World Cup draw: France look good for Russia repeat but hosts Qatar among big losers

By Sports Desk April 01, 2022

Italy may have been absent from Friday's 2022 World Cup draw, but they can at least provide recent examples of the pitfalls of forecasting the finals this far in advance.

At South Africa 2010, as defending champions, the Azzurri would have expected to top an apparently kind group, drawn alongside New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. Remarkably, Marcello Lippi's side finished bottom.

Four years later, at Brazil 2014, Italy entered the 'group of death' and fared little better, coming in third ahead of fellow big-name failures England – but predicted Group D whipping boys Costa Rica sensationally topped the standings.

It is surely too early then to form firm opinions, but where is the fun in taking such a measured approach on draw day, rather than plotting potential paths to the Lusail final?

France fans will likely be doing the latter this weekend, with Les Bleus having been handed perhaps the pick of the groups, starting against one of the United Arab Emirates, Australia or Peru before facing Denmark and then Tunisia.

Of course, France are the defending champions and four of the past five holders have bowed out at the group stage, including the most recent three in a row, while Brazil in 1962 were the last team to win consecutive tournaments.

But France's title-winning campaign in 2018 saw them grouped with Australia, Peru and Denmark, giving Didier Deschamps' men some confidence they can negotiate this task, too. In the last 16, they would then face a team from Argentina's group – Lionel Messi and Co. having provided France's second-round opponents in Russia.

Brazil might also be suffering from deja vu, again meeting Serbia and Switzerland in the group stage, with Cameroon taking Costa Rica's place this time around. Like France, the Selecao topped their pool four years ago – as every eventual champion since 1986 has.

Crucially for both, in coming up against Denmark and Switzerland, they avoided Germany – surely the biggest threat in pot two. Rejuvenated under Hansi Flick, the 2014 champions provide a complication for both Spain and Belgium.

Germany followed Spain into Group E, where Japan might pose enough problems to ensure a top-two finish is no guarantee. Or perhaps Costa Rica could spring another surprise, as they will be the fourth team in the pool should they get past New Zealand in their inter-confederation play-off.

Bookmakers downgraded Germany's hopes in the minutes after the draw, but they were always likely to face elite opposition given their place in pot two. Spain were not.

And Belgium's kind group – Canada, Morocco and Croatia are their opponents – matters little given they will likely face either Spain or Germany in the second round.

England, on the face of it, have a simpler path to the quarter-finals. The Three Lions should be able to advance through a group that also includes Iran, the United States and Scotland, Ukraine or Wales – although those make for some tasty fixtures.

In the last 16, following a good period of rest, England would face opponents from Qatar's group, which was surely the result every pot one team hoped for.

Gareth Southgate would likely welcome a meeting with Qatar, but the host nation – the only debutants in 2022 – will do well to make it that far, with Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands each surely fancying their chances in a very even group.

South Africa in 2010 are the only hosts not to have progressed from the first round in World Cup history, but they could soon have company.

 

WINNERS

France – The defending champions face familiar opponents in the group and potentially in the second round, too, while they are in the same quarter of the draw as Qatar's pool and will avoid Spain, Germany, Belgium and Brazil early on.

Brazil – The tournament favourites should have no problems in the group so can settle into their campaign nicely while possible heavyweight opponents face titanic early tests.

England – The Euro 2020 finalists have been given thorough examinations by the USA, Scotland and Wales in past tournaments, but Southgate's side should advance and will back themselves again in the knockout stage.

LOSERS

Spain – La Roja have not won their World Cup opener since 2006 but simply cannot afford a slow start this time, with Germany and perhaps Belgium to play after that. From pot one, Spain's draw could not have been much worse.

Belgium – The odds for Roberto Martinez's men to go all the way drifted on Friday, as initial optimism around their group-stage draw was followed by greater inspection of a daunting path to the final.

Qatar – The hosts may be the Asian champions, but only Germany were perhaps feared more than the Netherlands from pot two, while Senegal in pot three are the African champions and have a world class operator in the form of Sadio Mane.

Related items

  • Medvedev battles into French Open second round after Koepfer triumph Medvedev battles into French Open second round after Koepfer triumph

    Daniil Medvedev staved off a Dominik Koepfer fightback to record a battling victory in the French Open first round on Monday.

    The world number five raced out the blocks on Court Simonne-Mathieu and eventually triumphed 6-3 6-4 5-7 6-3 in Paris.

    Medvedev, a five-time major runner-up and 2021 US Open champion, broke Koepfer's first service game in the French capital with that a seeming sign of things to come.

    Though the 28-year-old dropped his serve in the first set, Medvedev had little trouble in responding with the score finely poised at 3-2 to claim first blood at Roland-Garros.

    The fifth seed has only ever gone as far as the quarter-finals, three years ago, at the French Open but showed his clinical best to snatch the second set after holding all six service games for a narrow triumph.

    World number 65 Koepfer battled back in the third but the resilient Medvedev responded by breaking his German opponent early in the fourth set, finally securing victory in just over three hours.

    Data Debrief: Medvedev gets better of Koepfer again

    Medvedev has won all four of his meetings with Koepfer, with his most recent such victory seeing him reach the second round at Roland-Garros for the third time in eight attempts.

    Since the start of the 2021 season, Medvedev is 27-1 against players ranked outside the top 50 at major events, with his only loss in that run coming against Seyboth Wild in the French Open first round last year.

    Koepfer, meanwhile, extends to 1-17 against top-10 players in his career, earning his only such victory against over Gael Monfils – then ranked ninth in the world – at the 2020 ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome.

  • Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win

    Cristiano Ronaldo claimed a piece of Saudi Pro League history after scoring twice in Al-Nassr's 4-2 final-day victory over 10-man Al-Ittihad on Monday.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was on target in either half at Al Awal Park, moving to 35 goals across the 2023-24 league campaign in Saudi Arabia.

    Ronaldo opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time after receiving a long ball from Mohammed Al-Fatil, before doubling his tally – and Al-Nassr's lead – with a header from Marcelo Brozovic's corner.

    That second finish after Suwailem Al Manhali was dismissed for the visitors saw Ronaldo eclipse Abderrazak Hamdallah's 34-goal tally – in the 2018-19 season – for the most strikes in a single campaign.

    Abdulrahman Ghareeb then added another from the penalty spot before Meshari Al Nemer made sure of three points after late goals from Farhah Al Shamrani and Fabinho had pulled Al-Ittihad back into contention.

    Having already been unable to stop Al-Hilal secure the title, Al-Nassr finish second in the table – ending on 82 points after 26 wins from the 34-match campaign.

    Data Debrief: Al-Nassr dominance pays off

    Much will be made of the record-breaking Ronaldo, who has scored 50 goals in as many games across all competitions this season.

    Yet Al-Nassr were dominant from the off in this one, mustering nine shots on target to Al-Ittihad's three, while accumulating 2.73 expected goals (xG) – far superior to the visitors' 1.43 xG.

  • Sakkari crashes out in French Open first round after Gracheva upset Sakkari crashes out in French Open first round after Gracheva upset

    Varvara Gracheva produced an eye-catching upset after sending Maria Sakkari crashing out of the French Open on Monday.

    World number 88 Gracheva battled to a 3-6 6-4 6-3 victory on Court Simonne-Mathieu, claiming a notable Roland-Garros scalp in the first round.

    Gracheva clinched five of six break points in an impressive fightback after falling a set down in Paris to sixth seed Sakkari.

    Her reward will be a second-round meeting with Bernarda Pera, who overcame Japan's Nao Hibino in straight sets on the same day.

    Data Debrief: Gracheva earns top-10 scalp

    Gracheva will be bidding to make the third round in Paris for the third time in her career after Sakkari became the first big-name exit in the women's draw.

    This victory against world number eight Sakkari marked Gracheva's fourth top-10 win in her career, and second win against such opponents in major events.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.