DOHA, Qatar ( Associated Press) — Lionel Messi is likely facing Robert Lewandowski, Spain is on course playing Germany, and Luis Suarez handed a rematch against old foe Ghana.
Friday’s draw set up some interesting possibilities for the World Cup group stage, and will begin on November 21 with hosts Qatar starting Ecuador.
England will play the United States, and both will face Iran and likely Ukraine which resumes in the playoffs in June. Ukraine was unable to field a team during last week’s invasion of Russia.
A total of 37 teams joined on Friday as the three entries in the 32-team lineup are not yet known. Like Ukraine’s playoff bracket, the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in June delayed two intercontinental playoffs.
Kickoff times and stadiums will be decided for each game this month. This lets FIFA allocate games to the main broadcast slot for spectators in a team’s home country.
The top two teams in each group’s standings advance to the round of 16 of the knockout stage.
Here the teams landed for November 21-December. 18 tournaments:
Group A – Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador
Hosts Qatar will make their World Cup debut against Ecuador on 21 November. A game between teams ranked 51st and 46th respectively would have as much importance as the first World Cup final game to be played in the Middle East.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal sees the historic moment a little differently. He said last week it was “ridiculous” that the tournament was being played in Qatar and cited FIFA’s interest in money.
Perhaps it is best that the Dutch do not face Qatar until the final Group A games on 29 November. Three-time World Cup runners-up will start against new African champions Senegal.
Group B – England, USA, Iran, Wales or Scotland or Ukraine
A very political group, and even more so if Ukraine completes the lineup.
The US and Iran had previously met at the 1998 World Cup, where the Iranians won 2-1. England will open against Iran in the first World Cup game between them.
England and America face each other in their second game. They drew 1–1 in the 2010 group, leading the two.
England’s final game could be a British derby against either of its neighbors, Wales or Scotland or Ukraine – those three teams are in the playoff bracket in June.
U.S. coach Greg Berhalter said, “Ukraine (a team) is kind of a drag for everyone, because of what they’re going through, “you’ll be grateful” if soccer helps Ukrainians return to normal daily life. Can do.
If Scotland qualifies, it has to play England on 29 November. Will FIFA one day push back the sport? 30 November 1872 marks the 150th anniversary of the first international football match between the two nations in Glasgow.
Group B teams should also start playing from November 21. This gives those teams fewer days to prepare for the World Cup but builds on more rest days if they go deeper into the tournament.
Group C – Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia
Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski – holders of the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s best player at the world awards, respectively, are on track to meet when Argentina play Poland in the final round of a group game.
Argentina finally won the Copa America with Messi last year and opened against Saudi Arabia, impressing in qualifying under coach Hervé Renard.
Poland starts against Mexico in a resume that appears to be a national obsession to get past the round of 16.
Group D – France, Denmark, Tunisia, Peru or Australia or the United Arab Emirates
Defending champions France and Denmark will get to know each other very well by November. They were in the same group four years ago and will meet twice more in UEFA’s Nations League in June and September.
France has superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema, although there is a sense of luck with playmaker Christian Eriksson in Denmark. He returned to the team last week, just nine months after suffering a cardiac arrest on the field at the European Championships.
“What a player. All I can say is he is back and maybe he is even better,” said coach Kasper Hjulmand, who led his team to the Euro 2020 semi-finals.
In 2018, they also faced Peru and Australia in their group, so a three-team reunion is also possible based on the result of an Intercontinental playoff bracket in June.
Group E – Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica or New Zealand
2010 champions Spain will face 2014 winners Germany in a semi-final rematch which the Spanish won in their title campaign.
“Easy group, easy group, eh?” Spain coach Luis Enerque quipped. “A great group, great rivals and I think we have to try to enjoy it.”
Costa Rica was a quarterfinalist in 2014, going deeper than Spain, but would first have to overtake New Zealand in the playoffs in June.
Group F – Belgium, Croatia, Morocco, Canada
Belgium was in the semi-finals four years earlier and was the finalist, beating Croatia. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic knows his team cannot be a surprise this time around.
“Four years ago nobody believed in us, nobody trusted my team,” Dalik said. “Now we deserve respect. We deserve everything.”
Canada is a tricky and difficult choice among the lowest ranked teams after topping their qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the US
It features two potential stars in defender Alfonso Davies and forward Jonathan David and a history-making coach, John Herdman, who previously led Canada’s women’s team to the World Cup.
Morocco gets a group with two tough Europeans in back-to-back tournaments. Last time, it was Spain and Portugal.
Morocco coach Wahid Halilhodik created World Cup history by leading a fourth separate country through qualifying.
Group G – Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon
Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia have quickly reunited after being in the same group in 2018. Brazil will open against Serbia, which they beat 2-0 four years ago.
The most controversial was the Switzerland-Serbia game four years ago. In the 2–1 victory, both Swiss scorers, Granit Zaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, made provocative double-headed eagle hand gestures to honor their Albanian family roots.
“I don’t care about politics,” Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic said after the draw.
Now 30 years old, Neymar is ready to lead Brazil’s attack in a third World Cup in pursuit of the title his country last won in 2002.
Brazil should be one of the last teams to begin play on 24 November – with more time to prepare the team but a more congested 25-day event to win a record sixth title.
Group H – Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana
Cristiano Ronaldo is on his way to start his fifth consecutive World Cup final when he faces Ghana at the age of 37.
Coach Fernando Santos admitted that “it will be a very tiring tournament,” but he preferred to start late in the overcrowded schedule to help prepare his team.
The group reunites Luis Suarez and Uruguay with Ghana for the first time since their infamous quarter-final game at the 2010 World Cup. Suarez was sent off to score an almost certain winning goal for Ghana in extra time. A penalty was missed and Uruguay won the shootout.
Suarez had scored twice in the knockout rounds of 2010 when Uruguay also beat South Korea 2-1.
More Associated Press Soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports