Coming off the 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Catalonia earlier this week, Jamaica has named a 20-man squad to take on Suriname and Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League starting on June 4.

The squad sees the return of striker Shamar Nicholson, who has made himself available after his self-imposed hiatus from the national programme, as he attempted to bed in with Spartak Moscow in Russia. The oft-injured Leon Bailey has also been recalled after spending much of the recent Premier League season on the Aston Villa injury list.

The remainder of the squad includes Andre Blake, Damion Lowe, Richard King, Javain Brown, Devon Williams, Ravel Morrison, Tyreek Magee, Leon Bailey, Rolando Aarons, Amarii Bell, Jamoi Topey, Kaheem Parris, Junior Flemmings, Jamal Lowe, Amal Knight, Atapharoy Bygrave, Daniel Green, Oquassa Chong and Kenroy Campbell.

Notably absent is West Ham’s Michail Antonio, who was among Jamaica’s leading scorers in the shambolic World Cup qualifiers.

Following the June 4 encounter, the Reggae Boyz return to Jamaica a day later before tackling Suriname at the National Stadium on June 7 at 8pm. Jamaica returns to action on June 14 when they play Mexico at the National Stadium in Kingston.

A women’s pair of Chauna Kelly and Petal Smith will depart Jamaica on Friday for the Dominican Republic where they will participate in the Beach World Championship Qualifiers from April 16-18, 2022.

Jamaica will play in Group A alongside Canada, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Curacao. Group B comprises Cuba, Mexico, US Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and the Cayman Islands.

Each team will play in a round-robin format with the top two teams from each group advancing to the 2022 Beach Volleyball World Championship which will take place in Rome, Italy from June 7th to 19th, 2022.

Jamaica is resuming competition in beach volleyball after a two-year hiatus prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The team will be accompanied by Coach Oneil Ebanks.

The field for the eight-team 2022 Concacaf W Championship is now set, as Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Panama clinched the final six berths following the results of the final matchday of W Qualifying on Tuesday.

Mexico are winners of Group A after downing Puerto Rico 6-0 at the Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca, Mexico. Jacqueline Ovalle’s brace (13’, 51’), along with goals from Katty Martinez (15’), Myra Delgadillo (19’), Diana Ordonez (55’) and Maria Sanchez (90+1’) sealed the win for El Tricolor.

In the day’s other game in Group A, Suriname claimed a 5-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda at the Frank Essen Stadion in Paramaribo, Suriname. Van Ommeren Ravelcheny (27’), Andaya Lantveld (34’), Katoucha Patra (36’), Rowena Ondaan (68’) and Pique Naomi (90+4’) scored for the hosts, while Kai Jacobs (84’) tallied Antigua and Barbuda’s lone goal.

Costa Rica emerged as the top team in Group B after defeating Guatemala 5-0 at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose. Priscila Chinchilla (5’, 64’) scored a pair of goals and was joined on the scoresheet by Maria Salas (29’), Cristin Granados (52’) and Shirley Cruz (85’).

Saint Kitts and Nevis finished their qualifying campaign in Group B with a third straight win in a 6-0 final versus US Virgin Islands at Warner Park Football Stadium in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. Phoenetia Browne bagged a brace (77’, 90+3’), while Ellie Stokes (21’), Cloey Uddenberg (51’), Caroline Springer (57’) and Jahzara Claxton (65’) added scores.

Jamaica gave the home fans at the Sabina Park Stadium in Kingston a smile, as the Reggae Girlz captured Group C with a 5-1 win over the Dominican Republic. Khadija Shaw (79’, 90+3’) led the way with a brace, while Jody Brown (16’), Trudi Carter (40’) and Tiffany Cameron (60’) all added goals. Kathrynn Gonzalez (24’) scored for the Dominican Republic.

Bermuda also ended Group C on a positive note thanks to a 6-0 win over Grenada at the Dame Flora Duffy National Sports Centre in Hamilton, Bermuda. Leilanni Nesbeth (10’, 56’, 73’) notched a hat trick, Nia Christopher (23’, 88’) had a brace and Victoria Davis (78’) added a goal for the hosts.

Panama clinched their spot in the W Championship by virtue of their 2-0 victory against El Salvador at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City to clinch Group D. Second half scores from Yerenis De Leon (65’) and Karla Riley (78’) lifted the Canaleras to the three points.

Belize were 3-0 winners over Barbados to wrap up their play in Group D at the Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador, El Salvador. Jayda Brown (55’, 90+4’) had a brace, while Shendra Casimiro (38’) also got on the scoresheet.

Haiti continued to flex their scoring muscles and posted a 6-0 win versus Cuba to claim Group E at the Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Roselord Borgella (53’, 74’) finished as qualifying’s joint-top scorer with 11 goals thanks to a brace, while Nerilia Mondesir (23’), Melchie Dumornay (64’), Batcheba Louis (72’) and a Yarisleidy Mena (88’) own goal paved the way.

Honduras completed qualifying in Group E with a 2-1 triumph over Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at the Estadio Francisco Morazan in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Goals from Honduras players Kendra Haylock (26’) and Gabriela Garcia (53’) sandwiched Denella Creese’s (45+2’) score for Vincy Heat.

A late score from Lauryn Hutchinson earned Trinidad and Tobago a dramatic 2-2 draw with Guyana to take the top spot in Group F at Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Trinidad and Tobago. It looked like a brace from Guyana’s Sydney Cummings (45’, 82’) would outweigh Asha James’ goal (48’), but Hutchinson’s score in the 90’ delivered the W Championship-clinching draw for Trinidad and Tobago.

Nicaragua also enjoyed a winning finish to Group F by defeating Dominica 10-0 at the Estadio Nacional de Futbol in Managua. W Qualifying joint-top scorer Yessenia Flores (11 goals) scored four goals (2’, 19’, 31’, 53’), while Lilieth Rivera (14’), Jaclyn Gilday (25’), Reyna Hernandez (49’), Nathaly Silva (58’), Yorcelly Humphreys (71’) and Martha Silva (87’) also chipped in with scores.

 

Mexico remained in first place in Group A thanks to an 11-0 win over Anguilla at the Raymond E. Guishard Stadium in The Valley, Anguilla as action resumed in the 2022 Concacaf W Championship Qualifying on Saturday.

Alicia Cervantes (3’, 9’, 56’) had a hat trick, Diana Ordonez (57’, 68’) and Katty Martinez (73’, 89’) each had braces, while Maricarmen Reyes (15’), Sandra Mayor (39’), Casandra Montero Rodriguez (52’) and Jimena Lopez (63’) added their names to the scoresheet for El Tricolor.

Costa Rica got a massive performance from star FW Raquel Rodriguez, who scored a hat trick to power the Ticas to a 4-0 win against Curacao in Group B at the Stadion Rignaal Jean Francisa in Willemstad, Curacao.

Rodriguez scored her goals in the 22’, 28’ and 64’, while Priscila Chinchilla chipped in with a score in the 57’ to give Costa Rica a three-point advantage in the group standings.

Laurie Batista was the hero on the day for Panama with a hat trick to help her side march past Aruba 9-0 in Group D at the F.F.B Football Field in Belmopan, Belize.

Batista scored in the 8’, 19’ and 45’, in addition to a Marta Cox brace (44’, 64’) and goals from Karla Riley (30’), Kenia Rangel (34’), Erika Hernandez (55’) and Gabriela Leonards (68’), keeping the Canaleras atop the group.

Table toppers Haiti flexed their scoring muscles in a 21-0 victory against the British Virgin Islands in Group E at the A.O Shirley Recreation Ground in Road Town, BVI.

Batcheba Louis (33’, 39’, 42’, 58’, 89’) had five goals, Roselord Borgella (4’, 21’, 22’, 45’) recorded four goals, Melchie Dumornay (6’, 11’, 32’), Roseline Eloissaint (63’, 73’, 79’) and Mikerline Saintfelix (84’, 87’, 90’) all notched hat tricks to go along with a Kara Lewis own goal (8’) and scores from Nerilia Mondesir (51’) and Kethna Louis (77’).

Trinidad and Tobago are now atop Group F after posting a 13-0 win versus Turks and Caicos Islands at the TCIFA National Academy in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.

Chelcy Ralph (6’, 17’, 82’) tallied a hat trick, Karyn Forbes (33’, 45’), May Matouk (49’, 66’) and Raenah Campbell (72’, 86’) each had braces, while Lauryn Hutchinson, Cecily Stoute, Liana Hinds and Maria-Frances Serrant all joined in on the scoresheet in the win.

We know most of the teams and now we know the majority of the games after the draw for the 2022 World Cup was made in Doha on Friday.

The full line-up of teams is still to be determined and the locations and times for each fixture are also to be confirmed, but what we do know is that there will be some extremely intriguing matches in the group stage in November when proceedings get under way in Qatar.

Tournament debutants, check. Cinderella stories, check. A mouth-watering clash between European heavyweights, check. A game to make England fans extremely anxious, oh you better believe that's a check.

Yes, this is a group stage that appears to have everything and, while there is plenty of time for opinions of these teams to change, here Stats Perform takes you through a look at some of the best games delivered by this year's draw.

Qatar v Ecuador (November 21)

Over 8,000 miles separate Doha and Quito, but both cities figure to be transfixed by the World Cup opener, in which the hosts will make their debut.

Qatar have been dealt a difficult hand in Group A, having also been pitted against three-time finalists the Netherlands and African champions Senegal.

First up, though, is a meeting with an Ecuador side that came through the arduous challenge of CONMEBOL qualifying with 27 goals to their name, their highest tally in a single edition.

Qatar do have recent tournament pedigree, however, impressively beating Japan 3-1 in the final of the 2019 Asian Cup, with the goal they conceded the only time their net was breached in the entire tournament.

Yet their performance in the Asian Cup that same year did not inspire much confidence in them beating a South American nation. Qatar were knocked out in the group stage with just one point to their name when they appeared in the Copa America.

Belgium v Canada (November 23)

Canada face a challenging start to their first World Cup finals appearance since 1986, a duel with the side second behind Brazil in the FIFA world rankings their immediate reward for a dream run through CONCACAF qualifying.

Belgium should not lack motivation, with Qatar realistically marking the last chance for their 'golden generation' to win a major tournament. Their performance in the group stage across the last 28 years suggests a shock here is unlikely. Since losing 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in 1994, the Red Devils are unbeaten in 12 group stage matches.

But Canada can afford to be full of belief following a remarkable qualifying run in which they scored 23 goals and conceded just seven in the final round.

Regardless of how they perform, English coach John Herdman will make history, as he is set to become the first person to manage in both the men's and women's World Cup.

England v United States (November 25)

Everybody loves a trilogy. Unless you're Rob Green. England and the United States have met twice in the World Cup, and the Three Lions have not won either of those games.

There was a famous defeat to the USA as England crashed out in the group stage in their first appearance in the finals in 1950.

Acquaintances were renewed 60 years later, with the USA claiming a point after Green spilled Clint Dempsey's long-range effort to cancel out Steven Gerrard's early opener.

England, having lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy and gone unbeaten in 22 matches – conceding only three goals in qualifying – will be the heavy favourites once again. However, a USA side that boasts the likes of Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie have the talent in their ranks to spring a surprise.

Argentina v Mexico (November 26)

Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste will have a couple of tricky hurdles to negotiate in the group stage, this meeting with El Tri coming before a Group C finale against Robert Lewandowski and Poland.

Mexico boast a superb record when it comes to getting through the group stage, having done so in each of their last eight appearances at the finals.

Facing the prolific talents of Lewandowski and Messi, this is a group that threatens to put that streak in jeopardy.

The Mexico defence kept eight clean sheets in CONCACAF qualifying, and such resolute play at the back will likely be needed for them to defy Messi and Co.

That task has frequently proven beyond Mexico, who have lost each of their three World Cup meetings with Argentina.

Hoping to mastermind a shock will be a face familiar to Messi and his team-mates, with former Barcelona and Argentina coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino set to lead Mexico into a game against his home country.

Spain vs Germany (November 27)

This is comfortably the headline act as two of the previous three World Cup winners square off knowing victory could be crucial, with the side that finishes second in Group E potentially set to face Belgium, presuming they win Group F as most would expect, in the last 16.

Germany will hope the early signs of progress under Hansi Flick are realised in Qatar, having gone unbeaten in each of their nine games (including friendlies) since he took over from Joachim Low.

Die Mannschaft have conceded just three goals in that run, but a meeting with a Spain side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and is filled with emerging young talent promises to be difficult in the extreme.

La Roja reached the final of the UEFA Nations League, which they lost 2-1 to France, with that defeat and a qualifying loss to Sweden the only blips for Luis Enrique's side since their shoot-out agony at the hands of Italy.

Germany and Spain have met four times in the World Cup finals, with the former prevailing in 1966 and 1982. They played out a draw in the group stage in 1994, but Spain claimed a 1-0 victory in 2010 en route to winning the trophy for the first time in their history. Flick was an assistant to Low on Germany's coaching staff during that tournament.

Ghana v Uruguay (December 2)

The appetite for revenge will be high among fans of the Black Stars, who get another crack at Luis Suarez's Uruguay over 12 years on from their controversial 2010 exit at the quarter-final stage.

Suarez gladly took on the role of villain in a remarkable end to extra time in that match, committing a deliberate handball to prevent Dominic Adiyiah's header from giving Ghana a 2-1 lead late into the additional half hour.

The then-Ajax striker was sent off, but Asamoah Gyan skied the subsequent penalty, with Suarez seen enthusiastically celebrating the miss in the tunnel.

Uruguay then held their nerve to prevail in the shoot-out and prevent Ghana from becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals.

Now, in a group that also features Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal and Son Heung-min and South Korea, Ghana could have the chance to send Uruguay home early in the final round of group stage fixtures.

This one promises to be tasty.

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

The 2022 World Cup is now less than eight months away and the excitement will ramp up another notch on Friday when the draw takes place in Doha.

Qatar will become the first Arab country to host the global showpiece, 92 years after the inaugural event in Uruguay, in what is the 22nd edition of football's biggest tournament.

It will become the smallest host nation by area, with matches to be spread across five different cities, making this the most concentrated edition since Argentina 1978.

Twenty-nine nations have already booked their finals spot, 22 of which competed at the 2018 edition, with the automatically-qualified hosts the only side to make their debut.

Due to the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the fate of eight teams remains in the balance – only three of whom can still advance.

Wales will face the winners of the Scotland versus Ukraine play-off in June, while New Zealand take on Costa Rica and Peru meet either Australia or the United Arab Emirates.

To further whet the appetite ahead of Friday's draw, Stats Perform looks at some key questions to be answered with the aid of Opta data.

 


Will Europe continue to dominate?

The past four World Cups have been won by European teams: Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014 and France in 2018.

That is the longest run of victories for a single continent in the tournament's history, with only one defeated finalist – Argentina in 2014 – coming from outside of Europe.

Indeed, a European team has triumphed in 12 of the previous 21 editions, with South America responsible for the other nine victors.

France are the reigning champions and are aiming to become the third team to retain the trophy after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).

However, a word of warning for Les Bleus – the past three defending champions have been eliminated in the group stage (Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018).

 


No Italy, but will it be a familiar winner?

Despite that, France will be fancied by many having reached the final in half of the past six World Cups –1998, 2006 and 2018 – which is more than any other country.

Another World Cup heavyweight will not be present in Qatar, though, as four-time winners Italy – only Brazil (five) have won more trophies – missed out in the play-offs.

Speaking of Brazil, they are taking part in their 22nd World Cup, making them the only team to have featured in every edition of FIFA's showpiece competition.

Like Italy, Germany have won four titles and they have reached the semi-finals on four of the past five occasions, which is double the number of any other team in that period.

No matter how strong a side, a perfect tournament is tough to come by – only Brazil in 1970 and 2002 have achieved that since the 1930s, when teams played just four games.


Or is it a chance for someone new to shine?

Canada will play in their first World Cup since 1986; that gap of 36 years the longest between appearances among teams confirmed to be taking part in this year's event.

Egypt and Norway had the longest gap at 56 years, though Wales will break that should they advance from their play-off to qualify for the first time since 1958 (64 years).

Qatar are the only new face and will aim to avoid becoming just the second hosts to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

Mexico will also have their sights set on the knockout stages, though no side has played as many games (57) as them without reaching the final.

Netherlands, meanwhile, have reached the final on more occasions (1974, 1978 and 2010) without lifting the coveted trophy than anyone else.

 


Can Ronaldo and Muller set new records?

Cristiano Ronaldo will appear at a record-equalling fifth World Cup and is out to become the first player ever to score in five different editions.

The Portugal forward has seven World Cup goals in total, nine short of the record held by Miroslav Klose, who netted all 16 of his goals from inside the penalty area.

Thomas Muller has an outside chance of catching countryman Klose in Qatar, having scored 10 times across his three previous participations – no active player has more.

The top scorer in a single World Cup is Just Fontaine, who scored 13 times in 1958, including a goal in all six of France's games.

Not since Gerd Muller in 1970, with 10 goals for Germany, has a player reached double figures in a single edition. Brazil great Ronaldo's eight in 2002 is the highest since then.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Mexico secured qualification for the World Cup on Wednesday, after a 2-0 win at home to El Salvador.

Goals from Uriel Antuna and Raul Jimenez were enough for Tata Martino's side, with Mexico now securing their eighth consecutive qualification.

With the United States and Costa Rica facing off for the third automatic spot in CONCACAF qualifying, El Tri only realistically needed a draw to book an automatic berth in Qatar.

It was a dominant opening however, and Mexico were able to capitalise early to dispel any growing anxiety. Antuna opened the scoring in the 17th minute, dispatching the rebound after Nestor Araujo's powerful header from an Alexis Vega corner.

Running onto a ball behind the defence, Antuna then won his team a penalty in the 42nd minute. To essentially put the game beyond El Salvador's reach and secure his team's place in Qatar, Raul Jimenez calmly converted from the spot, sending Mario Gonzalez the wrong way.

With the win, El Tri finished the third round of qualification on 28 points, equal on points with first-placed Canada but with a lower goal difference.

Mexico have all but secured qualification for the World Cup after a 1-0 away win over Honduras on Sunday.

Fourth-placed Costa Rica's 2-1 win in El Salvador earlier in the day meant Mexico could not immediately join Canada in sealing their spot in Qatar, but victory on the road means El Tri are on the brink.

With the top three CONCACAF sides gaining automatic qualification, third-placed Mexico sit three points clear of Costa Rica and have a four-goal advantage, meaning only a defeat at home to El Salvador on Wednesday and a significant goal swing will put Tata Martino's men in trouble.

Mexico had 70 per cent possession in the first half against Honduras but failed to create any clear-cut opportunities.

They upped the intensity after half-time, with Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano all creating chances in the first 10 minutes.

Edson Alvarez eventually found the breakthrough in the 70th minute, heading in from Herrera's corner.

With Costa Rica playing second-placed USA in their final qualifying game, even a draw against El Salvador will see Mexico through to their eighth consecutive World Cup.

Mexico and the United States shared the points in a tense 0-0 draw in Thursday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Mexico City.

A victory for either side would have put them on the brink of qualification, but both will need to wait, with the result leaving United States and Mexico in second and third positions respectively with two matches remaining.

Costa Rica moved into fourth spot after their 1-0 win over CONCACAF leaders Canada - who missed out on sealing their spot for Qatar - with the Ticos now three points behind US and Mexico who are locked on 22 points.

In a game where Mexico had a lion's share of possession, it was the Americans creating the best of the chances, with Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa looking spry at 36 years young.

Ochoa was called upon in the 14th minute to deny Yunus Musah, and again in the 36th minute to thwart Christian Pulisic to keep things deadlocked heading into half-time.

Pulisic had another chance just minutes into the second half, but his sharp chance was kept out by Ochoa as he finished the match with four saves. Hirving Lozano had a pair of chances for Mexico in the second half, but sent one over in the 57th minute, and one into the crossbar in the 80th minute.

US's final game away to Costa Rica on Wednesday is shaping up to have plenty on the line. The top three CONCACAF qualifiers will move on to the World Cup, while fourth-placed side will need to go through a play-off.

Mexico and the United States shared the points in a tense 0-0 draw in Thursday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Mexico City.

A victory for either side would have put them on the brink of qualification, but both will need to wait, with the result leaving United States and Mexico in second and third positions respectively with two matches remaining.

Costa Rica moved into fourth spot after their 1-0 win over CONCACAF leaders Canada - who missed out on sealing their spot for Qatar - with the Ticos now three points behind US and Mexico who are locked on 22 points.

In a game where Mexico had a lion's share of possession, it was the Americans creating the best of the chances, with Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa looking spry at 36 years young.

Ochoa was called upon in the 14th minute to deny Yunus Musah, and again in the 36th minute to thwart Christian Pulisic to keep things deadlocked heading into half-time.

Pulisic had another chance just minutes into the second half, but his sharp chance was kept out by Ochoa as he finished the match with four saves. Hirving Lozano had a pair of chances for Mexico in the second half, but sent one over in the 57th minute, and one into the crossbar in the 80th minute.

US's final game away to Costa Rica on Wednesday is shaping up to have plenty on the line. The top three CONCACAF qualifiers will move on to the World Cup, while fourth-placed side will need to go through a play-off.

Raul Jimenez's 80th-minute penalty has earned Mexico a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Panama to open up a four-point gap between the sides in the race to qualify for Qatar 2022.

Jimenez returned after missing the past two games with a calf injury to be a constant threat for El Tri, before converting the spotkick won by Diego Lainez in Mexico City on Wednesday.

The late strike eased the pressure on El Tri head coach Gerardo Martino after Saturday's 0-0 home draw with Costa Rica, as third-placed Mexico moved clear of fourth-placed Panama in the CONCACAF playoff spot with three games to play.

Wolves forward Jimenez had the bulk of Mexico's chances, including having an early second-half goal disallowed by the VAR.

Lainez, who was introduced as a 66th-minute substitute for Hirving Lozano, won the penalty with quick feet after being upended by Abdiel Ayarza. Jimenez sent Panama goalkeeper Luis Mejia the wrong way with his cool finish.

In the fifth minute of stoppage time, the visitors almost grabbed a crucial late equalizer when Michael Amir Murillo pushed forward and glanced a header wide.

Mexico missed the chance to move up to second in the CONCACAF standings and firm up their grip on a 2022 World Cup qualification spot after an underwhelming 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Sunday.

El Tri struck the woodwork twice in the second half from Luis Alberto Rodriguez and substitute Luis Romo's efforts, with Mexico unable to regularly test Ticos goalkeeper Keylor Navas despite their domination.

Mexico had 73 percent possession and 25 shots on goal, compared to Costa Rica's six, but the hosts only managed one on target with Navas saving Hector Herrera's 45th-minute free-kick, heaping more pressure on head coach Gerardo Martino.

Rogelio Funes Mori had a 31st-minute goal disallowed for offside, while Hirving Lozano returned from suspension but was wasteful with a handful of chances. Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa denied Costa Rica's best chance from Celso Borges' 39th-minute header.

The result means Mexico, who have managed just four points from their past four qualifiers, remain third in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings, missing the chance to go past the United States, who lost 2-0 to leaders Canada.

Canada have 22 points from 10 games, with USA and Mexico second and third on 18 points each while Panama beat Jamaica 3-2 on Sunday to sit fourth on 17 points. The top three sides automatically qualify for Qatar, with fourth to face a playoff. Costa Rica kept alive their faint qualification hopes with the draw, sitting fifth with 13 points.

Mexico scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to revive their stuttering 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win over 10-man Jamaica in Kingston on Thursday.

El Tri, who had lost their past two qualifiers against the United States and Canada, were staring down the barrel of a third straight loss when trailing 1-0 with 10 minutes left before their late rally.

Henry Martin tapped home to equalise in the 81st minute, with Carlos Vega netting a dramatic winner two minutes later to ease the pressure on head coach Gerardo Martino.

Preston North End midfielder Daniel Johnson had fired in a left-foot strike to put the Reggae Boyz ahead in the 51st minute after they had been reduced to 10 men prior to half-time when Damion Lowe was sent off after VAR review – introduced to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time – for a studs-up challenge.

El Tri, who were without the injured Raul Jimenez and suspended Hirving Lozano, had early chances with Carlos Rodriguez and Vega both testing Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake in the first half.

The win means Mexico move up to 17 points from nine qualifiers, temporarily moving above Canada – who play Honduras later on Thursday - into second spot in CONCACAF qualifying, one point behind USA who edged El Salvador 1-0. The result leaves Jamaica off the pace, with only one win and seven points from nine games.

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