/ 10 November 2022

2022 Fifa World Cup: What’s the deal in group A?

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Sadio Mane may be ruled out of the World Cup due to injury. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

The Fifa World Cup brings the possibility of upsets, unforeseeable circumstances and the teeth-grinding vexation of controversy. It also brings contenders to a table that has often allowed only European and South American nations as diners. Before the competition begins, the Mail & Guardian will be looking at each group to determine who might be the nation to replace France as the world champions. Group A consists of Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal and The Netherlands. 


What’s their deal?

It’s difficult to make a case for Qatar. Ranked 50th in the Fifa world rankings and coming off a 3-0 loss to the Croatia under-23 side in September, they might be fated to join South Africa as the only host nations ever to be eliminated in the group stage. 

However, they do enter the tournament with a better ranking than South Africa, who were ranked 66th in 2010. 

One of the positives for Qatar is that they were able to avoid African champions Senegal as well as The Netherlands in their first game. They will play Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament and, with 60 000 fans cheering them on at Al Bayt Stadium, they could surprise many.  

Star player

Most sides have that winger with a trick or two to dazzle past defences. It’s no different for Qatar. Akram Afif, one of the most promising players to come out of the country, had a short career in Europe, not living up to the hype when he played for Sporting Gijon in Spain.

Afif, however, has proved he plays his best football on his own soil. He has ridiculous stats in the Qatar Stars League, with 62 goals and 53 assists in just 77 matches. 

While it might be an overstatement to say he is the hope of the nation, Afif’s form at the World Cup will certainly be critical to Qatar’s hopes of at least one win, or dare I say, progression to the next round


What’s their deal?

Ecuador seems to be that nation that always goes under the radar. They might not represent the free-flowing football of Brazil or Argentina but they pride themselves on a compact system that allows them to constantly stay in a game. 

They have only lost one game in 2022, and they have played challenging nations from their region, including Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

However, Ecuador’s record at the World Cup is worrying. In their previous three appearances, they have only reached the knockout round once.

It’s difficult to write them off but they might be back from Qatar early if history is anything to go by.

Star player

Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo will be Ecuador’s key man at this World Cup. He has controlled the midfield for the English side in their impressive campaign so far and really dictates the pace of the game.

But Caicedo will be playing a different game for Ecuador, who don’t see as much of the ball as his club does. He will have to show more of his ball-winning attributes, and how he dictates quick transitions, especially against Senegal and The Netherlands. 

There’s no doubt this well-balanced Ecuadorian team will benefit immensely if Caicedo is at his best.


What’s their deal?

African champions Senegal represent the continent’s best chance this year. If the Africa Cup of Nations is anything to judge them by, Senegal start slowly and find their rhythm as the competition advances. 

However, a rapid start will be required to pillage the high-flying Dutch in their group opener.

This is only Senegal’s third appearance at the World Cup finals. They impressed in 2002 when they advanced from a group that contained France and went on to reach the quarter-finals, but underperformed in 2018, when they were eliminated in the group stage.

The bookmakers will have The Netherlands on top of this group, but for Senegal, it could be the game against Ecuador that is the most crucial to their hopes of progressing to the next round.

Star player

Senegal had a major scare last night after Bayern Munich destroyed Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. Sadio Mane was forced off after just 20 minutes of the game. French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the African player of the year was out of the World Cup, and while Bayern Munich assistant manager Dino Toppmoeller said the injury was “not too bad”, multiple reports have confirmed that Mane is a major doubt for Senegal’s World Cup campaign.

While he will be a big miss for the African champions, they still have their star defender Kalidou Koulibaly and striker Boulaye Dia, who has 7 goal contributions in 12 games in Serie-A for Salernitana this season.


What’s their deal?

It almost feels as if Louis van Gaal never left the Dutch. They were an absolute unit back in 2014, and failed to even make the World Cup in 2018, but now with Van Gaal back in charge, they seem to have recovered their pizzazz.

The Netherlands are often referred to as the greatest side that has never won the World Cup and, while they are favourites to top their group, they are not on anybody’s lips as winners.

This could play in the favour of the Dutch team as they might enter the knockout rounds of the tournament without the pressure to deliver. 

Unbeaten in 2022, the Dutch enter this World Cup with a great amount of confidence on their side.

Star player

Virgil van Dijk has been inconsistent so far this season, Frenkie de Jong has spent a lot of time on the bench for Barcelona and it’s difficult to remember the last time Memphis Depay started a game at club level.

There is a young Dutchman who has been lighting up Europe this season. Cody Gakpo has 9 goals and 12 assists in 13 matches for PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie this season. That means that the youngster has the same amount of goal contributions as Erling Haaland.

For PSV, he plays off the left, but with Van Gaal enforcing a system that requires wing-backs, Gakpo is probably going to occupy the number 10 position, which is not alien to him. His diversity allows him to play anywhere across the attack.

Many big clubs are after his signature and, if he can lead the Dutch to a strong World Cup, his value could skyrocket by the time the January window comes around.