cup. The three times runners-up return to the main stage after missing the 2018 finals. Lost their first qualification group game in Turkey but went unbeaten the rest of the way. 15 matches undefeated (W12 D3) coming into the tournament.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Louis van Gaal – One of the most tactical astute and successful managers in recent history. A third spell in charge of the national team has brought the veteran coach a second appearance at a World Cup finals having guided the Netherlands to 3rd place in 2014. Used a 4-3-3 formation in qualifying but has since switched to a system using 3 centre-backs with the aim to provide more defensive solidity.

 

The Captain

Virgil van Dijk – considered arguably the best defender in the world for a few years but has produced his worst performances for Liverpool at the start of this season. At 31 years old this is surprisingly his first ever appearance at an international tournament and it may be the stage he needs to rediscover his best form.

 

The Key Man

Memphis Depay – an enigmatic player in many ways but has very rarely let his country down. Joint-second on the list of Netherlands’ all-time leading goalscorers despite not being a traditional centre-forward. The most productive player in the European section of World Cup qualification with 12 goals and 6 assists in just 10 games.

 

The One to Watch

Cody Gakpo – the most prolific player in the Dutch Eredivisie this season with 9 goals and 12 assists in just 14 matches. The PSV forward is being eyed by some of the biggest clubs in the world.

 

The Verdict

1stwith the talent at their disposal and overall pedigree. Anything less than top spot would be a disappointment.

 

 

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