Alan Shearer claims England will be happy with their group for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the Three Lions facing the United States, Iran, and the final European play-off winner.

The draw means Gareth Southgate's men could face a clash against rivals Wales or Scotland, with the Scots due to face Ukraine for a place in June's play-off final in Cardiff.

It also threw up a repeat of England's 2010 clash with the United States, with whom they shared a 1-1 draw in their opening game at the tournament in South Africa.

England have never faced Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine at the World Cup, but did face a home nation in each of their last two European Championship campaigns, beating Wales 2-1 at Euro 2016 and drawing 0-0 with Scotland at Euro 2020. 

Former England captain Shearer felt his nation should be pleased to have avoided many of the bigger nations, and spoke of his excitement at the prospect of facing a rivalry match.

"Gareth will look at that and think it could have been a lot more difficult," Shearer said to BBC Sport. "I am sure he and his players will be happy with that. 

"This is the one thing in not having that 'group of death', it [the tournament] is pretty much open.

"I have to say that I am pleased Scotland, Wales or Ukraine got put in England's group. It adds that little bit more excitement. If it is Wales or Scotland it makes it a bit tougher.

"Gareth Southgate would have taken that - deep down, without a doubt. 

"He just can't come out and say it just in case. He's too professional to say it, but he'll be more than happy with it."

"It's a big enough incentive to get to the World Cup but to be in a group with England is great and that will motivate the players," he said.

"We've got play-offs we have to worry about first. It won't be easy against Ukraine. If we manage to get through that and play Wales in the final then that is a huge game. 

"Scotland don't have a bad record against Wales and Scotland are in a good place at the moment.

"Our performance at Wembley in the Euros showed the potential of this Scotland team. They've responded well to going out in the group stage at the Euros and there's competition for places all over the pitch."

Former Wales skipper Ashley Williams was also pleased with his nation's draw, but insisted that Rob Page's team would be desperate to reach their first World Cup since 1958 for their own reasons.

"No disrespect to anyone, all the teams are good, but it could have been a little bit more daunting in another potential group," he said.

"I'm quite happy but there's a lot of work to do before then. 

"They [Wales] just want to get there anyway for their own reasons [not purely to face England]. One of Wales or Scotland usually draw England!"

England will begin their 16th appearance at the World Cup against Iran on November 21, before facing the United States on November 25 and wrapping up their group campaign on November 29.

The draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar took place on Friday, and there are some tantalising fixtures to look forward to before the knockout rounds even begin.

Spain and Germany, two of the tournament's past three winners, are in the same group, while hosts Qatar now know they will kick things off against Ecuador on November 21.

Three teams are still to be determined, with two inter-confederation play-offs and a European play-off to be staged in June – potentially meaning an all-British affair for England, who will open up their campaign against the United States.

Reigning champions France face Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru, the United Arab Emirates or Australia. Brazil should be confident of progressing from Group G, while Belgium, Portugal and Argentina, similarly, should have the quality to make it through.

Below is the full group-stage draw, with kick-off times and venues for each fixture yet to be confirmed.


DRAW IN FULL

Group A - Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Group B - England, Iran, United States, Wales or Scotland/Ukraine

Group C - Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Group D - France, Peru or United Arab Emirates/Australia, Denmark, Tunisia

Group E - Spain, Costa Rica or New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Group F - Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Group G - Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Group H - Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Spain will face Germany in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, while Qatar were given a tough draw as the hosts will come up against the Netherlands and Senegal.

Luis Enrique's Spain and their fellow European heavyweights Germany will do battle in Group E along with Japan, while the winner of a play-off between Costa Rica or New Zealand will be their other opponents.

Qatar will take on Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on November 21 before coming up against African champions Senegal and the Oranje in Group A.

The ceremony in Doha on Friday saw holders France drawn to lock horns with Denmark, Tunisia and either Peru, Australia or the United Arab Emirates in Group D.

 

Five-time champions Brazil, the top-ranked side in the world, will fight it out with Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon in Group G.

England, semi-finalists in Russia four years ago, could face neighbours and fierce rivals Wales or Scotland in Group B, although Ukraine are also in contention to qualify via the play-offs. 

Gareth Southgate's side will definitely take on the United States and Iran in Group B.

 

Copa America champions Argentina, captained by the mercurial Lionel Messi, will be expected to advance from a Group C that will see them face Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

The 2018 runners-up Croatia and Belgium were drawn in Group F along with Morocco and Canada, who qualified for a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana will be in Group H.

 

The draw is out, and the World Cup suddenly feels a lot closer, with the elite preparing to go for glory at Qatar 2022.

A likely last hurrah on the World Cup stage awaits superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while new names will break through and rising talent will be put to the test.

Eight nations have been champions of the tournament that was first staged in 1930, and it will be France looking to defend the title this time.

Many of us pride ourselves on remembering World Cup trivia from past tournaments, but just how good is your knowledge?

These Opta-assisted 20 questions should sort the group-stage flops from the champions of World Cup quizzing. The answers are below, but don't cheat!

The first...

1. Name the English boss who at Qatar 2022 will become the first to coach a team at both the men's and women's World Cups?

2. Gregg Berhalter will become the first man to serve as player and manager of the USA at the World Cup. He appeared at the 2002 tournament and is now boss of the American side. To which present-day Premier League club did Berhalter then belong, becoming their first World Cup player?

3. Who became the first player to score a Golden Goal winner at the World Cup when he netted for France against Paraguay in a 1998 last-16 clash?

4. In the 2018 showdown between France and Croatia, who became the first player in World Cup final history to score for both teams?

5. Qatar will attempt to become the first nation from the AFC confederation to win their first World Cup finals match. Ten of the previous 11 have lost (including Israel in 1970), but who were the team who in 1982 managed a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia?

 

The last...

6. There have been 52 hat-tricks in the tournament's history, but who was the last player to score a treble in the knockout stages of the World Cup?

7. A goalkeeper won his 159th and final international cap at the 2018 finals, when he became the oldest player to appear at the World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days. He saved a penalty in a 2-1 defeat for his team against Saudi Arabia. Who was that goalkeeper and what team did he play for?

8. Ghana reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and Senegal did so at the 2002 finals. But who were the first team from Africa to make it to the last eight, doing so at the 1990 finals in Italy?

9. Brazil last lost a group game at the World Cup in 1998, since when they have won 12 and drawn three games at the first-round stage. Which team beat them in that 1998 tournament?

10. Cameroon have lost each of their past seven games at the World Cup (between 2002 and 2014). Only one team have ever lost more games in a row in the competition's history – nine between 1930 and 1958. Who were that team?

The most...

11. Just Fontaine scored his 13 World Cup goals in just six games for France. The competition's all-time record scorer is Germany's Miroslav Klose, who netted 16 times for his country in how many appearances: 22, 23 or 24?

12. Who will become the only team to have appeared at all 22 editions of the World Cup when they take part in Qatar 2022?

13. Iran will be making their sixth appearance at the World Cup and have never gone beyond the group stage. Which country has made the most appearances (eight) without making it past the first round?

14. Which forward had the most goal involvements of all players in European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, scoring 12 and assisting six times in 10 games?

15. Since 1966, only three players have completed more than 12 dribbles in a single World Cup game, with Brazil's Jairzinho achieving 13 against Paraguay in 1970 and Paul Gascoigne matching that total for England against Cameroon in 1990. Who managed the most – 15 in a game against Italy at the 1994 tournament?

 

The GOATs...

16. Which superstar, who scored eight times and provided eight assists in 21 World Cup games, also holds the record for the most handball decisions given against a player at the tournament (seven) since records began?

17. Who holds the record for the most minutes played in World Cup history, having featured in 2,216 minutes of finals action?

18. Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only four players to score in four different World Cup tournaments. He will attempt to go one better this year, but Ronaldo currently sits alongside Pele, Klose and which other player?

19. Between them, Ronaldo (seven) and Lionel Messi (six) have managed 13 World Cup goals. How many of those goals came in the knockout rounds?

20. Ronaldo is one of just two European players to have either scored and/or assisted a goal in each of the last five major international tournaments (World Cup/European Championship). Who is the other player to have managed the feat?

 

Answers:

1. John Herdman (Canada – he managed Canada Women at the 2015 Women's World Cup)
2. Crystal Palace
3. Laurent Blanc (France)
4. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
5. Kuwait.
6. Tomas Skuhravy (for Czechoslovakia against Costa Rica, last 16, 1990)
7. Essam El Hadary (Egypt)
8. Cameroon
9. Norway
10. Mexico
11. 24
12. Brazil
13. Scotland
14. Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
15. Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)
16. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
17. Paolo Maldini (Italy)
18. Uwe Seeler (West Germany)
19. Zero
20. Ivan Perisic (Croatia)

Spain will face Germany in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, while Qatar were given a tough draw as the hosts will come up against Netherlands and Senegal.

Jurgen Klopp is confident Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will deal with their international rivalry "in the right way" after Senegal beat Egypt to World Cup qualification.

The Reds boss also condemned fans for targeting Salah with laser pens as he skied Egypt's first spot-kick in their penalty shoot-out loss, with Senegal qualifying for Qatar after a 1-1 aggregate draw in the African play-offs.

Tuesday's defeat represents the second time this season that Salah has been bested by his club team-mate on spot-kicks after Senegal accomplished the same feat to win the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Salah and Mane have hit a combined 32 Premier League goals this season, with the Egyptian scoring 20 and the Senegalese forward netting 12.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash with Watford, Klopp, while condemning the laser pens, expressed his pride for Mane's achievement and backed the duo to move on in the correct manner.

"I'm obviously really happy for Sadio that he could make it, and I'm obviously very disappointed for Mo," Klopp said.

"I don't think that the situation around the penalty and the laser was particularly cool, so I feel for him [Salah]. But I'm happy for Sadio as well, that's football. 

"It's different when two mates are in such a big game, playing against each other, but they are both top professionals, very emotional people as well, but I'm pretty sure they will deal with it in the right way. 

"There's no doubt about it, at the moment, Senegal are the best team in Africa, and Egypt did really well to take them twice to the wire, twice to a penalty shoot-out.

"Senegal have an extremely talented squad and Egypt did really well. I'm not sure they can see it like this exactly, but from my point of view they should.

"They got unlucky with the draw, against pretty much all other [African] teams, Egypt would have qualified for the World Cup."

No player has scored the opening goal in more different Premier League games this season than Mane (six), while Salah has scored the joint-most winning goals in the competition this term (also six).

Salah has now faced penalty heartache twice this calendar year with Egypt, but Klopp claims the 29-year-old's international disappointment will simply spur him on at club level. 

"There's no doubt about it, Mo wants to win everything he can," Klopp added. "That's why he was very disappointed about the fact they couldn't win the [AFCON] tournament or qualify for the World Cup.  

"That's different competitions, his desire will be bigger now, and he's a very smart person who sees the difference between all these things. 

"We didn't speak about it in detail, to be honest, but he knows that Senegal are a tough team. Mo was unlucky in moments, especially with the penalty shoot-out, but nobody has to worry about him."

Salah has been directly involved in 11 goals in just seven Premier League games against Watford, scoring nine and assisting two.

He averages a goal or assist every 57 minutes against the Hornets, the fourth-best ratio any player has against a club in Premier League history having played a minimum of 600 minutes against that opponent.

Gareth Southgate insists England are among a select band of teams that can win the World Cup – but to land glory in Qatar they must be "close to perfect".

As he waited to learn his team's fate in Friday's draw, Southgate was taking confidence from the upturn in England's performance on big stages in recent years.

A semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was followed by another appearance in the last-four stage of the Nations League, before England went close to landing a long-awaited trophy in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Reaching the final of the European Championship means England should head to Qatar in November with plenty of belief as they attempt to land a second World Cup, some 56 years after Geoff Hurst's hat-trick against West Germany in the 1966 final.

"The World Cup is very special. It's the pinnacle. It's still the ultimate prize," said Southgate.

"What have we said to the team this week? That if we can get to a semi-final, we can get to a final – which we did. And if we can get to a final, we can win.

"To do that is incredibly difficult, and we'll have to be as close to perfect as can be. That's the challenge for us, not just when we get to Qatar, because we've got to be in the right condition, even before that. That's what we've got to work towards every day we're together."

Southgate, whose side have beaten Switzerland and Ivory Coast in the past week, added: "We know we've had consistent performances over a three, four-year period, and we are one of the teams – I think there are a few – that could win this tournament."

In charge since September 2016, Southgate has surpassed most initial expectations of his reign already, bringing through an exciting generation of young players who were only denied Euro 2020 glory by Italy in a penalty shoot-out.

England have qualified for the World Cup for the 16th time, and Qatar 2022 will mark their seventh appearance in a row, their longest streak in the competition.

The Three Lions have progressed past the quarter-finals only twice since their Wembley triumph in 1966, but they have not been to another final.

This time there are signs that England might be ready to take that step. They had the best goal difference in the group stage among European qualifiers, scoring 39 goals and conceding only three, and Southgate expects other national teams will be wary of his side.

He said, quoted widely in British media on Friday: "We've definitely got respectability and I think we will be a team other teams wouldn't look forward to playing. But that's a double-edged sword though because some teams are going to prepare differently for you.

"You're there to be shot at, and they are going to have a specific way of playing to try and stop you, but some will be a little bit fearful of you and might allow you more of the game, so from our point of view, what really matters is how it makes us feel about ourselves."

Kylian Mbappe is leading a new generation of World Cup stars whose emergence means football will soon move on from the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo era, says Youri Djorkaeff.

French great Djorkaeff has a World Cup winner's medal, which is more than Messi and Ronaldo can say as the serial Ballon d'Or winners head towards what is likely their last major global tournament.

The France 98 winner saw Mbappe help another generation of Les Bleus triumph four years ago in Russia, and Didier Deschamps' side will again be among the favourites in Qatar this year.

Messi has reached a final with Argentina, but neither he nor Ronaldo has ever scored in a World Cup knockout game.

For all their great success at club level, neither could yet be considered a World Cup great.

Asked about both, and Ronaldo's former Real Madrid club-mate Luka Modric, Djorkaeff disagreed their likely World Cup swan songs meant football was at a turning point in its history.

"No, we should not look back, we should look forward," he said. "The Mbappes and all the players who will arrive. We have many of them in France.

"Generations pass, but what matters is the quality of the new players. In France, we have great players who arrive."

Speaking in Doha ahead of Friday's World Cup draw, Djorkaeff said any team that might feel they land a tough assignment should not be too downhearted, since there is no such thing as an easy draw.

"Yes, the World Cup is starting, so you prepare, and you know when you are going to play, but there is no good or bad draw," Djorkaeff said.

With the tournament taking place unusually in November and December, rather than a familiar June and July stretch, Djorkaeff believes there will be a different flavour to the World Cup this year.

The 82-cap former forward said: "That's where the World Cup will be different from the others. All the great players and all the teams are going to get to a point in the season where they are going to be competitive.

"It's not the end of the season where it's long and there are a lot of big games. It's almost the beginning of the season. It's going to be very interesting."

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.

Sergio Aguero has raised the prospect that he could yet return to play football, albeit as an amateur rather than a professional.

The Argentine was forced to retire last year, months after leaving Manchester City for Barcelona on a free transfer, due to heart issues.

But after a lengthy career that saw him celebrate great success with the Premier League champions and reach a World Cup final with La Albiceleste, the 33-year-old still has the hunger to play.

However, Aguero stressed any return would not be at the top level, hinting that his passion would see him merely play for fun.

"Yesterday [on Tuesday], it crossed my mind that I could play football again," Aguero told TyC Sports.

"The doctors told me that I have to spend five or six months out of action, but I already want to train again.

"I want to play recreationally. They invited me to Miami to play a game and I didn't go. I want to send a message to the doctor."

Aguero's retirement means he will play no part for Argentina at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where his nation will be among the favourites after last year's Copa America win.

Lionel Scaloni's side will be among the top seeds with holders France, Copa America runners-up Brazil and Euro 2020 finalists England when the draw is made on Friday.

Aguero sees no reason why they will not be in the mix to lift the trophy, though admitted that the prospect of being in the same group as Germany - who beat them in the 2014 final - is a dangerous one.

"You have to watch the matches and the draw, which is key, but Argentina are always candidates to fight for the World Cup," he added.

"In the first few games, the team are going to start gaining confidence.

"If it's Germany, we still have to qualify and, on the other hand, then we'll run into each other in the latter stages. The first game is the worst, the most difficult."

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.

The Algeria Football Federation (FAF) has called for a replay of their World Cup play-off clash against Cameroon and lodged a complaint to FIFA over the refereeing, claiming the officiating "distorted the result".

Karl Toko Ekambi delivered the decisive strike in the 124th minute in Blida on Tuesday to condemn Algeria to a 2-1 aggregate loss on away goals, with Cameroon qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Islam Slimani saw two goals ruled out, the first in the second half and again in extra time, with referee Bakary Gassama initially allowing the latter finish to stand before using the pitch-side monitor to deem the Algeria striker had handled the ball.

Charaf-Eddine Amara has resigned as president of FAF left in the wake of Algeria's exit from World Cup qualifying, while the federation has lodged an appeal to world governing body FIFA.

"The Algerian Football Federation (FAF) has lodged an appeal with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) against the scandalous arbitration which distorted the result of the Algeria-Cameroon play-off," the statement read.

"The FAF is determined to use all legally permitted means to have its rights restored and to replay the match under conditions guaranteeing the honesty and partiality of the arbitration.

"The FAF also requests the opening of an investigation by FIFA bodies to shed light on the arbitration of the Algeria-Cameroon match."

The draw for the group stage of the World Cup is set to take place on Friday.

Russian teams will be welcomed back into world football immediately once the invasion of Ukraine ends, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has declared.

Infantino said FIFA "would be there the first day to play football again", as he spoke at the world governing body's congress in Qatar, this year's World Cup host country.

Infantino, who in 2019 was awarded an Order of Friendship medal by Russian president Vladimir Putin, said he was "devastated" by the news coming out of Ukraine.

But he said it was right that there was Russian representation at the congress, insisting the country's national federation had not been suspended by FIFA.

The country's national and club teams have been blocked from playing in FIFA and UEFA competitions, including the World Cup, but Infantino said it was important to maintain dialogue with federation officials.

Speaking in a news conference following the congress session, Infantino said: "I'm very sad of course for what is happening, and I'm as devastated as everyone."

He added: "We had to suspend Russia and Russian teams. It's not an easy decision of course, because it's about people who love football.

"We had to take the decisions, and now we have to look forward and hope the hostilities can stop, and we can bring a little bit of peace.

"The decision on Russia has been taken. The Russian Football Union has appealed the decision to CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] so we are waiting for the result of the CAS deliberations.

"We will see what comes next. I sincerely hope the conflict can end, and we would be there the first day to play football again, because that's what I think is needed in this country.

"Russia as a football union, like any other federation, has not been suspended as such by FIFA, it has been participating in this congress as well."

Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup, and now Qatar, whose qualification as suitable hosts has frequently been called into question, will stage the tournament in November and December of this year.

Asked whether Qatar would be awarded a World Cup based on what FIFA considers are now increasingly robust methods of deciding who should be hosts, Infantino initially distanced himself from the decision that was made in 2010, when Sepp Blatter was the governing body's president.

"When it comes to the Qatar World Cup, the decision has been taken now 12 years ago, when I was far away from FIFA happenings in these days," said Infantino, who was UEFA secretary general at the time.

"We've now put in place a different bidding process, which I think is also pretty unique, and I said in the past bulletproof. I hope it will continue to be bulletproof. It's open, it's transparent, it's professional and you know why you vote for somebody when you vote for somebody.

"This is what has happened for the men's World Cup in 2026 and for the women's World Cup in 2023.

"We still see even in these decisions there are political votes rather than factual-based votes. That's probably part of the game.

"When it comes to Qatar, the decision has been taken. We'll organise the best World Cup ever here in Qatar, and in any case we shouldn't go back. We should look forward, and we should look at what has happened.

"All the changes that have happened in this country in terms of workers' rights and human rights, and so on, would not have happened or certainly not at the same speed without the projectors of the World Cup being there."

Speaking about Qatar, whose records have been criticised by human rights organisations, Infantino said the tournament would "show to the world there are people living here, and you can come here and feel safe and be safe".

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.

After failing to qualify in 2018, the United States secured automatic qualification to the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, despite a 2-0 loss away to Costa Rica.

Following their 5-1 win over Panama, the USA had a healthy enough goal difference to avert the inter-confederation playoff, with a three-point and 10-goal gap between them and Costa Rica coming into the final qualifier. 

In what was an intense start, Keylor Navas was on hand to deny the US in the eighth minute with a fantastic double save. Initially denying Miles Robinson with a reflex save from close range, the Paris Saint-Germain keeper then managed to stop the ball from trickling in following a USA corner.

The match tightened up significantly after that and the dead ball was the likeliest avenue to goal for both teams. The home side eventually broke the deadlock in the 51st minute through Juan Pablo Vargas, and doubled the margin eight minutes later from another set piece via Anthony Contreras.

Both sides finish the third round of CONCACAF qualifying on 25 points, but goal difference separates with the United States on +11 and Costa Rica on +5.

As a result, Los Ticos will face New Zealand in the inter-confederation playoff in June.

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