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  • Writer's pictureWill Uglow

2022 World Cup Predictions - Group Stage Round 1

And so, it's finally here. The greatest show in world football gets underway on Sunday 20th November in the distinctly unfamiliar and hugely controversial surroundings of Qatar. To suggest that this first ever Middle-Eastern World Cup will receive a mixed response is a gigantic understatement, but whilst there is a myriad of legitimate issues surrounding the staging of this controversial tournament, it will be a relief to many when the action finally kicks off and the focus can, if only for a month, turn to the festival of football that should be the centre of attention.

And what a festival it promises to be. There are narratives aplenty, with the likes of Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo looking to end their international careers on the ultimate high, Brazil trying to relocate their Samba magic of old and countries such as Wales & Canada making long awaited returns to the big stage, amongst countless others. Here, against all logical advice and at the risk of humiliation in just under a week's time, I attempt to predict how the first round of group stage matches will pan out. I can already hear the howls of derision as Iran nick a famous win against the Three Lions and Portugal vs Ghana is the bore draw of the tournament...

Group A

Qatar vs Ecuador

A fairly low key fixture as far as World Cup opening matches go, but with an air of intrigue in terms of how hosts Qatar fare as the weight of 12 years worth of build up suddenly falls upon them. Both teams should see this as their easiest game of the group and an ideal chance to get off to a flier, so we should be in for an attacking encounter. And despite this fixture not immediately leaping off the page, both sides are no mugs and should cause problems for the other two teams in the group at a later stage. I expect Qatar to start quickly, take an early lead and gradually be pegged back by a resilient Ecuador team that has been underrated by many going into this tournament. Think South Africa vs Mexico 2010, minus the Tshabalala wonder goal and, thankfully, no vuvuzelas.

Verdict: 1-1 draw

Senegal vs Netherlands

The other fixture in the 'opening game group' can often have an underwhelming, 'after the Lord Mayor's show' feel, but this should be avoided here in an exciting clash between Group A's two strongest teams on paper - the African champions and a resurgent Holland looking to prove themselves after failing to qualify for Russia 2018. Whilst this is still a potential banana skin tie for the Dutch, the loss of Senegal's star striker Sadio Mane will ease their nerves, whilst their own exciting forwards have more than enough to cause the African side problems. Senegal won't roll over here, but the absence of their Bayern Munich hero will hit hard and they may need to wait until the latter stages of the group to really catch fire.

Verdict: 2-1 Netherlands win

Group B

England vs Iran

Despite the increasing calls from media & fans alike for England to avoid taking their Asian opponents lightly, by the time this game kicks of on Monday afternoon, the nation will have no doubt worked itself up into a goal-fest expectant frenzy. Iran are probably the weakest team in Group B, but will still be a tough nut to crack for an England team coming off the back of a disappointing Nations League campaign. Patience may be the key word for the Three Lions here, but they should eventually prevail, most probably through a couple of second half Harry Kane strikes or something similar.

Verdict: 2-0 England win

USA vs Wales

Two very different nations in terms of population & football culture, but they could be separated by a hairs width at the end of the group stage, hence this has the feel of a hugely important encounter. Both teams possess attacking talent and defensive deficiencies, so an open and entertaining affair looks likely despite the inevitable nerves on show. Neither will want to lose, however, and Gareth Bale will have the somewhat counter-intuitive motive of wanting to impress for a new LA contract partly on his mind, so an interesting & high scoring Monday evening draw looks in store.

Verdict: 2-2 draw

Group C

Argentina vs Saudi Arabia

Or, the Lionel Messi show, as many will probably have christened this fixture already. Whilst the Argentinian maestro may eventually run riot in this section, and the tournament at large, this opening game might not be all plain sailing for the Albiceleste. The Saudis, for one, will be more accustomed to the Qatari temperatures than their opponents, and Argentina haven't always found tournament openers against suspected minnows playing in green straightforward, as Cameroon will testify. The talent available to the South Americans should still see them through, but perhaps not by the cricket score that some expect.

Verdict: 3-1 Argentina win

Mexico vs Poland

An intriguing encounter, this. Mexico have the greater World Cup heritage and recent group stage record, but perhaps lack outstanding individuals. Poland, meanwhile, possess one of the tournaments leading Golden Boot contenders, a certain Mr Lewandowski, but this has resulted in little success in recent competitions, including the Euros that they co-hosted with Ukraine in 2012. On paper this looks like, and should be, an extremely close affair. The Mexican's superior record at this stage of the competition, however - they beat holders Germany in their last opening World Cup game, remember - may give them the added confidence to nick a win here, coupled with the fact that Poland's star forward can't do all the work on his own.

Verdict: 2-1 Mexico win

Group D

France vs Australia

For the holders, two key factors stand in their way as they embark on the defence of their 2018 title. Firstly, and most importantly, injuries to key players such as N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and now Karim Benzema have severely hindered an otherwise solid looking outfit. Secondly, and there's no way to sugarcoat this, 4 out of the last 5 World Cup holders have exited at the following tournament's group stage. Couple this with a dressing room that always seems at its most fractious just after major success, and it's not hard to see why many are anticipating trouble ahead for Les Bleus. On the pitch, however, the World Champions still look strong despite absences, and any side able to field the likes of Kylian Mbappe up front should hardly be starved of confidence. The Aussies will try to rattle the holders early on, but France have enough about them to begin their navigation of a group that looks easier than the one Germany tumbled out of four years ago.

Verdict: 2-0 France win

Denmark vs Tunisia

Many are mooting the Danes as dark horses heading into this most unpredictable of tournaments. Personally, I think this talented side may have peaked with their heroic run to the Euro 2020 semi finals, despite an excellent qualifying campaign for Qatar. They shouldn't have any trouble here, however. It would be a shock if any other than the two European sides progressed from this section, and the emotional return of Christian Eriksen to the international limelight will provide a springboard for Denmark against a side that appear amongst the weaker of the tournament's African outfits. The Tunisians did run England close in 2018, however, so should not be taken lightly.

Verdict: 2-1 Denmark win

Group E

Spain vs Costa Rica

Whilst Qatar 2022 may lack a true Group of Death, any section containing Spain AND Germany should make for tasty viewing, with both tipped to go deep into the tournament. The Spaniards look to have the easier build up fixture to next Sunday's European battle royale, a Costa Rica side who pulled up trees at Brazil 2014 but struggled badly four years ago in Russia. The omens don't look much better this time around for Luis Fernando Suarez's outsiders, and despite the presence between the sticks of World Cup cult hero Keylor Navas, the Central Americans could simply be outclassed by a young and blossoming Spain side.

Verdict: 3-0 Spain win

Germany vs Japan

Even after the debacle of 2018 and Wembley elimination at the hands of England at Euro 2020, the Germans always exude confidence at the start of a tournament. Die Mannschaft appear to be developing another promising outfit built around the likes of Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz , with seasoned veterans such as Thomas Muller still in tow. A wily Japan side should prove a different kettle of fish to Costa Rica though, and whilst Spain will be looking to fill their boots in their opening fixture, Germany may just be happy to take three points into the all European clash next Sunday. The Japanese know how to cause chaos in this competition, nearly pipping Belgium to the Quarter Finals at Russia 2018, and they will be eager to ensure that the Germans don't have it all their own way.

Verdict: 2-1 Germany win

Group F

Belgium vs Canada

The sun is surely setting on Belgium's much feted golden generation, but they will be looking for one final shot at glory in Qatar. Standing in their way is a Canada side who may feel like they're at the beginning of their own bold new era, making their first World Cup appearance since 1986. The energetic Canadians, boasting players with the searing pace of Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, are dangerous opponents for Belgium and will look to exploit a potentially jaded side on the counter attack. Belgium's ageing defence won't be a good match for the ferocious tempo which their North American opponents are likely to generate, and the wounded Europeans may be left looking forward to a more cerebral clash with the Croats in their second match.

Verdict: 1-1 draw

Morocco vs Croatia

After their extraordinary run to the final of Russia 2018, Croatia now find themselves fielding Belgium-esque questions about the end of their own golden era, although they retain the services of 2018 Golden Ball winner and midfield extraordinaire Luka Modric. Morocco, meanwhile, have low expectations in this group and a chaotic build up to Qatar will hardly have enhanced their confidence, despite possessing talented players such as Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech. The Croats are a well-oiled machine when it comes to tournament group stages, however, and an opener against the North Africans is unlikely to faze them with tougher opponents to come later in the group.

Verdict: 2-0 Croatia win

Group E

Brazil vs Serbia

As the time worn and rather tedious expression goes "it's not a World Cup until you've seen Brazil". Whether there's any objective truth in this is doubtful, but there should be an extra layer of excitement when the Selecao step out at the Lusail Stadium on November 24th, given their billing as pre-tournament favourites. They have, of course, been here before in recent years though, and an opening show against the Serbs will be a stern test of whether they have the style and steel to go all the way this time. Serbia come to Qatar with a deceptively strong side of their own, and although Fulham dynamo Alexander Mitrovic is injured, the likes of Dusan's Tadic and Vlahovic ensure that they are not to be underestimated. This should be a lively, high quality encounter, with Brazil eventually prevailing but being made to fight all the way by one of the tournament's potential dark horses.

Verdict: 3-1 Brazil win

Switzerland vs Cameroon

After a superb Euro 2020, confidence in the Swiss camp will be significantly high and this fixture provides them with the ideal opportunity to get their tournament off to a flyer. Switzerland have a strong core of established internationals such as Granit Xhaka and Breel Embolo and know their way around the early stages of tournaments. Cameroon, meanwhile, don't appear to be amongst the more dangerous African outfits at Qatar 2022, this team far from the glory days of 1990 and Roger Milla. All indications are that Switzerland should breeze through this one to set up an exciting clash with Brazil in their second game.

Verdict: 2-0 Switzerland win

Group H

Portugal vs Ghana

Portugal's pre-tournament build up has been thrown into turmoil by Cristiano Ronaldo's explosive interview revalations earlier this week. Whether this chaos will spill out onto the pitch remains to be seen, although the Portuguese team are never known for their sense of calm & serenity at the best of times, so this latest controversy could cause things to turn even more wild than usual. On a personal level, Ronaldo's tumultuous week is likely to be a motivating factor as, having successfully plunged his Old Trafford stint into freefall, he can focus fully on proving he can still be the difference on the biggest of international stages. Add in Portugal's myriad of alternative attacking stars, plus a seriously capable and dangerous Ghana outfit, and we could be in for fireworks at Stadium 974.

Verdict: 3-2 Portugal win

Uruguay vs South Korea

This first round of games concludes with a clash between semi finalists of 2010 and 2002 tournaments. Both squads are stocked full of Premier League proven talent, spearheaded by Liverpool's Darwin Nunez and Tottenham's Heung-Min-Son respectively. And whilst it m

ay not quite live up to the other opening game in Group H, this South American - Asian clash should also be an entertaining affair. Uruguay have the edge in terms of quality and could be hard to stop if they build up an early head of steam in the tournament. This is the ideal place to start.

Verdict: 2-1 Uruguay win

Think you can do better (trust me, it's quite possible)? Let us know your predictions in the comments section below...

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