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  • Writer's pictureWill Uglow

2022 World Cup Predictions - Group Stage Round 3

2 rounds in and this most controversial of World Cups is delivering far more than political debate and widespread protest (although it is delivering that as well!). Predicting the opening fixtures before a ball was kicked proved difficult enough, and to say that this is a harder task having seen every team twice serves only to sum up what an engrossing affair it has been so far. We've had goalfests, shocks, admittedly a fair share of goaless draws and narratives aplently. Heading in to the final phase of the group stage, it's still all to play for.

With 12 knockout stage spots still to play for, who can step over the line? Whilst I'd like to say the answers await below, let's just say that would be exceedingly generous of my predictive power. Nonetheless, here's my best stab at estimating the outcome of the next 16 games...

Group A

Netherlands vs Qatar

An interesting clash between the hosts and the group favourites, who still have work to do to qualify for the last 16 after a 1-1 draw with Ecuador. They face a Qatar side who, despite having been the first side eliminated from the tournament, will want to put on a good show for their home crowd against the group's biggest name. The Dutch should emerge victorious here to clinch top spot in the section, but the hosts will be eager not to roll over at the very least as their tournament comes to a premature end.

Verdict: 3-1 Netherlands win

Ecuador vs Senegal

This fixture looks tougher to call than at the outset of the tournament, with Ecuador having impressed against Qatar and the Dutch whilst the Mane-less Senegalese having a more low key start, their only points coming in a 3-1 victory over the hosts in Round 2. The Ecuadorian's additional point means that Senegal must win this to progress, whilst Ecuador can play a more cautious game that may suit them well as their patient 2-0 win over Qatar in the tournament's opening game showed. Three goal Enner Valencia has started this World Cup in red hot form and could be a menace to the African champions, who despite several talented players may find it too difficult a task to break down their stubborn South American opponents.

Verdict: 1-1 draw

Group B

Wales vs England

The big one, in many peoples eyes, of this final round of group fixtures. Whilst Wales' qualification hopes are slim following that devastating late show by Iran, there can be no greater fixture to motivate them to make one last push than against the old enemy. England, too, will be in redemptive mood having struggled to a goalless draw with the USA, and with both teams possessing plenty to play for beyond pride, this could be a wide open affair. The Three Lions possess the added quality, however, and while Wales may have their moments in this one, it seems likely that their tournament may reach the most painful conclusion imaginable.

Verdict: 2-1 England win

Iran vs USA

A nice friendly fixture to round things off in Group B. Oh right, sorry... Little else needs to be said about the tensions evident in this particular fixture, but Iran's 2-0 victory over Wales has left both teams in a situation where qualification seems a realistic aim. It is the Americans, however, who will need to take the initiative here, their 2 draws against the British teams inferior to Iran's solitary win. Both sides will be eager to avoid a draw as well, knowing that a Wales win against England would make this a fatal result. There is a sense, though, that the USA have more to give than they have shown thus far in the group, and it doesn't stretch the imagination to envisage them peaking at just the right time to edge this one and avenge the ghosts of 1998...

Verdict: 2-1 USA win

Group C

Poland vs Argentina

Lewandowski vs Messi. But of course, it's not nearly that simple. Poland stand on the brink of a first World Cup knockout stage berth this century, whilst Argentina are still making up for their slow start against the Saudi's. This will be a big mental test for both sides following tense 2-0 victories in the last round and a close, nervy encounter looks likely here. The Albiceleste's greater strength in depth could be telling in this one, however, and providing their forwards are less profligate than in their opening game, they are capable of snatching the crucial victory to extend little Leo's swansong a bit further. But it will be tight, and a man called Rob may want to have a say...

Verdict: 1-0 Argentina win

Saudi Arabia vs Mexico

For one of these sides, last 16 qualification (followed by swift elimination) is a formality in this competition, whilst for the other it is very much a novelty. Saudi Arabia's seismic victory against Argentina in their first match immediately exceeded any pre-tournament expectations they may have had. With this World Cup campaign now already amongst their most successful (despite a 2-0 defeat to Poland in their other game), do they have the added mentality to go one step further and actually qualify from the group? Their barrier is a Mexican side who have shown that exact mentality time and time again, and although they have yet to trouble the back of the net, this would seem the ideal time for them to click into gear and deliver a decisive blow to one of Qatar 2022's surprise outfits. Whether it's enough to extend their glorious qualification record is another matter.

Verdict: 2-0 Mexico win

Group D

Tunisia vs France

Free from the sceptre of the winner's curse, an already qualified France should be in free wheeling mode here against a side that has yet to score in Qatar, but stranger things have happened already in this tournament. Tunisia are still in with a shout of qualification, despite a 1-0 defeat to Australia in seemingly their easiest group fixture. They will live off the memories of near neighbours Senegal and South Africa's famous group stage wins over the French, but nostalgia isn't likely to get them far against a side rapidly building up momentum and looking to make it three wins from three.

Verdict: 3-0 France win

Australia vs Denmark

The Aussies have already fulfilled their expected pre-tournament quota with victory over the Tunisians, but they now find themselves 90 minutes away from an unexpected place in the knockouts, partly due to Denmark's inability to win either of their first two games. The Dane's 'dark horse' status has failed to materialise so far, and they will need to live up to it here to stand any chance of qualification. This looks a jaded side however following their Euro 2020 heroics and a superb qualification campaign for Qatar, and their hype could catch up with them against a resilient and well drilled Australian outfit that also gave the World Champions a scare in Round 1.

Verdict: 1-1 draw

Group E

Japan vs Spain

Until last Sunday's action, this looked as if it might emerge as a straight clash for first place. Japan's shock 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, however, has given the entire group a different complexion, with the Asian side now looking to hold off a surge from the Germans who they so impressively beat in Round 1. Spain, meanwhile, still head the section despite Germany's late equaliser against them on Sunday and still need a win to guarantee a place at the group's summit. This should be an exciting encounter between two sides committed to attacking football and if one team bows out at the end of 90 minutes it won't be through a lack of endeavour. The Spaniards have the added class, however, and could leave their Japanese opponents open to a German sucker punch...

Verdict: 2-1 Spain win

Costa Rica vs Germany

The Central Americans, battered 7-0 by Spain in their opening fixture, have done the Germans a huge favour by stunning Japan in Round 2. There can be no room for return generosity from Die Manschaaft, however, whose solitary point from their 2 games leaves them bottom of the section and still needing a victory to avoid a second consecutive group stage exit at a World Cup. The real question is which Costa Rica will show up, but if Germany's superior attacking quality, which has shown several sparks so far without really flickering into life, finally catches fire then they could force the issue here. A win may not be enough depending on how Japan get on, but Germany will be determined to fulfil their side of the bargain. For Costa Rica, sadly, no repeat of 2014...

Vercict: 4-0 Germany win

Group F

Croatia vs Belgium

A mouth watering tie in Group F as the 2nd and 3rd placed teams from Russia 2018 go head to head. Whilst both will be hard pressed to match their efforts of four years ago, their is hope in both camps of at least a last 16 berth, although the Belgians are under greater pressure following their shock defeat to Morocco. That loss only strengthened claims that the Red Devil's famed golden generation is reaching its twilight, or past it already, so this is an extremely high pressure game for them. For Croatia, less so, but an ideal opportunity to once more top a World Cup group against wounded heavyweights - Argentina know all about that from 2018. It's hard to know which Belgium will show here, whereas Croatia's seemingly greater stability could prove crucial. We could be looking at the Golden Generation's last stand...

Verdict: 3-1 Croatia win

Canada vs Morocco

The Canadians may have scored their first ever World Cup finals goal in their defeat to Croatia, but that will be little consolation for a team with their flight home already booked. Morocco, meanwhile, will be bouyed by their convincing victory over Belgium and it is they who take up the 'Group E dark horse' tag that Canada looked more likely to fill at the tournament's outset. Canada are playing merely for pride, whilst the prospect of a place in the knockouts is a tantalising proposition for the North Africans, particularly with chasers Belgium facing such a tricky final fixture. This has suddenly turned into an exciting tournament for the Morrocans, whose talented bunch of players including Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech will be reluctant to let the moment pass against deflated opponents.

Verdict: 2-0 Morocco win

Group G

Cameroon vs Brazil

Cameroon fought out a thrilling 3-3 draw with Serbia on Monday, but the same swashbuckling approach against the tournament favourites may not be a wise move. The Selacao haven't been spectacular in their opening two fixtures (sensational RIcharlison scissor kick aside), but have looked a solid outfit and their status amongst those already qualified is unlikely to distract them from finishing the group in style. This may be the game where Brazil let their hair down slightly and some of their flair players find more room for self expression, but the tournament isn't quite over for Cameroon's Indomitable Lions and if they are to go out, they'll want to do so with a bang. Expect entertainment.

Verdict: 4-2 Brazil win

Serbia vs Switzerland

A mid European grudge match to potentially decide who goes through with Brazil. What could be tastier? There's no love lost between these two rivals, but this clash has a more defensive feel to it than the similarly poised Wales vs England game, for instance. Switzerland have qualification in their own hands and are playing against the side who they'd least like to surrender that position to, so they may well shut up shop to a large extent. There are doubts about Serbia's ability to break their opponents down in that situation, although 3 goals against Cameroon and Alexander Mitrovic up front suggest that may not be the case. Perhaps more crucially, though, the Swiss have only conceded a solitary deflected goal to Brazil, and could be similarly miserly here as they squeeze themselves through at their rivals expense.

Verdict: 1-1 draw

Group H

South Korea vs Portugal

Semi finalists of 2002 and 2006 do battle here, with Portugal already through courtesy of Ronaldo goals in both games (as he will tell you, anyway) and South Korea having collected a single point from clashes with Uruguay and Ghana. One of these matches ended goalless, whilst the other featured no less than 5 strikes, making the East Asian's meeting with the group leaders an unpredictable one. Portugal's excellent depth of attacking talent could spell the difference here, ultimately, with several waiting in line to fill in for the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix. The Portuguese also still have work to do to win the section, but they should see to proceedings here against a capable but limited South Korean side.

Verdict: 2-1 Portugal win

Ghana vs Uruguay

Now this should be interesting. Anyone with a vague recollection of South Africa 2010 will likely remember the controversial (putting it mildly) Quarter Final played out between these two, with a Luis Suarez handball and subsequent Asamoah Gyan penalty miss proving crucial to the South American's eventual progression on spot kicks. 12 years on and the two nations are still hardly on Christmas-card-writing terms and with Uruguay needing a win to usurp Ghana into the knockout stages, Part Two could be an engrossing sequel. Ghana's two goals have seen no less than 10 goals, and whilst Uruguay have yet to get off the mark, their array of attacking talent should spark into action here. Oh, and who's this bloke Suarez still in the team?

Verdict: 2-3 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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