By. Julian Quintero
A group that many are touting to be a write-off, a lot can still happen with Group A that people are completely overlooking. Four nations that are coming into the tournament with something to prove. The Netherlands are coming into this one as the heavy favourites, after failing to qualify for the last World Cup held in Russia. Next, Senegal are looking to avenge their result in the 2018 World Cup after being eliminated in the group stages. Qatar are playing as hosts in this tournament and are looking to make it out of the group in their first-ever World Cup. Last but certainly not least, Ecuador are aiming to make some noise in order to mask what has been a controversial qualifying for them to get here.
November 21st vs Senegal
November 25th vs Ecuador
November 29th vs Qatar
Last World Cup Performance: Third-place finish in 2014
This World Cup is going to be a redemption tour for the Netherlands, as they will be making their first appearance at this stage since 2014. Historically, this team has been one of the strongest when it comes to world football, having made it out of the group stages at every single appearance they have made at the tournament. This team looks to replicate what this team can do historically, and look to take it one step forward and win the whole thing. Players on the team, primarily Nathan Ake, have come out and said that the team is coming in with the mentality that they will win the whole tournament. With young and veteran talent scattered throughout the team, this team makes for an interesting blend that can definitely bring it to their opposition.
The defence of the team needs to be as strong as they were in the qualifiers, allowing only eight goals in ten qualifying matches. Look for their back line to be bringing their A-game, with Virgil van Dijk leading the charge with talents like Bayern Munich's Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax’s Jurrien Timber and Manchester United’s Tyrell Malacia looking to add some youthful energy to their core.
The midfield has some interesting selections, with FC Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong being the true large name leading the names for this group. Players like Ajax’s Kenneth Taylor and PSV’s Xavi Simons are two young players in good form that are being called up to add flair to a solid, veteran core that seems like they can get the job done, according to performances at club level.
On the forward lines, Barcelona’s Memphis Depay and youngster Noa Lang from Club Brugge are the big names that command attention, but keep an eye on gritty forwards Vincent Janssen and Wout Weghorst. Their large frames will command respect in the middle of the pitch for defenders, opening up lanes for the more skillful forwards that they are bringing. Their largest concern lies in net, as the trio of Justin Bijlow, Andries Noppert, and Remko Pasveer have a combined 8 total starts for the Netherlands, with only Bijlow having played in the qualifiers. Their performances will be what I believe will make or break their chances of taking home the trophy in Qatar.
Goalkeepers: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax)
Defenders: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Nathan Ake (Man. City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Denzel Dumfries (Inter), Stefan de Vrij (Inter), Tyrell Malacia (Man. United), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Xavi Simons (PSV)
Forwards: Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Besiktas)
November 20th vs Qatar
November 25th vs Netherlands
November 29th vs Senegal
Last World Cup Performance: Group stage elimination in 2014
This World Cup is a return to the stage for Ecuador, who historically have not performed great at these tournaments. Getting knocked out in Brazil in 2014 was the last we saw of them, and the nation has only appeared at two other Finals, in 2006 and 2002. They look to make it out of the group for only the second time in the nation’s history at this tournament, despite being inconsistent in qualifying.
They looked phenomenal in some showings, while severely lacking in other matches. This can be highlighted by their 6-1 stomping of Colombia, while also losing 2-1 to last-place Venezuela during a skid. Not to mention, the controversy surrounding the nation in qualifying, having fielded a player illegally, has consumed all thoughts on the team heading into the tournament. Regardless, they remain put together by an array of young players that are stepping up for them at all levels.
This starts in net, as it looks like Moisés Ramirez will be starting. The 22-year-old was strong at the back half of qualifying, but apart from him, the nation has two good veterans that can step in if need be.
Defensively, this team may be one that many teams do not wish to face. Pietro Hincapié from Bayer Leverkusen has been lights out in the middle and looks to be the next Walter Ayoví for the Ecuadorians. Brighton’s Pervis Estupiñán and young center backs William Pacho and Jackson Porozo look to show what the future of Ecuador’s defence can show.
In the midfield, they have a series of good creators with Angel Mena returning for what seems to be the 34-year-old’s final appearance at the tournament. He has a really young core of creatives playing alongside him, highlighted out wide by Gonzalo Plata and Ayrton Preciado who were fun to watch and tough to guard throughout qualifying. The main man though has to be Brighton’s Moisés Caicedo. The midfielder has a ton of interest from Chelsea and other large clubs in England and if he can keep pulling the strings the way he has during qualifiers and for Brighton, Ecuador not only will make noise at this tournament but Moises will solidify himself as one of the best upcoming midfielders in the world.
Not much to say up top, as veteran Enner Valencia returns to oversee a front line that has a lot of unproven young players. Ecuador is bringing a lot of youth to this World Cup, and how they play will show to the world if South America has another golden generation on their hands.
Goalkeepers: Alexander Domínguez (LDU Quito), Hernán Galíndez (Aucas), Moisés Ramirez (Independiente del Valle)
Defenders: Robert Arboleda (São Paulo FC), Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), Pervis Estupiñán (Brighton), Piero Hincapié (Bayer Leverkusen), William Pacho (Antwerp), Diego Palacios (LAFC), Jackson Porozo (Troyes), Ángelo Preciado (Genk), Félix Torres (Santos Laguna)
Midfielders: Moisés Caicedo (Brighton), José Cifuentes (LAFC), Alan Franco (Talleres), Carlos Gruezo (Augsburg), Romario Ibarra (Pachuca), Ángel Mena (Leon), Jhegson Méndez (LAFC), Gonzalo Plata (Real Valladolid), Ayrton Preciado (Santos Laguna), Jeremy Sarmiento (Brighton)
Forwards: Michael Estrada (Cruz Azul), Djorkaeff Reasco (Newell’s Old Boys), Kevin Rodríguez (Imbabura), Enner Valencia (Fenerbahçe)
November 21st v Netherlands
November 25th v Qatar
November 29th v Ecuador
Last World Cup Performance: Group stage elimination in 2018
A few months ago, Senegal was on top of the world. A return to the World Cup and the fact that they were crowned the champions of Africa in 2021, with a win against Egypt in the AFCON Finals. Sadio Mané was a finalist for the Ballon d’Or and everyone had hopes for Senegal coming into the tournament, especially as the nation would be hungry after barely failing to make it out of the group stages in Russia 2018.
However, everything has seemingly flipped on its head. Star man Sadio Mané will be missing the World Cup with an injury, and the Senegal governing body of football has yet to announce who they are calling up in order to replace their golden player. With no real history at the World Cup, the team will be coming in with a chip on their shoulder as the array of talent on the team look to put their face to be the new one that people think of when they think of Senegal.
The first name has to be Kalidou Koulibaly. The massive centre-back has been one of the best in the world over the past few years and he looks to keep that up despite interesting runs of form at Chelsea so far this season. His club teammate Edouard Mendy also has had an interesting run of form in net this season for Chelsea, but the partnership looks to anchor the team in the back. Also, look out for guys like Leipzig's Abdou Diallo and Monaco’s Ismail Jakobs looking to add additional support on the backlines for this team.
The midfield remains as aggressive as ever, with Premier League staples Idrissa Gueye, Nampalys Mendy and Cheikhou Kouyaté on the plane to Qatar. Wide man Krepin Diatta has been a solid player at club level for Monaco and with Mané’s absence in the team, you could expect him to step up and take more control of the team on the wings in the attack.
For the forwards that the nation is bringing, losing Sadio Mané is obviously a massive loss. They will be expecting the young players coming with the team, like Nicolas Jackson from Villarreal and Ismaïla Sarr from Watford, to step up big time. Veteran Famara Diedhiou will be a big target man in the middle for this team, as the 29 year old giant looks to add to his international tally.
Squad: (25 man as Sadio Mané will be replaced in the squad after this is released)
Goalkeepers: Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers), Alfred Gomis (Rennes), Édouard Mendy (Chelsea)
Defenders: Fodé Ballo-Touré (AC Milan), Pape Abou Cissé (Olympiacos), Abdou Diallo (Leipzig), Ismail Jakobs (Monaco), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea), Formose Mendy (Amiens), Youssouf Sabaly (Real Betis)
Midfielders: Pathé Ciss (Rayo Vallecano), Krepin Diatta (Monaco), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Pape Gueye (Marseille), Cheikhou Kouyaté (Nottingham Forest), Mamadou Loum (Reading), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester), Moustapha Name (Pafos), Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham)
Forwards: Boulaye Dia (Salernitana), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor), Bamba Dieng (Marseille), Nicolas Jackson (Villarreal), Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United), Ismaïla Sarr (Watford)
November 20th v Ecuador
November 25th v Senegal
November 29th v Netherlands
Last World Cup Performance: N/A
The hosts of this World Cup have no one truly thinking that they can make any noise in this competition. Historically, they seem to have nothing of note in the world of football, as shown by this being their first-ever appearance at a World Cup. Regardless of how the team plays, they will just be overshadowed by the issues Qatar faces as a host nation for this tournament. The many issues regarding human rights that have flared up in the build-up to the tournament have been extremely publicized, all since their extremely controversial nomination for a World Cup bid back in 2010.
Despite this though, the Qatari footballing body have been preparing for a rise in football for a while, as seen in the nation’s improvements in the global game since the 2000s, and highlighted by their Asian Cup win in 2019, along with their two wins in the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2004 and 2014. They even played close to making the World Cup in 2018, but collapsed in the final group stage of qualifying. Through it all though, Qatar are definitely motivated to try and put on a show for their home faithful in this tournament, attempting to show the growth they have had as a footballing nation in the last 20 years.
This team is a veteran core that will probably be hoping for this tournament to inspire a youth movement in the nation to build upon it all. It all starts in the forward core, as Hassan Al-Haydos spearheads the attack. He is the nation’s most capped player for a reason and has been a key reason that Qatar have had a good attack, as shown in their recent appearances in the Asian Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup. Akram Afif is an electric forward as well and the partnership between him and Almoez Ali will be crucial for Qatar. As a national team, they will most definitely be a team that will be heavy on attacking their opposition, as seen with other talents moving forward like Muhammad Muntari and Khalid Muneer.
In the midfield and defensively, a lot of veterans are what highlight this team, primarily fullback Abdelkarim Hassan. Hassan is a speedy fullback that loves to attack on the counter. Expect him to create a lot of chances from the back and to get Qatar moving as transitional play is their best plan of attack.
In net, there are a lot of skeptics for this team, but Saad Al Sheeb has been an amazing keeper for the nation during his career. The 32-year-old was present during their Asian Cup win, while also having multi-save outings against major nations in the country’s appearances in the Copa America and Gold Cup to show his abilities. With their games likely to be high-scoring affairs, Al Sheeb looks to truly show what he can do at the largest stage, as Qatar look to avoid joining South Africa as the only host nation failing to make out of the group stages at the World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Saad Al Sheeb (Al Sadd), Meshaal Barshim (Al Sadd), Youssef Hassan (Al-Gharafa)
Defenders: Homam Ahmed (Al-Gharafa), Bassam Al-Rawi (Al-Duhail), Jassem Gaber (Al-Arabi), Abdelkarim Hassan (Al-Sadd), Musab Kheder (Al-Sadd), Boualem Khoukhi (Al-Sadd), Pedro Miguel (Al-Sadd), Ismaeel Mohammad (Al-Duhail), Tarek Salman (Al-Sadd)
Midfielders: Salem Al-Hajri (Al Sadd), Ali Assadalla (Al Sadd), Karim Boudiaf (Al-Duhail), Abdulaziz Hatem (Al-Rayyan), Assim Madibo (Al-Duhail), Mostafa Tarek (Al Sadd), Mohammed Waad (Al Sadd)
Forwards: Akram Afif (Al Sadd), Nief Al-Hadhrami (Al-Rayyan), Hassan Al-Haydos (Al Sadd), Ahmed Alaaeldin (Al-Gharafa), Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail), Khalid Muneer (Al-Wakrah), Muhammad Muntari (Al-Duhail)