The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is now just weeks away, with the first-ever winter edition of the tournament drawing ever closer.
Host nation Qatar will get proceedings underway with their November 20 clash against Ecuador, while England will get their campaign going the following day against Iran.
Meanwhile, holders France are among the favourites once more, alongside Brazil, following their triumph in Russia four years ago. It’s exactly 60 years since a nation last won successive World Cups, being Brazil in 1962, however.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is now swiftly approaching, getting underway on November 20
There will be four matches a day played throughout the group stages, being at 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm UK time, before the knockout stages get underway on December 3.
The final will be played at the Lusail Stadium on December 18, just a week before Christmas Day, and just eight days before the resumption of the Premier League.
With the tournament drawing ever closer, Sportsmail previews each group in the competition below.
Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
Hosts Qatar are joined by Ecuador, Senegal and Netherlands a competitive looking Group A
Qatar were customarily placed into Group A for this winter’s World Cup having qualified automatically for the tournament as hosts.
They will be guided by manager Felix Sanchez – despite the Spaniard failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, also faring badly at the 2019 Copa America and the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Qatar did win the AFC Asian Cup title for the first time in their history in 2019, but in suffering heavy defeats to Portugal, Ireland and Serbia last year, even progression out of the group stages feels unlikely.
Undoubtedly the team to beat in the group are the Netherlands, who are back in the World Cup after failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
They won seven of their 10 qualifying matches and ended up group winners by two points, but it was only after two late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay in their final fixture against Norway that they confirmed a place.
Virgil van Dijk’s Netherlands side are the favourites to prevail as the winners of Group A
It will be Louis van Gaal who takes charge of the Netherlands this summer, having undergone successful treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer, after revealing his condition earlier this year. He will be replaced by Ronald Koeman straight after the World Cup, however.
Also in with a chance of claiming top spot are Africa Cup of Nations champion Senegal, managed by Aliou Cisse, who will be relying on star man Sadio Mane once more.
The Bayern Munich forward has been at the forefront of two monumental moments in Senegal’s recent history – and both have come at the expense of former club team-mate Mohamed Salah.
He scored the winning penalty to secure an historic Africa Cup of Nations victory for Senegal, before netting another spot-kick to knock Egypt out of World Cup qualifying.
The final Group A outfit are Ecuador, whose place looked in jeopardy after losing their first two qualifying games.
Gustavo Alfaro’s side bounced back with wins over Chile and Paraguay, alongside draws with Argentina and Brazil, however, and managed to sneak into fourth place in the South American qualifying process.
Group A fixtures:
- Qatar vs Ecuador – Monday, November 20 at 4pm
- Senegal vs Netherlands – Monday, November 21 at 4pm
- Qatar vs Senegal – Friday, November 25 at 1pm
- Netherlands vs Ecuador – Friday, November 25 at 4pm
- Netherlands vs Qatar – Tuesday, November 29 at 3pm
- Ecuador vs Senegal – Tuesday, November 29 at 3pm
Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales
Group B promises to be one of the more exciting of the eight at this year’s 2022 World Cup.
Of course, it’s England who will be expected to top the group amid lofty expectations to win the tournament, after reaching the semi-final in 2018 and, of course, the final of Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate’s side won eight of 10 qualifiers, sealing a place by smashing San Marino for 10, and they’ll get their campaign underway on the second day of the competition against Iran.
There, captain Harry Kane will be looking to make a fast start as he bids for back-to-back World Cup Golden Boots.
England captain Harry Kane will be looking to claim back-to-back World Cup Golden Boots
Wales superstar Gareth Bale (left) will be competing in what’s likely to be his final World Cup
Wales, England’s biggest rivals in Group B, snuck into the World Cup at the last moment and were the final European team to qualify thanks to a 1-0 play-off win over Ukraine.
The Dragons lost only once during qualifying period, a heavy 3-1 defeat to Belgium and as such had to settle for the play-off route.
Should they progress to the knockouts in Qatar, you can bet Gareth Bale will have been heavily involved. The 33-year-old scored twice in their 2-1 World Cup qualifying semi-final win over Austria and provided the all-important assist against Ukraine which booked their place in the tournament.
Meanwhile, Iran will look to make an impression after qualifying for a sixth World Cup. It was Dragan Skovi who guided them through two qualification rounds, but he was sacked in July, with Carlos Queiroz the manager for the World Cup.
USA also have a number of players who will look to make an impression at this winter’s tournament, including Weston McKennie, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest and Tyler Adams.
But when it comes to their star man, there’s only one name: Christian Pulisic.
Group B fixtures:
- England vs Iran – Monday, November 21 at 1pm
- USA vs Wales – Monday, November 21 at 7pm
- Wales vs Iran – Friday, November 25 at 10am
- England vs USA – Friday, November 25 at 7pm
- Iran vs USA – Tuesday, November 29 at 7pm
- Wales vs England – Tuesday, November 29 at 7pm
Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
Argentina are expected to come out on top in an otherwise largely competitive Group C
All eyes will be on Lionel Messi and Argentina, with Lionel Scaloni’s side the overwhelming favourites to progress to the knockouts as Group C winners.
Winning Copa America last year has certainly eased the pressure for Argentina, who hadn’t won a trophy in 28 years, while Messi’s international trophy case is no longer despairingly empty.
For his legacy, a World Cup win would be huge, however. And though they perhaps don’t have as many star names as they once had, their team certainly looks more balanced now, with the likes of Cristian Romero, Lautaro Martínez and Rodrigo De Pau all set to play pivotal roles.
They finished second in their South American qualifying group, behind Brazil, racking up 45 points from 17 matches.
Their 18th game – against Argentina – was suspended back in September when health officials ran onto the pitch to stop Argentina’s England-based players from playing, saying they had breached the country’s COVID-19 quarantine rules. The fixture had initially been rescheduled for later in the month, but those plans were scrapped, with both sides safely through already.
Lionel Messi won his first international trophy as Argentina won the Copa America last year
Though Argentina are favourites, there is plenty of competition in Group C, with Mexico – guided by Gerardo Martino – certainly no pushovers.
Three automatic qualification places were up for grabs in the CONCACAF confederation, with Mexico finishing second, behind Canada in first and ahead of USA in third.
With a certain Robert Lewandowski in the team, Poland are also always in with a chance; the prolific forward scored in their 2-0 win over Sweden to knock Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s side out during the European play-offs.
Poland entered the play-offs after finishing second in their qualifying group, behind only England, but with Russia kicked out they were handed a bye to the final.
Saudi Arabia will come in as the group underdogs, but they enjoyed a stellar qualification process, conceding just a single goal in 10 games during the third phase of Asian qualifying.
They topped a group which also included Japan, Australia, Oman, China and Vietnam to qualify for back-to-back World Cups.
Group C fixtures:
- Argentina vs Saudi Arabia – Tuesday, November 22 at 10am
- Mexico vs Poland – Tuesday, November 22 at 4pm
- Poland vs Saudi Arabia – Saturday, November 26 at 1pm
- Argentina vs Mexico – Saturday, November 26 at 7pm
- Poland vs Argentina – Wednesday, November 30 at 7pm
- Saudi Arabia vs Mexico – Wednesday, November 30 at 7pm
Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
France are one of the favourites to win the World Cup again, despite their current problems
In Group D, holders France will have to cope without midfielder Paul Pogba, who has been officially ruled out of the tournament due to injury.
Les Bleus are looking to become just the third team in history, after Italy and Brazil, to win back-to-back World Cups, after they claimed an historic victory in Russia four years ago.
With Karim Benzema in the form of his life, and with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann also included in a star-studded attack, they certainly have a good shot of doing so, regardless of Pogba’s absence.
Karim Benzema (L) and Kylian Mbappe (R) could soon be team-mates for club and country
Joining them in Group D are Denmark, who were one of the best sides throughout qualifying, winning nine of 10 games, scoring 30 goals and conceding just three.
They will have the significant boost of having Christian Eriksen back in the team, with the midfielder once again flourishing in the Premier League upon his return to football, after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.
Also competing for a place in the knockouts are Australia, managed by Graham Arnold. Having finished third in their third-round qualifying group, behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, the Socceroos had to come through the nerve-shredding inter-confederation play-offs.
They were tied against the United Arab Emirates, and a 2-1 win took them to within 90 minutes of a World Cup spot. All they had to do was beat Peru – which they did on penalties.
Completing the group are Tunisia, who booked their spot in Qatar with a play-off win over Mali after finishing top of their African second-round qualifying group.
Manager Jalel Kadri will have Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbr at his disposal, as well as star man Ellyes Skhiri.
Group D fixtures:
- Denmark vs Tunisia – Tuesday, November 22 at 1pm
- France vs Australia – Tuesday, November 22 at 7pm
- Tunisia vs Australia – Saturday, November 26 at 10am
- France vs Denmark – Saturday, November 26 at 4pm
- Tunisia vs France – Wednesday, November 30 at 3pm
- Australia vs Denmark – Wednesday, November 30 at 3pm
Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
Jamal Musiala (left) and Pedri (right) are among the rising stars set to steal the show in Group E
Group E surely goes down as the ‘Group of Death’ at the 2022 World Cup, with European powerhouses Spain and Germany going head-to-head.
Spain have endured a torrid time since winning the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, failing to make it out of the groups in 2014 and losing out to Russia in the round of 16 in 2018.
They made it to the semi-final of Euro 2020, however, and, after initially struggling in their qualifying group, sealed a spot with a four-point margin after winning their final four fixtures.
Luis Enrique will be looking to guide his Spain side to a first World Cup triumph since 2010
After winning the World Cup in 2014, Germany suffered a shock defeat to South Korea four years ago, failing to get out the group stages for the first time since 1938.
Under Hansi Flick – who replaced Joachim Low after Euro 2020, where they lost in the round of 16 to England – Germany have started to thrive, however.
They won nine of their 10 qualifying games to comfortably book a spot in Qatar.
Also in the mix in Group E are Japan, managed by Hajime Moriyasu, who qualified after finishing second in their AFC group in the third and final round.
Costa Rica have reached four of the last five instalments of the World Cup, only missing 2010
Finishing the group is Costa Rica, managed by Luis Fernando Suarez, who was parachuted in to resurrect Costa Rica’s World Cup qualifying campaign only a year ago.
Costa Rica had to come through the inter-confederation play-offs to seal a spot in Qatar. They were drawn to play New Zealand, with Joel Campbell’s early goal proving enough as they claimed a 1-0 win.
Group E fixtures:
- Germany vs Japan – Wednesday, November 23 at 1pm
- Spain vs Costa Rica – Wednesday, November 23 at 4pm
- Japan vs Costa Rica – Sunday, November 27 at 10am
- Spain vs Germany – Sunday, November 27 at 7pm
- Japan vs Spain – Thursday, December 1 at 7pm
- Costa Rica vs Germany – Thursday, December 1 at 7pm
Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
Belgium and Croatia are the favourites to progress to the World Cup knockouts from Group F
Belgium come into the World Cup as undoubted Group F favourites, but in truth their chances of an historic tournament victory have diminished in recent years.
The Red Devils are perhaps now at the end of their golden generation, with the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld reaching the conclusion of their careers, while Eden Hazard’s form and fitness has plummeted since leaving Chelsea for Real Madrid.
Star striker Romelu Lukaku is also enduring a turbulent time at Inter Milan, having featured just four times in the league this season, scoring one goal.
Belgium may have missed a major opportunity to win silverware with their golden generation
They made it to the semi-finals last time out in Russia but, after reaching just the quarter-finals at Euro 2020 – even with Kevin de Bruyne in the team – it’s difficult to see them eclipsing that this winter.
Coming up against them are Croatia, who won seven of 10 qualifying games to confirm their place in Qatar.
They do, however, rely on Luka Modric, who, despite still shining for Real Madrid, is now 37 years old.
Also looking to reach the knockouts are Canada, who made history by qualifying for a first World Cup since 1986 as they finished top of their CONCACAF group.
A 4-0 win over Jamaica in March confirmed Canada’s place at the tournament.
Completing the group are Morocco – who demolished DR Congo in their two-legged knockout clash for a place in March.
Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech is back playing for Morocco after ending his international retirement
As for their star player, PSG star Achraf Hakimi is certainly in with a shout. They will also be boosted by the return of Hakim Ziyech, with the Chelsea player having ended his international retirement.
Ziyech retired from international football in February 2022 after falling out with manager Vahid Halilhodzic, but he is back in favour under Walid Regragui and could have a significant part to play at the tournament.
Although Ziyech has lacked consistency during his time at Chelsea, he is capable of producing moments of magic and there will be a lot of focus on him in Qatar.
Group F fixtures:
- Morocco vs Croatia – Wednesday, November 23 at 10am
- Belgium vs Canada – Wednesday, November 23 at 7pm
- Belgium vs Morocco – Sunday, November 27 at 1pm
- Croatia vs Canada – Sunday, November 27 at 4pm
- Croatia vs Belgium – Thursday, December 1 at 4pm
- Canada vs Morocco – Thursday, December 1 at 4pm
Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
Brazil last won the World Cup in 2002 but will be looking to secure a sixth triumph in Qatar
Brazil may not have enjoyed their last two World Cups, but as the 2022 tournament approaches they currently stand as the No 1 ranked team in the world.
They suffered humiliation at the 2014 World Cup, a tournament they hosted, when they lost 7-1 in the semi-final to eventual winners Germany.
And in Russia four years ago, while bowing out in a less high-profile exit, they fell short in the quarter-finals as they lost 2-1 to Belgium, who reached the semi-finals, before defeating England in the third-place play-off.
This time, however, they come into the tournament having gone the entirety of their CONMEBOL qualification process unbeaten – though of course with their clash against Argentina axed.
Neymar will be one of the star attractions at the World Cup with Brazil the outright favourites
There is the caveat that they lost out to Argentina at last year’s Copa America in another highly disappointing result.
Nonetheless, they are the overwhelming favourites to progress from Group G, with Switzerland perhaps to pose the biggest threat.
Guided by Murat Yakin, Switzerland – who made it to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, then under the guidance of Vladimir Petkovic – finished above Italy in qualifying to book their spot in Qatar.
They remained unbeaten throughout, winning five and drawing three, and will be full of confidence going into the tournament.
Also in Group G are Serbia, who also enjoyed a stunning, unbeaten qualifying campaign, as they finished above Portugal. They’ll be hoping star men Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic can do the business this winter.
Completing the group is Cameroon. They knocked out Algeria in a two-legged tie, having topped a second-round group that included Ivory Coast. They’ll be a tough game for anyone.
Group G fixtures:
- Switzerland vs Cameroon – Thursday, November 24 at 10am
- Brazil vs Serbia – Thursday, November 24 at 7pm
- Cameroon vs Serbia – Monday, November 28 at 10am
- Brazil vs Switzerland – Monday, November 28 at 4pm
- Cameroon vs Brazil – Friday, December 2 at 7pm
- Serbia vs Switzerland – Friday, December 2 at 7pm
Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
Uruguay and Ghana will meet in a rematch of their infamous 2010 World Cup quarter-final
Finally, we have Group H, which might not be the Group of Death but might just be the most difficult to call.
Portugal, after winning Euro 2016, were beaten in the last-16 both at the 2018 World Cup and at Euro 2020 – and they were in danger of missing out on a place in Qatar altogether.
They were pipped to automatic qualification by Serbia, but they stepped it up when they needed it most, in the play-offs, defeating Turkey and North Macedonia – who had knocked out Italy in their semi-final.
Fernando Santos’ side will typically rely on Cristiano Ronaldo throughout. His return to Manchester United may have not turned out how he or the fans would have hoped but even though results were average, Ronaldo proved last season that his instinct in front of goal was as sharp as ever.
A tally of 24 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions – some of which kept United alive in the Champions League when all hope looked lost – is not bad at all but maybe it’s time Ronaldo finally put his faith in the superb players Portugal have around him.
He has endured a frustrating start to the campaign so far and will be hoping the World Cup, likely to be his last, offers a respite from his travails at United.
Veterans Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and Luis Suarez (R) will likely play in their last ever World Cups
Regardless, Portugal will fancy themselves to make it out of the group.
Perhaps their strongest rivals are Uruguay, who initially looked as if they would miss out on qualification, only for new manager Diego Alonso, who replaced Oscar Tabarez in December, to guide his resurgent side to four straight wins and to Qatar.
While his opportunities have been limited of late at Atletico Madrid, star man Luis Suarez remains the most potent goal threat for Uruguay. And at the age of 35, it will likely be his final chance to make an impression at a World Cup.
As for South Korea, there’s no debate as to who their star man is, being Son Heung-min. The forward, after winning the Premier League Golden Boot last season, has not been at his prolific best of late, however.
After cruising through the second round of Asian qualifying, South Korea finished second to Iran in the third round, 11 points ahead of closest rivals UAE.
Ghana, meanwhile, scraped into the World Cup finals. They progressed after beating Nigeria in a two-legged play-offs, after finishing ahead of South Africa during the African qualifying stage by virtue of scoring just one more goal.
Group H Fixtures:
- Uruguay vs South Korea – Thursday, November 24 at 1pm
- Portugal vs Ghana – Thursday, November 24 at 4pm
- South Korea vs Ghana – Monday, November 28 at 1pm
- Portugal vs Uruguay – Monday, November 28 at 7pm
- South Korea vs Portugal – Friday, December 2 at 3pm
- Ghana vs Uruguay – Friday, December 2 at 3pm