Reggae Girlz head coach Lorne Donaldson says his team is ready to go ahead of their Concacaf Women’s Championship final round opener against Mexico on Monday.

Jamaica and Mexico are in Group A of the final round along with Haiti and the United States while Group B contains Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.

The four semi-finalists after the group stage will advance to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“I think, if we have everybody healthy and ready to go, we will give a good account of ourselves. The girls will come out and be ready to play. The first few minutes may be a little rusty because they haven’t played a game in a while but, when the game settles down, I think we can put some good stuff together,” Donaldson said in a pre-match interview on Sunday.

The match will be played at the University Stadium in Nueva Leon, home of the Liga MX club Tigres UANL, with kick-off scheduled for 9:00pm Jamaica time (10:00pm EST).

The Jamaicans, who spent the last two weeks in training camp in Denver, Colorado, know what to expect in enemy territory according to their head coach.

“Obviously, we play Mexico who’s the home team. They’ll have a lot of fans in the stadium and we know what to expect. Hopefully the preparation we’ve had can nullify some of their strengths,” said Donaldson.

“It’s going to be a difficult game but hopefully we can grind and battle through it so the result can fall in our favor,” he added.

Both teams come into this game on the back of some good form as the Reggae Girlz have scored 24 goals and conceded just two in their last four games while Mexico have scored 25 and conceded just one.

Rafael Marquez is set to return to Barcelona as head coach of the Blaugrana's B team, club president Joan Laporta has confirmed.

The former defender, widely considered one of Mexico's greatest ever players, won La Liga four times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona between 2003 and 2010. 

He also won 147 caps for his country and appeared at five consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2018, making his final professional appearance in El Tri's round-of-16 loss to Brazil in Russia four years ago.

The 43-year-old is now set to follow in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique by coaching Barcelona B, who play in the third tier of the Spanish league system.

Speaking at an event in S'Agaro, Laporta said: "Rafa in principle had [agreed] to be the coach of Barca Atletic last year, [but] he had a situation that prevented him from doing so.

"Now this has already been resolved and Rafa will be the coach of Barca Atletic next season. 

"I am especially happy because I had Rafa as a player, he is a person with a great personality, captain of the Mexican team, and who was part of one of the best Barca [teams] in history."

The venues for the 2026 World Cup were announced on Thursday, with 16 host cities spread across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

It will also be the first World Cup to feature 48 teams, and it is expected that the three hosting countries will all be granted automatic qualification.

The United States cities awarded hosting duties are Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City were the Mexican cities to win the privilege, while Toronto and Vancouver will host all games allocated to Canada.

In a statement from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, he said: "We congratulate the 16 FIFA World Cup host cities on their outstanding commitment and passion. 

"Today is a historic day – for everyone in those cities and states, for FIFA, for Canada, the USA and Mexico who will put on the greatest show on Earth. 

"We look forward to working together with them to deliver what will be an unprecedented FIFA World Cup and a game-changer as we strive to make football truly global."

Mexico star Luis Romo conceded his side are "not at the best level" after a frustrating 1-1 draw at Jamaica in the CONCACAF Nations League.

Leon Bailey opened the scoring for the hosts after just four minutes on Tuesday when he headed Shamar Nicholson's cross home.

Jamaica could have doubled their lead soon after, but Nicholson was denied by the crossbar, allowing Mexico a lifeline after a tepid start.

Mexico capitalised on that opportunity in additional time in the first half, with Romo finishing past Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

However, Gerardo Martino's side could not find a winner in the second half, leaving them a point behind leaders Jamaica, who have played a game more in their Nations League group.

With the World Cup in Qatar just five months away, Romo admitted his country have been far from their best but backed them to deliver at world football's historic tournament.

"Inside we realise that we have to overcome everything, the criticism we must take. We know that we are not at our best or maximum level, but we are very aware of what we can achieve," he told TUDN.

"A World Cup and an opportunity to make history motivates us a lot."

Mexico were somewhat fortunate to not fall behind again in the second half, with Kevin Alvarez making a goal-line clearance after the break.

El Tri arguably deserved to share the points, though, after forcing numerous saves from Blake in the final 45 minutes, and Romo believes Mexico may have even deserved to win.

"In the second half we got stuck," Romo added. "I think we deserved a bit more."

Coach Martino was left satisfied with June's internationals nevertheless.

"All the players adapted well to this training camp. It is complicated to work with 38 players, and they did well," he told reporters.

"Each match had situations that will help us analyse the future."

Mexico are not next in action until August 31, when they face Paraguay in a friendly in Atlanta.

Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz and Mexico were forced to settle for a share of the spoils after a feisty 1-1 draw in group A of the Concacaf Nations League Group A on Tuesday at the National Stadium.

The Mexicans began the game in an enterprising fashion and almost took the lead minutes after the kick-off.  A sweeping attacking move ended with Santiago Gimenez being brilliantly thwarted by Jamaica custodian Andre Blake who snuffed out the 2nd-minute attempt no more than four yards away from goal.

It was the Jamaicans who, however, took the lead, against the run of play, through a sweeping move of their own, punctuated in the 7th minute by a bullet-header from Leon Bailey, who was picked out in the box by Shamar Nicholson.

 Nicholson almost got on the scoresheet himself five minutes later but his towering header, after rising from a corner, crashed on to to the top of the crossbar.

After continuing to dominate the majority of the play, the visitors seemed set to end the half empty-handed but got some reward for their enterprise in time added on.

Luis Romo brought the team back on level terms after beating the Jamaican backline to a ball whipped into the area and heading past Blake just before the whistle.

In an entertaining second half, Nicholson almost restored the Jamaican's lead but saw his chip to goal cleared off the line by two Mexican defenders after successfully dinking the ball over the head of onrushing Mexican keeper Rodolfo Cota, after being played through on goal by Bailey.

The visitors, however, had plenty of attempts of their own, and Blake was kept busy, most notably diving full stretch to parry a fierce drive on goal from livewire Diego Lanez in the 68th minute.

With the result the Jamaicans remain at the top of the group on 5 points, while Mexico picks up their first point of the competition, joining Suriname on 1.

First-string Reggae Boyz goalkeeper Andre Blake has returned to the team’s line-up ahead of Tuesday’s Concacaf Nation’s League fixture against Mexico at the National Stadium.

The 31-year-old shot-stopper, who has racked up 68 international appearances for Jamaica, pulled out of the team suddenly ahead of last week’s fixture against Suriname.  The goalkeeper also missed the second-leg match between the teams earlier this week. 

The custodian reportedly suffered an undisclosed injury but unconfirmed reports also suggest the issue also stemmed from the team’s issues with former JFF general secretary Dalton Wint, who resigned last week.  Blake’s return to the squad will come at a good time following an injury to stand-in goalkeeper Amal Knight who deputised for Blake for both matches.

Two new players have been added to the 23-man squad ahead of the fixture, with goalkeeper Jahmali Waite and defender Jordan Scarlett joining the team.

Knight and defender Richard King have been ruled out of the match due to injury. 

The Reggae Boyz, who currently lead zone A with 4 points, after two matches, ahead of Suriname on 1.  Mexico are yet to play a match in the group.

Mexico only managed a scoreless draw, their fourth in 10 matches over 2022, playing out a 0-0 stalemate Ecuador on Sunday.

The draw marked El Tri's 100th Mextour match in the United States, having held home fixtures there since 2002.

In an otherwise uneventful match on the pitch, Tata Martino's side had a late shout for a penalty waved away when Uriel Antuna appeared to have been brought down in the penalty area in 78th minute.

The game faced late controversy when it was momentarily suspended, however, following discriminatory chanting towards Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez with each goal-kick.

Ecuador will now host Cape Verde on Saturday, while Mexico commence their CONCACAF Nations League campaign hosting Suriname.

Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso feels his Qatar 2022 World Cup plans will come into focus with games like Thursday's 3-0 win over Mexico in Arizona.

Matias Vecino was on target before Edinson Cavani struck twice to help La Celeste cruise to victory against El Tri at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

Five months out from the start of the World Cup, Uruguay will hope to find success in the first major test of the post-Oscar Tabarez era.

For Alonso, matches against sides of a similar quality who will also be there are crucial for him to gauge where his team stands ahead of a Group H tussle with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea.

"We found ourselves [against] a very good team," he told reporters after the game. "We are also a good team, and we simply played a good game. It is preparation both for us and for Mexico

"The most important thing is six months from now. Surely this game will help me to draw conclusions for the most important event [we] have, which is the World Cup."

With an impressive performance setting the benchmark for a successful international break, Alonso shot down suggestions Mexico were a weaker opponent due to a lack of Europe-based stars.

"I know the competitiveness, the quality of the soccer players," he added. "I don't think [having few players in Europe] is an obstacle, on the contrary."

Mexico got their international window off to a positive start, earning a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Arlington on Saturday.

In front of a healthy crowd in Texas, William Troost-Ekong's own-goal in the 56th minute eventually proved the difference between the two sides, only two minutes after Cyriel Dessers equalised for Nigeria.

Though Nigeria failed to qualify for this year's World Cup, El Tri are ramping up preparations for the event in Qatar, with this being the first of three friendlies before the CONCACAF Nations League opener against Suriname in June.

Santiago Gimenez opened the scoring for a makeshift Mexico squad in the 12th minute, with Gerardo Martino using the second half primarily as an opportunity to integrate Diego Lainez and Edson Alvarez from the bench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qatar v Ecuador (November 21)

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

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

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

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

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

Belgium v Canada (November 23)

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

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

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

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

England v United States (November 25)

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

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

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

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

Argentina v Mexico (November 26)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spain vs Germany (November 27)

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

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

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

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

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

Ghana v Uruguay (December 2)

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

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

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

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

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

This one promises to be tasty.

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

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

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

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

 

How will the draw work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

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

Luck of the draw!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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