There was a sense of inevitability about the impending resignation of England Test captain Joe Root.

Yorkshireman Root repeatedly reiterated his commitment to leading his country in the face of adversity, echoing his desire to continue after a 4-0 hammering in Australia and 1-0 series loss to West Indies.

The latter defeat made it five Test series without a win for England under Root, who has managed just one victory in his past 17 international red-ball outings as skipper.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the duo with 1,177 Test dismissals between them, were also omitted for the tour to the Caribbean as a new-look England side struggled as many of their predecessors had in recent years.

The ECB are now without a managing director, head coach, selector or Test captain ahead of a series against New Zealand, starting in June, with Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler among the favourite skipper replacements.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the highs and lows of Root's stewardship, which came to an end on Friday.

Perfect Proteas start – 2017

Root could not have dreamt of a better start to international captaincy following his appointment as skipper, replacing Alastair Cook – England's leading run-scorer in Test cricket (12,472).

England ran out comfortable victors against South Africa in the first Test at Lord's in July 2017 under Root, who crafted a magnificent 190.

The hosts slipped to defeat in the following meeting with the Proteas, with Root conceding his honeymoon period was already over, but responded to claim a 3-1 series defeat over Faf du Plessis' tourists.

Root accumulated 461 runs in the series, 131 more than his nearest challenger and Yorkshire colleague Jonny Bairstow, as he averaged an impressive 57.6.

 

Joy in the Indian summer – 2018

As Root would quickly learn, any hope of success rapidly diminished when his side were to travel Down Under, with a 4-0 thrashing by Australia and a series loss to New Zealand to follow.

However, England responded in remarkable fashion against the world's number one ranked side India as they recorded a 4-1 victory and celebrated a series of milestones.

Root fell slightly short of his own standards with the bat, finishing fourth with 319 runs behind his predecessor Cook (327), Buttler (349) and visiting captain Virat Kohli (593).

Cook capped a fine international career with a ton in his final appearance at The Oval, while Anderson moved past Australian Glenn McGrath to fourth in the all-time Test dismissals list.

Despite the retirement of Cook, things were starting to look brighter for Root and Co.

Overseas success at last – 2018

Root's record overseas as captain made for poor reading before the tour to Sri Lanka, having lost five of seven Tests while drawing the other two.

But the left-field selection of spin specialist Keaton Jennings and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes proved fruitful as both recorded hundreds in the first Test win over the hosts.

Root joined in on the act with a ton in the series-clinching second meeting, before becoming the first Englishman in 55 years to secure a whitewash abroad in a series of three matches or more.

"We are not a one-trick pony in our own conditions anymore," Root said as he hailed his tourists, who were again defeated in the Caribbean on the following tour.

South Africa saviour after Ashes failure – 2019-20

The pressure was mounting on Root after losses to West Indies and failure to regain the Ashes at home.

Silverwood was appointed as the successor to Trevor Bayliss and, despite a flu bug running through the England side that lost the first Test in Centurion, the visitors battled to a series 3-1 victory.

Stokes and Bairstow led the way for the tourists, who lost Anderson to injury in the second outing and utilised newcomers Ollie Pope, Dom Bess and Mark Wood.

There was also no three-figure score for Root, but that did not matter to him as he concluded "the sky's the limit" for his youthful and promising side.

 

Stokes-less England demolished in India – 2021

COVID-19 accounted for much of cricket in 2020, when England ran out 2-1 victors against West Indies and 1-0 winners against Pakistan after Root oversaw the series win in South Africa at the start of the year.

But 2021 signalled the start of the downfall of Root, who followed up another encouraging series victory against Sri Lanka with series losses to India and then New Zealand, without Stokes, who took an indefinite break from cricket to prioritise his mental wellbeing and recovery from injury.

India then visited for a five-Test series, which they led 2-1 before a coronavirus-enforced cancellation of the final meeting as Jasprit Bumrah headed Kohli's bowling attack that tore through England.

While Root cited "small margins" as the difference in a topsy-turvy series, there was nothing competitive about Root's side when they headed Down Under again.

Ashes disappointment – 2021-22

Australia have proved a step too far for many an England captain, and Root was no different as his team collapsed in abject fashion to highlight the deficiencies of the Test side and county set-up.

Pat Cummins' rampant hosts, aided by some Scott Boland brilliance, secured the Ashes series within 12 days of cricket – longer than England were required to quarantine on their arrival Down Under.

The visitors failed to pass 300 even once, and during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, England were bowled out for 68 in their second innings.

The tourists also collapsed on the third day of the final Test in Hobart when they lost 10 second-innings wickets for just 56 runs, with only a fourth Test draw in Sydney preventing a 5-0 whitewash.

Nevertheless, Root's batting did not falter despite captaincy pressure. His 1,708 runs in Test cricket last year were the most ever by an England player – and third-most by any player in history.

 

Caribbean conclusion – 2022

Head coach Silverwood was dismissed in the wake of the Ashes thrashing, with Paul Collingwood appointed as interim coach to work with Root.

Bold calls followed as the evergreen Broad and Anderson were left out, with Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Fisher, Craig Overton, Chris Woakes and Wood the seamers to feature in the Caribbean.

Credible stalemates across the first two Tests slightly raised the incredibly low levels of optimism surrounding the Test side, but a chastening 10-wicket loss in Grenada confirmed another series defeat.

That left Root with just one win in his past 17 Tests, and he decided to call an end to his captaincy on Friday, though he outlined his intentions to carry on playing international cricket for England.

He ends with the most wins as an England Test captain (27) but also the most defeats (26).

Ben Stokes has thanked Joe Root for his "sacrifices" after the England Test captain stepped down from the role.

Root was appointed as the successor to Alastair Cook in 2017 and holds the record for most wins as an England captain in the longest format of the game (27).

However, disappointing returns in recent outings, with England winless in five Test series, brought Root's tenure into question, and the Yorkshireman announced he had stepped down with immediate effect on Friday.

Stokes is among the favourites to replace Root and took to Instagram shortly after the announcement to show his appreciation.

"Been a great ride with you my friend," Stokes wrote. "Watching one of my great mates lead us all out on to the field was a privilege.

"You have given everything to English cricket and we all want to say thank you for your sacrifices and hard work."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan also had words of praise for Root, despite being counted among his critics in recent times.

Following the series defeat to West Indies last month, the 47-year-old told BBC Radio Five Live: "If [Root] rings me in the next week and asks for some advice, I'll be dead honest: I'd tell him to step down."

Vaughan posted on Twitter on Friday: "He gave it everything with very little support for the red ball team under his watch... then he had to deal with COVID times.

"He still is and will [be] the game's best role model for many, many years. Now enjoy being the senior player for many more seasons."

Joe Root has called an end to his England Test captaincy.

Root was appointed as the successor to Alastair Cook in 2017 and holds the record for most wins as an England captain in the longest format of the game (27).

But disappointing returns in recent outings, with England winless in five Test series, brought Root's tenure into question.

Head coach Chris Silverwood was sacked in the wake of a 4-0 Ashes thrashing by Australia before a series loss to West Indies under interim coach Paul Collingwood.

The ECB are expected to soon announce a new managing director to shape the future of English cricket, and Root confirmed on Friday that he would not take up the captaincy for any longer.

He said: "After returning from the Caribbean tour and having time to reflect, I have decided to step down as England Men's Test captain. It has been the most challenging decision I have had to make in my career but having discussed this with my family and those closest to me; I know the timing is right.  

"I am immensely proud to have captained my country and will look back on the past five years with enormous pride. It has been an honour to have done the job and to have been a custodian of what is the pinnacle of English cricket.  

"I have loved leading my country, but recently it's hit home how much of a toll it has taken on me and the impact it has had on me away from the game.   

"I want to take this opportunity to thank my family, Carrie, Alfred and Bella, who have lived it all with me and been incredible pillars of love and support throughout. All of the players, coaches and support staff that have helped me during my tenure. It has been a great privilege to have been with them on this journey.  

"I would also like to thank all the England supporters for their unwavering support. We are lucky to have the best fans in the world, and wherever we play, that positivity is something we always cherish and admire, which is a huge drive for all of us out there.  

"I am excited to continue representing the Three Lions and producing performances that will enable the team to succeed. I look forward to helping the next captain, my teammates and coaches in whatever way I can."

England have won only one of their last 17 Test matches, while Root also suffered more defeats than any other captain of his country in red-ball cricket (26).

Ben Stokes, Root's vice-captain, Rory Burns, Stuart Broad and Jos Buttler are among the favourites to lead a new-look England against New Zealand in a Test series that starts in June.

Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive who will be tasked with finding a new managing director, head coach, selector and Test captain before New Zealand visit, hailed the efforts of Root.

"Joe has been an exceptional role model during his tenure, balancing the demands of Test captaincy whilst continuing to shine brilliantly through his own personal performances," he said.

"He has led by example, and that has resulted in more Test wins than any other England captain, alongside a number of famous series home and away victories.   
  
"Joe's leadership qualities were exemplified by how he led the team through some of the most difficult and uncertain times we have known, playing during the pandemic all over the world, which speaks volumes for him as a leader and as a person.   

"I know that every single person who has played or worked under Joe's captaincy will speak of his integrity and humility as a person, as much as his determination and example as a leader. 

"Off the field, Joe has been no different. It has been a privilege and a huge pleasure to have worked with him in his capacity as our men's Test captain, and I know he'll continue to drive English cricket forward as a senior player, offering his wealth of experience and advice to support his successor."

England great James Anderson is "still trying to make sense" of being dropped for the West Indies tour and is disappointed with the manner in which he was informed.

Lancashire bowler Anderson was omitted by England as they opted for a new-look squad, led by interim coach Paul Collingwood, to the Caribbean for a three-Test series in March.

Fellow seamer Stuart Broad was also left out as Joe Root's tourists, without the pair that have 1,177 Test wickets between them, fell to a 1-0 series defeat against Kraigg Brathwaite's hosts.

Anderson, who is England's leading Test wicket-taker in history with 640 dismissals, remains confused by the decision, citing a lack of contact and feedback as his main issue.

"It's a bit strange because I am still centrally contracted but have not had too much feedback from them [England] so I have just been trying to work with the guys here at Lancashire," he said.

"I'm still trying to make sense of it [being dropped] and I've just put it to one side. It was completely out of my control. I've got to focus on what I can control and that is bowling as well as I possibly can.

"Firstly, that's here at Lancashire this next two months and take as many wickets as I can."

Chris Silverwood was dismissed in the wake of a 4-0 Ashes thrashing and the ECB are in search of a permanent coaching appointment, along with a new managing director.

Anderson understands England are going through a difficult period, but explained he expected more than a "five-minute call" from interim director Andrew Strauss.

"I would have loved a sit-down face-to-face. I would have loved more than a five-minute phone call," he continued.

"It is difficult because there is no one in those key positions [at England]. I would expect to hear something more once those positions are filled. There's no one in those positions permanently so I am assuming that is why I have not heard anything from them.

"It is what it is. Something like this for me is quite a big deal because it came out of the blue and I still feel like I am bowling well. I'm still in the top ten in the world rankings.

"I still feel like I am doing a job for the team. So I feel like I've got a lot to offer, not just on the field but off it, and I've really enjoyed working with the other bowlers that are coming through."

 

Anderson has not been permitted by England to play in Lancashire's first County Championship match against Kent, which starts on Thursday, due to his central contract.

However, the 39-year-old will be allowed to feature in the second red-ball fixture with Gloucestershire as he looks to again prove his worth to England ahead of their next Test series with New Zealand, which begins in June.

That meeting with Kane Williamson's tourists remains Anderson's sole aim for now.

"If I think of the build-up to a Test series, I want to be in as good a form as possible going into that series," he said.

"For me, the best way of doing that is performing for Lancashire, trying to win games of cricket, and hopefully will lead to a call-up."

England could be considered as "the biggest favourite" for the 2022 World Cup, according to former Three Lions manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Gareth Southgate's team reached the semi-finals at Russia 2018, matching England's best effort at a World Cup since they triumphed on home soil in 1966.

England then made their first major tournament final appearance since 1966 when they faced Italy in a Euro 2020 showdown last year, only to lose on penalties.

Eriksson managed England at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals of each tournament respectively, while also getting to the last eight at Euro 2004.

Beaten by Brazil in 2002, and Portugal at the following two tournaments, Eriksson was unable to guide England's 'golden generation' to success.

But the Swede believes Southgate's team have earned the right to be considered among the favourites – and, indeed, the frontrunner overall – to succeed in Qatar later this year.

Eriksson told Stats Perform: "I think they are one of the big teams who can win, and maybe they are the biggest favourite.

 

"I'm not sure how strong Brazil and Argentina are in this moment, but in Europe, Italy [are] not there. Spain, I don't think they are good enough to win it too. Germany, you never know they could do it. Belgium, always a good team."

Eriksson also believes England should easily progress from Group B, in which they have been drawn alongside Iran, the United States and one of Ukraine, Scotland or Wales.

"The group with England, Iran, United States and then it's Ukraine Scotland or Wales. I mean, it's always difficult in the World Cup, but I can't see them not winning that group," Eriksson added.

"That's impossible. They will win it easily. And then it depends always, who are you going to meet next stage, and then if you win there you go to the quarter-final.

"So, a little bit of luck there and no injuries, important players and so on and England can do it."

Eddie Jones declared England's Test series against Australia a "vital" staging post on the road to the World Cup, as it was revealed the Sydney Cricket Ground will host the potential tour decider.

England trailed home a distant third in the recent Six Nations, winning just two of five matches for the second successive year, and the progress the Rugby Football Union (RFU) would have hoped to witness was difficult to detect.

With the 2023 Rugby World Cup now less than 18 months away, England will be hoping to show significant improvement when they tackle the Wallabies in three July Tests.

The dates and venues for those fixtures were confirmed on Tuesday, with Perth's Optus Stadium hosting the first game on July 2, before the teams battle at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium seven days later.

Sydney's SCG will then put on the third game on July 16, with international rugby returning to the famous cricket venue for the first time since 1986.

England last toured Australia in 2016, when Jones' then Six Nations grand slam winners got up and running with a 39-28 victory at Suncorp Stadium, on their way to a 3-0 series clean sweep.

Jones, England's Australian head coach, must know there will be pressure on his shoulders if his team fail to perform Down Under this time.

For now, the RFU has his back, with chief executive Bill Sweeney continuing to endorse the 62-year-old's leadership.

Jones said: "The Australia tour is a great opportunity for growth for this team and a good challenge at the end of the season.

"It will be the first time many of the younger players have toured abroad with England and it will be vital practice and experience ahead of the World Cup, along with the 2023 Six Nations. We last went there in 2016 and had a very successful tour.

"Australia will be a good challenge for this team. They have rebuilt strongly and they are well coached by Dave Rennie. We're looking forward to getting out there and continuing the development and journey of this England side."

Wallabies boss Rennie, whose side lost to Scotland, England and Wales on tour last November, is also looking to show that Australia can build momentum for the World Cup in France.

Rennie said: "We talk a lot about wanting to challenge ourselves against the best teams in the world and three Test matches in a row against England is the perfect opportunity to do that."

Wayne Rooney would be "delighted" if Harry Kane surpasses him as England's record goalscorer, but hopes it happens before the 2022 World Cup.

Kane matched Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for the Three Lions when he struck the winner against Switzerland on March 26.

However, Gareth Southgate chose to rotate his squad for last week's meeting with Ivory Coast at Wembley.

England cruised to a 3-0 win, with Kane coming on in the 62nd minute, though the Tottenham striker did not score.

Rooney was stunned the forward, who he labelled as "one of the best players the Premier League has seen", did not start against Ivory Coast, as he believes it would be better for England if Kane breaks the record prior to the World Cup, which starts in November.

"I'd be delighted for him," Rooney said on Sky Sports. "I was so surprised he didn't play against Ivory Coast.

"I think for him, for Gareth as well, he should try and get that record before the World Cup so it doesn't become a distraction, so I would have played him to try and get that record before the World Cup comes along, so there's no distraction on it."

The Derby County boss was also asked if Kane, who he also called a "genuine, nice, humble guy" will go on to surpass Alan Shearer as the Premier League's record goalscorer. The 28-year-old is currently 82 short of the haul of 260.

 

"I think he gets it, I think he beats Shearer. He's young enough to do that, if you look at his numbers, he'll have no problem," Rooney said.

Kane turned in a star performance in Spurs' thrashing of Newcastle United on Sunday. He provided one assist, but was involved heavily as Antonio Conte's team moved into the top four.

After a slow start to the season, Kane now has 12 league goals and six assists, and Rooney is thrilled to see how the forward has developed his game, in particular under Conte.

"When you get a bit older you lose that sharpness but I don't think it’s the case with Harry," Rooney added. 

"I think over the last couple of seasons, he has been dropping deeper, and I think this is the first time it looks like it's worked on. If you look every time the ball is played into him, Tottenham have got players sprinting and that allows him to use his quality. He can do both. He can play as a nine, a 10, he's an incredible player.

"I think Harry Kane of three, four years ago, all he's thinking about goals. Now he's thinking goals and assists.

"I've been there, I used to love assisting goals, so I know he wants to get the goalscoring record but I think he wants to get the assist record as well and he's capable of doing it.

"He's not old, he's a fairly young lad, I don't think his speed will have gone, I think he's done that on his own back but what Conte's done is he's gone in and worked on it. If you look at the reaction of the other players, they know he can deliver that pass. It's almost like [Francesco] Totti at Roma, he'd come deep and they'd have runners going beyond him.

"The one thing I think he needs to do a bit more is go and join in, once he's played the pass, because if it comes into the box he's the one player you want to be on the end of it."

Kane has assisted 40 goals in the Premier League; his first 20 assists were spread across his first 211 appearances in the competition, while his last 20 have come in his last 63 matches.

Alyssa Healy produced a record-breaking 170 to guide Australia to their seventh Women's Cricket World Cup but she still believes she is not a "big-game player".

Healy registered the highest score – by a man or woman – in a World Cup final in a superb 138-ball knock, becoming the first player to score a century in both the semi-final and final at the same World Cup.

The wicketkeeper-batter's scintillating outing also ensured she set a record for the most runs scored by a woman in the tournament, taking her tally to an astonishing 509 in Christchurch, as Australia defeated England by 71 runs on Sunday.

But the 32-year-old opener does not think she can be labelled as a player for the big occasions despite her heroics.

"Not sure I'll let you name it. I'll let you find it," Healy told reporters after the final. "But, 'brave'? I just think you've got to be brave to come out in situations like that to be able to play your game.

"You know that the opposition are going to come really hard at you. They want to take your wicket early and you have got to be brave and back your skills.

"So, personally, I'm really proud of that. I still don't think I'm a big-game player. So, turn that down, but you have just got to be brave to be able to do it."

Healy became the first player – man or woman – to hit 150 or more in the final of a world tournament, and she acknowledged that the victory means even more after failing to make the World Cup final in 2017.

"I don't think I've ever dreamt of anything like that before, I can guarantee you that," she added.

"But I'm just really proud to have been able to contribute to this win. I messaged Pez [Ellyse Perry] this morning when I found out she was in the XI and I said, like, 'I just want to be a part of it. I really want this. I want to contribute to this win and to be able to do that was really special.

"I ran drinks the whole 2013 World Cup. You know we didn't make the final in 2017. So, for me, this trophy means a lot and to be able to turn up at the back end and go all right in the last two games means a whole heap."

The records continued to tumble for Healy, whose 170 also surpassed Adam Gilchrist's 149 in 2007 as the highest score in a World Cup final by an Australian wicketkeeper-batter, but she remains uninterested in those achievements.

"That's pretty cool, [but] I'm not in the game for that sort of stuff. Getting our team into a winning position was the most important thing," she responded on Gilchrist's record.

"I guess one day when I retire and I reflect on my career, it's a moment that I can kind of remember and cherish that. I always looked up to Adam Gilchrist; Uncle Ian [Healy] first, but then Adam Gilchrist, so to knock him off the pedestal - sorry about that - but I'm sure he'll appreciate it."

Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko wants their World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Scotland to be postponed again.

Scotland and Ukraine were meant to meet last month, but FIFA delayed the match until June due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As such, Wales – who beat Austria 2-1 in their play-off semi – are yet to find out which team they will face for a place at the Qatar World Cup in November.

Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all know which group they will be in should they progress, however, with the winner of the play-off path having been drawn alongside England, Iran and the United States in Group B.

But with no sign of the conflict in Ukraine ceasing, Stepanenko, who has played 69 times for his country, has called on FIFA to delay the match with Scotland again. 

The Shakhtar Donetsk man, who last played a match in December, told The Sunday Times: "We don't want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine, and we can play 100 per cent.

"But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven't played a match for such a long time?

"Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.

"The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup. If there is no option, then we must play.

"But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare."

Speaking after the World Cup draw was made in Doha on Friday, both England manager Gareth Southgate and USA coach Gregg Berhalter stressed they were not concerned by how long it might take for the final team in their group to be confirmed, given the extraordinary circumstances.

"When that tie is played out is irrelevant really," said Southgate, while Berhalter added: "We're patient on that and pulling for [Ukraine] 100 per cent."

Alyssa Healy made history by producing one of the greatest ODI innings as Australia beat England by 71 runs to win the Women's Cricket World Cup for a seventh time.

Healy crafted a magnificent 170 – a record score by a woman or man in a World Cup final – as Australia racked up a mammoth 356-5 after Heather Knight won the toss and opted to field at Hagley Oval on Sunday.

The wicketkeeper-batter struck 26 boundaries in an outstanding 138-ball knock, becoming the first player to score a century in both the semi-final and final at the same World Cup.

Healy's masterclass also ensured she set a record for the most runs scored by a woman in a World Cup, taking her tally to an astonishing 509 in Christchurch.

Rachael Haynes (68) and Healy got Australia off to a dream start with an opening stand of 160 before number three Beth Mooney made 62 off only 47 balls.

Healy's epic knock was finally ended by Anya Shrubsole (3-46) in the 46th over, the centurion stumped by Amy Jones.

Defending champions England faced a massive run chase and Nat Sciver ensured they might make a good fight of it, scoring a brilliant unbeaten 148.

Sciver was left stranded, though, as opener Tammy Beaumont was the second-highest scorer with only 27.

Alana King (3-64), Jess Jonassen (3-57) and Megan Schutt (2-42) did the bulk of the damage as Australia regained the title.

England boss Gareth Southgate has expressed his support for proposed changes to 2022 World Cup squads.

FIFA is expected to announce an increase in squad sizes for the tournament in Qatar, with 26-man squads instead of 23 – akin to those permitted at Euro 2020 – expected to be allowed.

Coaches of the qualified nations are also pushing for 15-man benches at the competition after Euro 2020 regulations forced Southgate and other bosses to leave three players out of their matchday squads.

England will begin their 16th World Cup campaign with a first-ever competitive meeting with Iran on November 21, before rounding off their group-stage campaign with games against the United States and one of Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine.

Southgate has now claimed that coaches were "unanimous" in their desire to allow every player in a squad to be in matchday contention in Qatar at a recent meeting, making his strong support for the proposal clear.

"I think what everyone is saying is that if the squads are going to be bigger, then it needs to be a situation where everybody is able to change on a matchday," Southgate said. 

"That was unanimous in the room [at the coaches' meeting]. Whether a bigger squad is necessary... originally that was for COVID-19, there's now people talking about the [impact of] condensed fixtures. 

"I still think it's a bigger skill to pick 23 and to work all that out, but that decision will be made and I suspect it will be 26. 

"But I think everybody has to be available for all the games."

Southgate also highlighted some difficulties of managing a squad at an international tournament, noting the "challenge" of keeping players involved as a reason why some coaches may not elect to take extra players.

"You either get the difficult conversations in the middle of November or in the next few weeks," Southgate added. "That's how it was last summer.

"When you are picking a team, when you've got 11 who are happy and 15 who are disappointed, that's more of a challenge. That's managing. 

"That's why you don't have to take 26, I know Luis Enrique didn't last year [Spain took 24 players to Euro 2020]. That's something we'll have to think about, depending on what the Covid situation is and what our injuries might be."

England are the only European team to have reached the semi-finals of the last two major international tournaments (the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and sealed their place in Qatar via a dominant qualification campaign in which they scored 39 goals and conceded just three.

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

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.

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.

Gregg Berhalter is relishing the opportunity to face Gareth Southgate's England at the World Cup, with the United States coach seeing his England counterpart as a "mentor".

The USA were drawn alongside England, Iran and one of Wales, Scotland or Ukraine in Group B in Friday's draw for the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar later this year.

Having failed to make the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the USA were not sure of qualification heading into Wednesday's meeting with Costa Rica, which they lost 2-0.

However, a 5-0 win over Panama in their previous qualifier had all but ensured that they, along with Mexico and Canada, progressed automatically as the CONCACAF representatives, courtesy of their superior goal difference compared to Costa Rica.

Speaking to BBC Sport following the draw, Berhalter explained how he and Southgate "go way back", saying they had contact following the former's appointment as USA coach in 2018.

"We think it's a good group, we know every opponent in the World Cup is difficult but with England you get an exciting match-up," Berhalter said.

"We go way back. He's a guy I look up to and has always been there for me, given me advice.

"When I first took the job as national team coach, I looked at him as something as a mentor.

"He's someone who I have a lot of respect for what he's doing, and I'm looking forward to competing against England."

Asked in what capacity he and Southgate knew each other, Berhalter replied: "I just reached out to him when I got the job and asked if he'd be interested in telling me more about international football.

"Being the guy that Gareth is, he was more than happy to have those conversations and since then we have stayed in touch."

England drew 1-1 with the USA in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, when a Robert Green howler cost Fabio Capello's Three Lions an opening-game win in South Africa.

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